If you haven’t already done so, add this regulation to your rules for living: Never take sex advice from a man who licks doorknobs. The reasoning—as if a reason needed to be given—is that a man who doesn’t understand the telos of a doorknob isn’t likely to understand the telos of sex. Unfortunately, many people seem to disagree with me, which is why Dan Savage has become one of the most influential sex-advice columnists in America.
Savage’s column has been appearing next to the horoscopes, non-sequiturish comic strips, and massage parlor ads in alternative weeklies for over twenty years. Recently, though, his “It Gets Better Campaign” and a glowing profile in the New York Times Magazine have raised his name recognition.
Even those who are unfamiliar with Savage and his work are familiar with his type: the hectoring hedonist. A hedonist is merely a nihilist who likes to party. But dubstepping to Gomorrah isn’t enough for the hectoring hedonist. To Savage and his ilk, those who refuse to praise their proclivities are worthy of being destroyed.
Which brings us back to doorknobs.
During the Republican primary in 2000, Savage traveled to Iowa and became a campaign volunteer for Gary Bauer. During the trip, Savage became sick—“I had the flu in a big way”—and decided to use his illness as a bioweapon against Bauer and his staff. He boasts:
I went from doorknob to doorknob. They were filthy, no doubt, but there wasn't time to find a rag to spit on. My immune system wasn't all it should be—I was in the grip of the worst flu I had ever had—but I was on a mission. If for some reason I didn't manage to get a pen from my mouth to Gary's hands, I wanted to seed his office with germs, get as many of his people sick as I could, and hopefully one of them would infect the candidate.
So, much as it pains me to confirm a hateful stereotype of gay men—we will put anything in our mouths— I started licking doorknobs. The front door, office doors, even a bathroom door. When that was done, I started in on the staplers, phones and computer keyboards. Then I stood in the kitchen and licked the rims of all the clean coffee cups drying in the rack. [emphasis in original]
Unfortunately, that is not the worst of Savage’s dirty tricks against his ideological enemies. You would quite literally retch if I were to describe the details of his crusade against former Senator Rick Santorum.
In the same article, Savage admits to lying about his residency in order to fraudulently vote in the Iowa primary. He was charged with a felony but pled guilty to a misdemeanor, making Savage a convicted liar and fraud.
Even by the low standards of alternative newspapers, Savage stands out for his incompetence. He was working at a video store when a buddy gave him a job as a sex-advice columnist. Despite exhibiting an embarrassing ignorance of human sexuality, Savage has managed to syndicate his column internationally and build a readership of millions.
Last year he garnered widespread acclaim for his “It Gets Better” campaign, an effort to prevent suicide among gay youth by having LGBT adults convey the message that the lives of these teens will eventually improve if they embrace their sexuality. The effort has been supported by dozens of influential politicians (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton), celebrities (Justin Bieber, Tom Hanks) and corporations (Google, Apple). The message is a worthy one—no young person should be bullied, much less be driven to suicidal angst over it—but the inescapable fact is that for those who follow Savage’s advice, heterosexual or homosexual, it won’t “get better.”
“Our bodies are our own,” he has said, “they’re ours to use, abuse, and since we’re all going to die one day, they’re ours to use up.” Savage’s message to teens and young adults is that before they end their lives they need first to experience diseases, divorces, and drug overdoses. Your bodies are still young and supple, he implies, it would be a waste to shuffle off this mortal coil before you have a chance to trash it.
What is most depressing is not Savage’s message—that is standard hedonist propaganda—but rather the respect he is given despite being an amoral cretin. Savage is no longer just a guy who writes for the weekly tabloids. Now he’s taken seriously by political leaders, business executives, actors, and pastors. His influence extends from Hollywood to the White House.
What message is it sending young people when the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth endorses a man who believes that men should not be expected to be monogamous—even when married?
Would the president want his daughters dating men influenced by Savage? Of course he wouldn’t; whatever else one might think of Barack Obama, he is a caring father. Unfortunately, he is not as concerned about other people’s children, who will be influenced by his tacit endorsement of Savage’s ethics.
Perhaps the best counter to Savage’s message is Savage’s own life. He is a symbol of what happens when vice is embraced and virtue is abandoned. Rather than maturing into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult, he’s devolved into a man so filled with hate that he’ll lick doorknobs to spite his enemies.
Savage’s counsel of hedonistic sex speaks of hope but leads only to despair. We must counter it with the truth about love and fidelity. We need to send a message of true hope to the young people of America: Seek virtue and it really does get better.
Joe Carter is Web Editor of First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. His previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.
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