Dan Savage admits it -- he's got "a sweet gig." His weekly syndicated "Savage Love" sex-advice columns bring to millions of readers worldwide a patent mix of biting comedy and genuine concern. Savage's readers seek help with sexual mechanics, Internet porn-addicted husbands, and fetishes that the powers that be in Kenner couldn't even imagine. His answers are sharp, described in frank terms that most folks know and use, but ones that many newspapers, including this one, won't print.
"Sex advice attracts people who don't necessarily have that much talent," Savage says by phone recently. "Because it's inherently interesting. People will read about sex even if the writing is terrible. And so much of it is autobiographical; it's stunt writing. So many are just exhibitionists with laptops. They do it in print because they're nothing to look at naked in real life.
"What you read in 'Savage Love' about me is not true -- I'm not into Ashton Kutcher," he quips about his repeated references to fantasies about the TV and movie star currently dating Demi Moore. "And I use a lot of self-deprecating humor in my column; one of the longest-running jokes is that I'm lazy. I'm not lazy; I'm a workaholic."
Savage's resume backs him up. He's the editor of The Stranger, the Seattle alternative newsweekly he has worked for since moving to Seattle from his native Midwest and parlaying a theater background into work as a theater writer. "Savage Love" grew from a column he penned 12 years ago to run with the paper's personals section. Since then, he's been both a VH1 talking head and a New York Times op-ed page writer. He has three books to his credit, including The Kid, a touching memoir with the subtitle What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant, detailing he and his partner's adoption of a child. His latest, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America, is a response to right-wing moralists; Savage currently is touring in support of the book's paperback release.
Even before the book, Savage was no stranger to politics. He's covered unsexy topics such as Ralph Nader's presidential campaign and 9/11 and helped convert the last name of socially conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) into a term for a sexual byproduct not printable here. But governance of society and the bedroom are connected, Savage writes. The title of Skipping Towards Gomorrah itself refers to Robert Bork's 1996 book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, which tied liberal philosophy to a perceived decline in American morality.
"The book is an attack on so-called moralists," Savage explains. "I felt a need for the left to strike back. Liberals have had this idiotic idea for decades that if we're nice and reasonable enough, then we could compromise and work with the right. Conservatives aren't interested in that.
"F--k Bill O'Reilly -- that should be our poster," Savage says. "You can't play patty-cake with these guys. You treat them like they treat us."
Referring to O'Reilly and his zealous ilk as "virtuecrats," a favorite target in Skipping Towards Gomorrah is Bill Bennett, the oft-cited conservative pundit whose recent admission to a gambling addiction slashed his moral authority (a moral slip revealed after the book was written).
Savage writes: "Bennett, like every moral scold who has ever compiled a big book on virtue, goes on and on about the deep sense of happiness and fulfillment he has derived from marriage and traditional family life. There's something deeply problematic about praising Bill Bennett ... for pursuing those things that make Bill Bennett happy (heterosexuality, sobriety, monogamy) while condemning someone else for pursuing the things that make him happy (say, homosexuality, pot, and the occasional three-way)."
Recent cracks in the conservative moralist facade have not gone unnoticed by Savage. Consider Rush Limbaugh's recent, highly publicized fall from grace due to an admitted addiction to prescription painkillers. In response, Savage brandishes the frankness and wit that makes his column, and ultimately his viewpoints, both insightful and entertaining.
"I don't like OxyContin," he says of the pill that contributed to Limbaugh's fall. "I don't like harshly addictive things. I like pleasant drugs like pot and mushrooms, though I've tried everything. I tried OxyContin once, but as a painkiller; I didn't snort it or anything."
But when asked, Savage says he'd be open to getting high with Limbaugh. "I don't know what we'd do. I guess I could smoke some pot, he could pop some pills, and we'd just hang out and watch TV together."
- "Liberals have had this idiotic idea for decades that if we're nice and reasonable enough, then we could compromise and work with the right," says Dan Savage. "Conservatives aren't interested in that."