Thursday, March 15, 2007

Savage Inequalities

Here's the story: I read Savage Love (and anything else Dan writes) religiously. Sex positive attitude combined with snarky rejoinders = fabulous and funny. Last night, I was reading the Slog (The Stranger's collaborative blog) and I came across Dan's diatribe against Garrison Keillor. I do not listen to the radio (I am a heathen, I know, and my kind will lead to the death of public culture in America, blah blah blah), but I do have my finger on the pulse of American culture (hard to say that one with a straight face-- soon, I'll be claiming all sorts of false credentials) and I have heard of him/come into proximity with his work/other euphemisms for coming into contact with him only through other people and not ever reading or listening to him myself.

Now, I take Dan's word as gospel, with the occasional exception (he does not like vaginae as a rule; I think vaginae are neato), so when he denounced Keillor as a "withered old hypocrite" for his recent piece on marriage and monogamy in Salon, I assumed that he was accurately describing an anti-gay hate monger (a la Peter Pace). But I was befuddled: I thought Keillor was a progressive? He has a radio show on NPR and he's known for satire, so he must have been kidding, right? I went to the website and read the piece and I must say, I'm conflicted about it. I sent it to Annie, who determined that it was satire and it seemed to have the intent of satire, if not the effect.

Conflicted, I put on my gumshoes (ha ha! get it?), and went to find some answers through the magic of the internet. Basically, I asked my friends and did a google blog search. The Autodidact pointed me to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, where he confirms Dan's interpretation. Every blogger who has written about the article in the last two days agrees with their reading. Except my friend, Carebear, who said: "Garrison is too smart not to be writing a certain kind of satire. I think he makes fun of both contemporary and traditional lifestyles equally in this piece. [Yet], I think it doesn't quite hit the target." Compelling arguments all.

But you know me. I can't rest on the laurels of the opinions of others. What's a blogger to do?

Well, being the huge nerd that I am, I printed out the article and mapped Keillor's idea progression, to see if the piece was a cogent satire or the ramblings of a bigoted madman. I will not bore you with the details, but I did write them up and if you email us, I'll send you a copy. I am such a nerd.

Anyway, what were my findings? Keillor's style may be absurdist ramblings, but that doesn't make it good writing. Or funny. Although it did have funny bits. Like the part about the cowboys. The funny bits lead me to believe that he meant the piece to be satire, but misfired. Perhaps the fact that the piece was completely illogical and incoherent speaks to his desire to highlight the absurdity of arguments against gay marriage. Yet, because he was all over the place, he diluted any chance he had at successful satire.

A good satirist knows how to frame the argument logically so that the absurdity of the point speaks for itself. If the framework itself is impossible to decipher and the internal logic impossible to discern, then it doesn't matter if the intent is satire. If no one can read it as satire, it's a failure. And if it's a failure on an issue this sensitive, then it goes to speak against your cause and, worse, it undermines your authority (at least until everyone forgets this ever happened).

My conclusion? Keillor is an asshat not because I think his article actually intended to be insulting to the queer community, but because its affect was insulting and, more importantly, he hasn't come out and apologized (or even commented!). Anyone can shrug off the effect of their words with, "Don't be so sensitive. I was making a joke," but if that's the case, then he should at least have the balls to say so.

Did you hear that Keillor? You have no balls! Just like a toyger.

NB: I mean balls in a figurative sense; as a woman, I have no balls in a literal sense. Nor would do I mean to imply that victims of testicular cancer, a devastating disease that is the most common cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 34, are not capable of bravely putting themselves on the line.


Carebear said...

Very nice and thorough breakdown. Also, I am thrilled to be both quoted and christened "Carebear"!

That said, I don't care whether he is an asshat or not. I still love Keillor. He wears grey suits with red sneakers.

Regarding his rambling approach - it works wonders in the storytelling on Prairie Home Companion. When I saw the show live in December, I sat in the second row transfixed as if he were Santa and I a wee'un on his knee, listening raptly to him spin a yarn that meandered all over the effing place until finally it came back home and everything was tied together and made complete, perfect sense. I've read other satirical commentary of his, though, in which he is much more controlled and crisp and effective (did anyone read his biting review of that French guy who wrote a book about America? I realize that's incredibly non-specific...). Anyway. He CAN be dead-on. He slays. Like Slayer.

Carebear said...

Carebear said...

dang. that link got cut off. here's a shorter one to the same review:

Sarah said...


I should mention that I am a fellow Savage Love lover (Savage lover?). But I think, after reading Keillor's post, that you do need, for the sake of getting another pespective, to listen at least once to Prairie Home Companion. The location for the show is a fictional little town called Lake Woebegon, which is a stand-in for basically any other small midwestern town....including the rigid gender/sex roles.

I read Keillor's piece in my head, in his narrator voice, and I thought it was a little funny--definately not his best work. I did think the general intent of the piece was to mock the focus our society has on making children happy at the expense of, well, funds that could go to other things. In Lake Woebegon, one might add, all the children are "above average" and don't seem to attend art museums at all. And are none the worse for wear.

I generally enjoy Dan's remarks (especially his remark to my friend who worked at The Stranger that she would be awesome in underage porn!!), but thought he was off the mark on this one.

harley said...

I don’t think he intended bigotry, but that it didn't come across and I think as a writer, you can't write something assuming people can read it in the context of your radio work or your other work. If it can't stand alone and be understood, either you need to clarify or it shouldn’t be published. Everyone who's defended him has said, "Well, if you listened to NPR..." but the majority of the country doesn't and they shouldn't have to. And a lot of people who do, in fact, know Keillor have commented about the bigotry of the piece. It’s not a good piece. Salon should have noticed that and edited the hell out of it to at least make it good writing. Not publishing a piece that on its own is not superb writing isn't censorship, it's good publishing. And someone who's well known shouldn't ever rest on their laurels.

Annie said...

Harley- I disagree. The piece wasn't super-funny, but it seemed obvious to me that it had to be satire. It seems to me that this is an example of people being oversensitive, and looking for attacks on homosexuality wherever they find it.

Yeah, Salon should have edited the article a bit better, but I definitely don't think that it was worthy of this brouhaha. He wasn't actually being bigoted, unlike my bff Ann Coulter.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I have no idea what Garrison Keillor's voice sounds like (I have never listened to his NPR show), and I think the piece in question is obviously satire. I am honestly shocked that Dan Savage, or any other literate person, could have thought otherwise. Could he have written it better? Sure. Is there even a trace of bigotry in it? I don't think so.

-The Rooster

Anonymous said...

Follow-up: GK apologized.

I think that's lame. As I told Harley last night, I don't think GK should have to apologize for other people's inability to read critically.


Kypris said...

I disagree with all those who claim this piece is obvious satire. I would consider myself a "literate" person, and as a gay woman and a reasonable human being, I found it offensive. I have listened to Prairie Home Companion once or twice, and have never thought it was particularly amusing (although that is beside the point). If Keillor meant it to be satire, it didn't come across that way; rather, it was the kind of thing you might read on the group of a website like Focus on the Family.