The case for 'Savage Love'
|By Berl Schwartz|
As you may have noticed, we’ve received a spate of letters about “Savage Love,” our new, frank and at times profane column on sex and relationships. Overall, we’ve heard from some two dozen readers, most of whom do not want it.
In contrast, when we asked readers in our survey last December if they wanted “Savage Love,” 150 people responded: 68 percent said yes and 32 percent said no.
Those starkly different results show once again that you cannot edit a newspaper by consensus.
That leaves judgment. Let me explain why I decided to carry “Savage Love.”
First, Dan Savage is a leading figure in alternative journalism, which is City Pulse’s niche. He’s the editorial director of The Stranger, a weekly in Seattle that, like all alternative newspapers, can trace its roots to The Village Voice in New York. In the last few years, his celebrity has grown through contributions to various public radio programs and to “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO. He has an MTV show called “Savage U.” And two years ago, inspired by a gay teen’s suicide, he helped create the anti-bullying public service announcements called “It Gets Better.” Savage has cred.
Secondly, his column, which he started writing 15 years ago, appears in these papers around the country:
Baltimore City Paper
Las Vegas City Life
Minneapolis City Pages
Columbia City Paper
Detroit Metro Times
East Bay Express
Fast Forward Weekly
Miami New Times
New Times Broward/Palm Beach
Off-Centre (The Daily Courier)
Phoenix New Times
Pittsburgh City Paper
Santa Fe Reporter
Washington City Paper
The list demonstrates he has reader appeal. Yes, we’re among the smaller markets, but we’re a metro area of 460,000 people with diverse interests and standards and beliefs. Within that market, and within City Pulse, I believe there is an audience for “Savage Love.”
Which brings me to the main reason City Pulse is carrying “Savage Love”: its message. Dan Savage’s views on sexual and relationship issues are ones of liberation, which is in keeping with City Pulse’s. Secondly, “Savage Love” is inclusive, by which I mean GLBT folks will see themselves in his column, not just heterosexuals. That’s more important than ever in Michigan, where our state government continues to undermine our rights.
Contrast that with the column it replaced, “The Advice Goddess,” a staple of City Pulse since it began 11 years ago (and which still appears online). Few letters have ever appeared in it from non-straight people. Its author, Amy Alkon, dismissed my concern about this lack of inclusivity by saying that “relationships are relationships.” That’s not true, as GLBT people know. For example, straight people don’t have to worry about getting abused or stared at when they hold hands in public. Straight people don’t have to worry about how to introduce a same-sex boyfriend or girlfriend to their parents when their parents don’t even know they’re gay (or have chosen not to know it). That’s just the beginning of the differences.
Moreover, GLBT people want to see themselves in the media, just as other minorities do. “Savage Love” is a means to do so. It’s not all about GLBT people, to be sure, but they don’t take a back seat.
Which brings me to Dan Savage’s language. I’m not a big fan of profanity. I was disappointed when The New Yorker, which I have been reading for nearly 50 years, started using profanity in the 1990s. But, in the modern era, can you really reflect the world in which we live without employing profanity? I still read The New Yorker every week. Does Savage use it gratuitously? Not when he’s describing a sex act, but other times yes. That’s who he is — a big-city kid from Chicago. You’ve just got to overlook it (or laugh at it) if you’re going to get his message. It’s no different than it’s always been with writers. Moreover, City Pulse’s contract doesn’t permit me to edit “Savage Love” for content. But I wouldn’t tone it down anyway. I’m not running “Savage Love Lite.”
Finally: children. I understand parents don’t want children to see explicit language in City Pulse any more than they want them to see it — and much more — online. I understand we’re a free newspaper that children can pick up (few do, but they can) and that some parents even encourage their children to look at City Pulse. Well, sincerely, good luck with that. I can’t edit the paper for children. Parents will have to struggle with this one on their own.
We’re not the Journal. We’re an alternative newspaper. I know some of you will forego reading us because of “Savage Love.” I hope some people who feel strongly will give it a chance and see if the message doesn’t overcome the profanity and explicit language for you — in the same way some of you overlook City Pulse’s liberal viewpoint.
And if all else fails, please just turn the page.
“Eyesore of the Week,” our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing, will return next week. It rotates each week with Eye Candy of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail email@example.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.