Normally I don’t write about myself (my family has begged me not to, and the statute of limitations are still in effect, and who knows, I may want to work in this valley), but every now and then something comes up that compels a bit of a confession.
Anyway, long ago, when the world was young, I used to write movie reviews under a pen name for an alternative weekly paper (long since gone). Given our print schedule and when the theaters would hold a preview for the local media, I often ended up writing the review the night before going to press. The publisher/editor would go with whatever I wrote, and just clean up the typos (I know this shocks regular readers of this blog), and depending upon how much room remained for my piece (always the last to go to bed), he would slash ruthlessly or beg me to write more. (When that happened it was because no one sold enough display ads; did I mention the paper is no longer in bidness?)
So on a regular basis I would trot into the office fairly late at night, floppy disc in hand, to use the Feature’s Department PC (pre-internet days) and arrive in time to see my one of my fellow Features writers finish up. We would exchange pleasantries, he would put on his ass-less chaps and then leave to go beat the crap out of someone in the suburbs.
His column was a How-To on BDSM.
This paper was not the Paris Review, obvs.
(I’m proud to mention that I offered my Boy Scout Handbook and Merit Badge expertise to help show him a particular knot that he had trouble mastering. I’m a good co-worker.)
Anyway, I was reminded of those jolly old days when I stumbled upon Charlie Pierce’s blog post on Slate’s William Saletan’s piece on Kink in America. Charlie has his usual good fun with Slate in general and with Saletan in particular, and as always Pierce makes for an interesting and amusing read. If only he had written the kink article in the first place. Missed opportunities, as they say.
Let’s begin with the basics: Slate is not where one goes when one is horny. It’s too earnest, and frankly boring. William Saletan is the human equivalent of saltpeter dosed out in Victorian boys schools just in case. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but you don’t go to Slate/Saletan to pick up the finer points of knot tying and how to use a peacock feather (if not the whole bird), if you get my drift, and I think you do.
Reading Saletan’s piece reminded me of the best advice I was ever given about feature writing: you must always love your subject; at minimum you need to be interested in your subject, willing to explore it, willing to ask questions. Saletan’s distaste is palpable, his disdain for the people he interviewed is transparent. He is clearly uncomfortable writing about, well, you know: s-e-x. Someone might think he likes this stuff. Ew, gross!
Charlie gives an amusing review of the post and his conclusion is sound:
“The point of the whole column gets lost in a cacophony of oh-weird-icky, but there’s not a dime’s worth of proof in either Saletan’s work, or in the links he provided, that the BDSM community is anything more than some folks getting together on line, in private clubs, or in private homes. What should society’s sanction be? Saletan doesn’t say. He just reassures his readers that, if they’re appalled, that just means they’re normal, and that they should feel free to tell Aunt June that she can’t tie her slave, Wendell, to the chair again this Thanksgiving while tormenting him with the melon baller. These [sic] piece isn’t outrageous, It’s just pointless.”
Here’s what I can add to Charlie’s denouement of the article: underneath it there was Saletan’s Twitter feed with him scolding Mark Sanford:
It was serendipity, but it says everything you need to know about Slate, Saletan, and Sex.
UPDATE: Saletan replies.