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"...the key is sympathy and empathy"
August 28, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe


 
The interview is from Random House Canada's new online magazine, Hazlitt. Named after William Hazlitt, (previously on MeFi). They also have ebooks for sale by a variety of authors in a section called "Hazlitt Originals."

Current essays include: Beyond the Many Lives of Scott Pilgrim, How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can't Afford an Internship and My Mother's Arranged Marriage.
posted by zarq at 10:29 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I prefer the term "agony aunt".
posted by Egg Shen at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My Mother's Arranged Marriage and mine. Sigh. Didn't get past the third paragraph.
posted by infini at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a little surprised that the issue of drama queen fakers wasn't brought up. My wife runs an advice column-like blog the nature of which must forever remain shrouded, but it's way less dramatic than these. And even she gets questions that are obviously made up. As in logically or physically inconsistent with a previous question supposedly from a different person but definitely from the same one (based on email addresses, headers, names, voice, etc).

We've seen that kind of thing here, too. How much more fake submissions must the Advice Big Names get?
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Emily: I didn’t set out to be an advice columnist. I got the job because I was at Slate. I have no particular qualifications for it. I took some psychology classes in college but I’m not a trained therapist. I’m the third Dear Prudence. The first was a man named Herb Stein, who was the head of Nixon’s council of economics advisors. The second one was Margo Howard who is the daughter of Ann Landers.
TIL
posted by zombieflanders at 10:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love that Dan Savage was jealous of the incest letter. Makes me wonder how much competition there is among advice columnists for the craziest, most entertaining letter-writers.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


How much more fake submissions must the Advice Big Names get?

I assume that at some level they don't really care. That is, presumably they exist more for the wholesale than the retail market. The point of these columns is not to solve the individual problems of one person at a time, but to provide a model of advice that will entertain and instruct many hundreds of readers who are either in a similar situation themselves (in which case the fictionality of the particular instance that prompted the question is irrelevant) or enjoy simply hearing how the columnist responds to a complicated and unlikely scenario.
posted by yoink at 10:45 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Salon: Gay porn’s most shocking taboo -- "'Twincest' is pushing limits in an industry known for extremes. What is it, and why are so many people watching?"
posted by ericb at 10:52 AM on August 28, 2012


We've seen that kind of thing here, too. How much more fake submissions must the Advice Big Names get?

How do we know you're not a dog?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 AM on August 28, 2012


I’m the third Dear Prudence.

I believe the original has been retired for 15 years and is living like a king in Patagonia.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:53 AM on August 28, 2012 [47 favorites]


I prefer the term "agony aunt".

LOL I first saw that term on an early episode of the British "Whose Line is it Anyway". Someone was pretending to be one in Party Quirks, and Paul Merton guessed it right in a reasonable time frame. Had to look it up. I like it.
posted by Melismata at 11:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m the third Dear Prudence.

"That's the old Sparkle."
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:02 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assume that at some level they don't really care. That is, presumably they exist more for the wholesale than the retail market.

Right, that's been my wife's viewpoint too, at least sometimes. It gives her a reason to discuss a particular issue. However, there's still several thing things wrong.

One is that every fake issue addressed is someone's real issue not addressed. However, it's possible you are helping real sufferers of that issue even if the submitter wasn't one of them.

Two is the ease with which you can falling out of helping territory and in to titillation territory once you are no longer bound by addressing problems you know at least one person really has. Not a problem with body odor questions but certainly a problem with many others. Turn on daytime TV to learn more.

And three is the feeling of being gamed. You helped someone you legitimately thought needed help and it turned out they were faking. Even if your help helped others, it's still at best annoying. Go look at the most recent MeTa about this and count how many people who were upset even though they actually lost nothing. Or look at all the tears spilled over the various fake "my cat is dying of cancer please help" campaigns that've gone around the Internet.
posted by DU at 11:02 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


ericb: ""'Twincest' is pushing limits in an industry known for extremes. What is it, and why are so many people watching?""

And just like that, the NOM exposé is no longer the most disturbing thing I've seen all day.
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cary Tennis: As my detractors will be happy to note, I don’t always provide answers. Sometimes I’m just writing a thing.

YOU'LL BE SHOCKED TO KNOW HE WORKS FOR SALON.
posted by psoas at 11:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Makes me wonder how much competition there is among advice columnists for the craziest, most entertaining letter-writers.

Although sometimes the letter writers send them to more than one "agony aunt!" I remember a while back I was reading a letter in Dear Prudence and I kept thinking, "this is familiar," and not in the way that one more "my husband watches porn" letter is familiar. Turns out I'd seen it in another advice column--it was either Savage or Cary Tennis, although more likely Savage (I gave up on Tennis's lyricism a while back). I should dig a little and see if I can find it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:10 AM on August 28, 2012


I haven't read Emily Yoffe's Prudie since it became clear she does not care for fat people.
posted by inturnaround at 11:11 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


One is that every fake issue addressed is someone's real issue not addressed.

It's important to remember that advice columns are at least as much about entertaining their readers as they are about providing useful advice, so responding to the occasional obviously fake letter can help boost the entertainment factor. Dan Savage does this once in a while, and will generally start off by saying, "Even though your question is probably fake, ACRONYM, I'm going to pretend that it isn't..."
posted by asnider at 11:12 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Judging from the title, I thought this might be another Game of Thrones post.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I started taking screenshots of stupid/trashy/linkbaity Slate headlines a while ago. I burned out really fast but most of them were Dear Prudie.

"Help! I've been banned from visiting my Vegan grandbaby, how will she get her meat and cheese?" is probably my favorite. Also, nannies appear to be a theme.
posted by ghharr at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


inturnaround: "I haven't read Emily Yoffe's Prudie since it became clear she does not care for fat people."

Definitely true -- though sometimes I get the impression that she does not care for people in general. It's very odd. She's like the opposite of Dear Sugar and Captain Awesome -- who both seem to give advice because they are so caring. She seems to give advice so she can stop being annoyed by the rest of the world's failings.

Strange Interlude: "Judging from the title, I thought this might be another Game of Thrones post."

See, I read it on the professional white background, misunderstood where I was, and thought "Finally, an AskMe question I can help with."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Two is the ease with which you can falling out of helping territory and in to titillation territory once you are no longer bound by addressing problems you know at least one person really has. Not a problem with body odor questions but certainly a problem with many others. Turn on daytime TV to learn more.

Sure, but at that point it's really the advice columnist's fault if they're picking letters more because they think "wow, what a freakshow!" than "hmmm, I think a lot of my readers would benefit from hearing what I have to say about this genuine problem"--and that's the case regardless of whether the freakshow in question is factual or not. My point is simply that the truth/untruth of the specific letter isn't really all that relevant to that equation. Just because something is true doesn't mean it's necessarily a good basis for an agony aunt column and just because it's false doesn't mean replying to it won't be instructive to others.

And three is the feeling of being gamed. You helped someone you legitimately thought needed help and it turned out they were faking. Even if your help helped others, it's still at best annoying. Go look at the most recent MeTa about this and count how many people who were upset even though they actually lost nothing. Or look at all the tears spilled over the various fake "my cat is dying of cancer please help" campaigns that've gone around the Internet.

Well, the cat cancer ones usually annoy because they're soliciting contributions, no? But even if not, even if they're only soliciting virtual pity parties, that's still very different, it seems to me. If I lie to, say, Ask Metafilter about a problem, I'm breaking a social compact with a community. If I send a fake letter to an agony aunt, I'm providing potentially useful grist to a "advice about plausible life problems" mill. I mean, we have no way of knowing if even the most anodyne letters the agony aunt receives are true (or that they're not pulled out of the musty archives from 50 years ago or whatever); but it's hard to see what difference that makes to us as readers. Our compact is with the agony aunt, not the letter writer. As long as the agony aunt is honestly giving what s/he considers to be sound advice in response to the given scenario, then it seems like everything is reasonably above board.
posted by yoink at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2012


From ericb's Salon article:

“On some level, you could argue that twincest is this idealized version of gay sex. These guys are basically having sex with themselves."

I just learned something new today.
posted by Melismata at 11:29 AM on August 28, 2012


Incest in the real world.
posted by bukvich at 11:34 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


OMG, that publication needs to hire a copy editor, STAT.
posted by caryatid at 11:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, does Cersei Lannister write to advice colums? "Dear Prudence: I had sex with my twin. Then, we had a son. He's turned out to be a real little shit. Where did I go wrong? Signed, Hear Me Roar."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:40 AM on August 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


What, does Cersei Lannister write to advice colums?

A parody advice column from the King's Landing Herald could actually be pretty hilarious
posted by Rock Steady at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


In many American states having sex with your brother isn’t just very taboo — it’s also very illegal.

Which is interesting, because of the nature of the incest itself. Incestuous relationships fall under the category of taboo for cultures for very good, pragmatic reasons, and the strongest of those is surely the potential for the offspring to develop serious birth defects. That's why we don't let people who are too closely related marry.

Obviously, two males cannot produce biological offspring, though, no matter what they are doing with each other sexually. And these two are not talking about marriage, which would be illegal in many states just because they are a same sex couple.

So while I understand that the moral and ethical objections are still there because that taboo is so ingrained societally, why is it actually a criminal offence for the twins to have sex with each other? No doubt we have many laws based primarily on morality, but they usually pass because there is is least some perceived harm to society.

Are they, what, contributing to the delinquency of minors? They certainly aren't role models, but then again porn isn't meant for children. So unless they are out having sex with each other on public beaches, where "lewd and lascivious" behavior or "indecent exposure" would apply, what law would they be breaking in the US?
posted by misha at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everybody who is learning something new/upsetting today about the relative popularity (no pun intended) of twincest/gay incest should count themselves lucky that they aren't a gay man with a gay brother -- because you really wouldn't believe what people would ask about/offer to pay for.

Rock Steady: " A parody advice column from the King's Landing Herald could actually be pretty hilarious"

I was thinking the same thing -- especially one written in specific styles (the difference in answers one would get from Dan Savage or Dear Prudence would be fantastic... particularly great, at least to me, is that the surnames "Savage" and "Yoffe" seem perfect for Westeros)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dear Hear Me Roar: I don't see the problem here. Obviously, you need to, shall we say, dispose of the problem.

There are any number of Maesters who, for a small fee, can provide you with the appropriate tincture. Why do you hesitate?

It's not like this incestuous spawn is the heir to the throne or anything, Ha ha. Signed, Prudence.
posted by misha at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


You guys, I am seriously considering stealing this King's Landing advice column idea.

Instead of "Agony Aunts", I am picturing an Agony Septa. Suffering Septa? Or maybe Melodrama Maester. Or both, for parity's sake.
posted by misha at 11:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Ask Sansa", obviously.
posted by dhoe at 12:17 PM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


MCMikeNamara: "particularly great, at least to me, is that the surnames "Savage" and "Yoffe" seem perfect for Westeros"

House Savage. Sigil: A red phallus on a purple field. Words: Good, giving and game.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2012 [23 favorites]


You guys, I am seriously considering stealing this King's Landing advice column idea.

Eh, it's funny, but it'll wear out pretty fast.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2012


I figure there's three good columns' worth in relatively short order, but the fourth and fifth will try and answer too many questions and therefore take way too long to come out. They may have to be split in two, but most of the really good questions will be answered in the fourth one anyway.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:31 PM on August 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


I prefer the term "agony aunt".

I like to think that, under the awful burden of problems they read every day, they've all become belligerent depressive drunks who have affairs with their readers.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


i'm keeping an eye on this thread because i want to see more westeros woes. i'm having too strange of week already to be creative enough to come up with my own fake letter from a GoT character.
posted by sio42 at 1:22 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Dear Ser - My beloved uncle is now a renegade in the Riverlands. Should I include in the invite that he need not bring a gift to our wedding if he no longer has his vast estate? Sincerely, JS."

"Dear JS - HODOR."
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:07 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


I wonder what percentage of people who answer on askmefi secretly want to be one of these folks?
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:08 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Everybody who is learning something new/upsetting today about the relative popularity (no pun intended) of twincest/gay incest should count themselves lucky that they aren't a gay man with a gay brother -- because you really wouldn't believe what people would ask about/offer to pay for.

Ugh, yeah, my long-time besties are gay twin brothers and the icky, panting comments they get constantly are supergross.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:53 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I’m the third Dear Prudence.

Never take advice from a Time Lord.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rather amusingly, the Third Doctor was also kind of dismissive of humanity even though his fans will remind you he was only trying to help.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:58 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Gay twincest, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who jokes all in a thread about advice columnists...I've never felt more at home here.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:03 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't read Emily Yoffe's Prudie since it became clear she does not care for fat people.

Example?
posted by Dasein at 3:07 PM on August 28, 2012


Emily: I didn’t set out to be an advice columnist. I got the job because I was at Slate. I have no particular qualifications for it.

Nor any ability for it. She also hates introverts, and people who are somehow different than she is or do things she wouldn't do.
posted by jeather at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


And the childfree.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the needy. What did she call them? "A shower of bastards?"
posted by Wolof at 6:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now that I'm home and not answering from my phone... I used to like Emily Yoffe back when she was sticking to "Human Guinea Pig." But as an advice columnist, she's priggish and kinda bigoted. I still read her because she ain't the worst advice columnist out there* and sometimes she's reasonable, but she is the anti-Sugar, for sure. I do have to give her credit for finally admitting that SOME people--even if they're super mentally ill--shouldn't have children in the last column, though. But as someone with a vested interest in this POV**, she's one of those annoying people who used to not want kids, flat out had one because her husband wanted one, and now evangelizes that everyone has to have one. Which is irritating. And as other folks have pointed out, she has her other bigoted issues as well. And if I were Slate, I wouldn't have her make those crappy videos, because man, she comes off even worse there.

"I wonder what percentage of people who answer on askmefi secretly want to be one of these folks?"

*raises hand unabashedly*

* I'd give that award to the "Friend or Foe" lady, who quit doing it anyway.

** TM The Great Gilly Hopkins.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:17 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love reading advice columns. Dear Abby, Dear Prudence, Ask Margo, whatevs. They are all hilarious and sometimes tragic microcosms of humanity, each in their own distinct voice. Especially good is Dear Prudence live, where all the readers who disagree with her chime in and she has to re-think her advice in real-time.

As for the article, I love the concept of the “Who’s the asshole?” question. I'm thinking there's an awful lot of etiquette (that crazy question about the destroyed sweater!) and relationship questions (any question about dividing chores equitably, for example) where this the heart of the question being asked. Am I the asshole or is it my spouse/sibling/parent/child/professor/whatever? Then things go wrong when AskMe thinks that actually, the asshole is you.
posted by librarylis at 7:19 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


That knowing look the twins give each other is adorable.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sitll miss Mr. Blue on Salon, which was written by Garrison Keillor, of all people.

From 6/29/99

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m a 30-year-old woman who, like most everyone else, had my heart broken a couple times during my 20s, and also went through some tough career issues. Now, I’m involved with a man I love with all my heart and who also loves me, and I’m starting a challenging new career. And yet I find myself slipping into cynicism sometimes, an old habit, taking a negative slant. I’d hate to let it keep me from believing in my new life.

How does a person keep a positive attitude? Mantras? Jokes?

Angst Addict

Dear Angst,

Cynicism is waiting out there for all of us every single day, like a horned toad in the flowers, saying, “Your life is meaningless, nobody loves you, and you don’t love anybody, gribbet.” And you simply tell him to shut up. Jokes are good, as a pure art form. Smiling helps. So does singing “Oklahoma” in the shower, or “Side By Side,” or “Let the
Rest of the World Go By,” or your choice of great dumb happy songs.

You do want to keep a little store of negativity on hand, though, for good luck. Like a gargoyle you put on the house to keep evil away.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wait, wrong thread.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2012


jenfullmoon, couldn't agree more on Emily Yoffe. Everything I wanted to say about her, you've already said.

Actually, when I was reading that recent letter from the woman who worried she was too mentally ill to have kids, I was afraid Yoffe was going to encourage her to have kids anyway, before they had taken care of their mental health issues. I was going to put my fist through the monitor if she did that. It did bug me that Yoffe almost seemed to be leaning too far in the other direction, coming down too hard on the mentally ill woman who wanted kids one day. But at least she didn't encourage her to throw the birth control in the toilet, because kids are magical and never too much trouble.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:06 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wait, wrong thread.

Is it really?
posted by Danila at 10:48 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I prefer the term "agony aunt".

Learned recently by watching a documentary on him that P.G. Wodehouse, early in his journalistic career, was an Agony Uncle for a London newspaper.

Thing is, being the child of Empire whose parents were off in Hong Kong through the majority of his childhood, "Plum" was raised by an unending array of aunts and uncles back in England. He saw his parents for a grand total of 6 months from ages 3 to 15. This seems to have left him with a somewhat detached, bemused-but-not-particularly-sympathetic outlook on life.

And so the mind that created Jeeves and Wooster seems to have been quite ill-suited to summoning the sympathy and/or empathy required for the job of consoling/advising early 20th C. Londoners with broken hearts and malodorous employers. Rather, he seems to have given somewhat sarcastic, unsympathetic, very amusing advice.

He was sacked.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:06 AM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


oh my goodness.

i would love to see advice given by Wodehouse. what a riot!
posted by sio42 at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2012


Dasein: "I haven't read Emily Yoffe's Prudie since it became clear she does not care for fat people.

Example
"

Here you go - the link is to my comment, which echos the comments above about how bad she is, but in the FPP (which is her Human Guinea Pig schtick where she tries wacky things, not her Dear Prudence column) she disparages fat people and is just generally pretty rude.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:38 AM on August 30, 2012


Cheryl: Introduce them to each other? Yeah. There are several questions from virgins that stump us. I’ve gotten questions from virgins that ask, “How do you get to the point where you have sex with someone else?” I don’t know how to explain that. I always had the opposite problem, like how do you get to a place where you don’t have sex with someone?It’s funny.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:34 AM on September 2, 2012


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