Addicted To Advice

Not Savage For Work:

Michal Lemberger confesses:

I read advice columns. A lot of them. “Ask Polly” on The Awl. The Washington Post/Slate’s “Dear Prudence.” “Dear Sugar” on The Rumpus was a staple until it disappeared last spring. Philip Galanes’s “The Social Q’s,” Chuck Klosterman as “The Ethicist,” and John Hodgman, all in The New York Times, are regulars. Dan Savage in The Stranger makes for a raunchy (and often eye-opening) change of pace. The list goes on and on.

What she’s gleaned from the genre:

[It] depends on a strange convention: that journalists, rather than trained psychologists, are deemed qualified to dole out advice in response to our most private questions. We readily accept that tradition, despite our era’s trust in training and narrow specialization. Maybe because we’ve been doing it that way for centuries. At first, there were “agony aunts,” anonymous writers who took on the guise of trusted older women who could give relationship advice to the young and love-struck, in “letters to the lovelorn” columns. That was an import, brought over from England sometime in the 18th century. …

As much as the American self-image depends on the idea of straight-talking, cut-through-the-crap honesty, the reality is far more timid. We don’t really value frank communication. Instead, we demand that everyone fit in with the group.