Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spanking the Advice Columnist

-Dear Jason Adair the Unlicensed Therapist,

I've always thought that people should have a "live and let live" mentality, but that seems to leave out nose-in-the-air advice givers and guilt ridden do-gooders who can't seem to let living a good life quietly helping people suffice.
On the other hand, in a world where it takes a village, and we're all one, and we must all join hands around the fire and make a big show out of how great we are because we reach out (and etc.), there might be a place for learning from other's problems (or, really, from the exploitation of other's problems).
Can you reconcile these poles of contradiction?

-Possibly Irreconcilable Differences

Dear Differences,

Thank you for bringing up one of the most confounding conundrums of human behavior; is there such a thing as a truly selfless act? The idea of helping people is really popular these days. (a quick google search for "helping people" yields 11,500,000 hits while "hurting people" only gets you 263,000. "Humping people" comes in last with a flaccid 12,700) The problem of trying to figure out whether the helper is helping because it's the right thing to do, or helping because they get satisfaction out of it is a knotty problem that even the cast of Friends needed a half hour to untangle. Fortunately for me, helping people is not what advice columns are really about.

The very idea that an advice column's primary concern is helping the person who posed the question is absurd, as helping one person does not really generate a lot of ad revenue. The real purpose is to make readers happy. This is done by giving the reader a glimpse into some one's life who is slightly more messed up than theirs, allowing the reader to feel better about their own slightly messed up lives. Another way they make people happy is by giving out really obvious advice. This allows the reader to pat themselves on the back for agreeing that the girl who's baby daddy has knocked up baby mama's mama and stolen baby mama's baby's college fund should be given the heave-ho. Lastly, these columns are used to sell advertising so that Dear Prudence's gentle readers can purchase teeth whiteners to compensate for low self-esteem and simultaneously fuel that economy.

Anyway, everybody who writes in with a problem is aware of three things: they know what the morally correct thing to do is, they know what the ethically correct thing to do is, and they know that regardless of what advice they get they're going to do whatever it is they decided to do before they even asked the question that they already knew the answer to. And if the advice they get back mirrors what already knew, they can give themselves the same pat on the back as the other readers.

Still Helping,
Jason Adair the Unlicensed Therapist

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