on November 5, 2002
In Skipping `Toward Gomorrah, nationally syndicated sex advice columnist, Dan Savage brings us an intelligent and reasoned voice of counterbalance to the many current (and extremely conservative) voices that cry out for Americans to "change their wicked ways and return to 'right living.'"
In Skipping, Savage takes the creative route of investigating the Seven Deadly Sins as a lens through which to examine the U.S. Bill of Rights. His "sinning" is far from the real thing in my estimation and his experiences provide for some of the most entertaining illustrations of his points.
Savage does an outstanding job of serving as a voice of counterbalance to the doomsayers among a rather large current crop of "conservatives" who tell us that society is going to "hell in a handbasket", and who set out to limit the rights of others and to define acceptable behavior for all "good" people. While anyone can invite others to a point of view, these neo-conservatives walk all over the Bill of Rights and insist that "good and right living" is defined on their terms and within their definitions of right and good and acceptable, and should be mandatory for all Americans. Those extremes I can live without!
While often hysterically funny in the reading, the content of Skippingh Toward Gomorrah is, at its very heart, a soberingly serious discussion of the intentions of our founding fathers of our country. Savage brings a refreshingly honest voice to countering fundamentalists who -- n the name of morality, decency and all that is supposedly American, feel free to trample all over the Bill of Rights.
Savage accurately argues the dangers of any kind of extremism. At its worst, it is a cancer fermenting within individuals and groups that seems to allow them to presume the right to act in reckless ways in the effort to "control others" beliefs and behavior for the "good of all American people".
The most frightening realization that Savage very plainly articulates is the fact that Americans too easily allow extreme positions to go unchallenged. In a democratic nation where we have voice and vote, we are far too often docile, polite or silent (or absent from the polls) in facing down messages that challenge the foundations of our democracy. We fail to challenge those who tell us how to live, or to defend the foundational principles of our Constitution.
From Jimmy Swaggert to Dr. Laura Slessinger to William Bennett, to Patrick Buchanan, to Robert Bork, we are inundated with non-negotiable voices for "right moral living". Savage, quite accurately, lets us know that when any individual, or group, tells us that theirs is the "only correct view," they become dangerous.
Skipping Toward Gomorrah is a book to be taken seriously. Dan Savage provides us with a thought provoking and insightful books that ask us to question how easily we allow ourselves to be taken in by those who want to run our lives. He urges our greater personal decision-making and participation in the dialogue of the nation. He smartly cautions us on the importance of being unselective on the voices we are willing to listen to in contemporary politics, religion and in the media.
Highly recommended. Savage is an excellent contemporary voice of reason!
Daniel J. Maloney
Saint Paul, Minnesota USA
on October 16, 2002
"Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America" feels like one part travelogue and one part memoir, pieces stitched together with an attack on the "virtuecrats" of the American far right. William Bennett, Robert Bork, Pat Buchanan, Dr. Laura, Jerry Falwell and Bill O'Reilly all take their turn on the chopping block as author Dan Savage traverses the country in search of hot spots where he hopes to commit each of the seven deadly sins.
And he nearly succeeds.
In one of the book's funniest episodes, Savage calls a prayer line that he found advertised on a Christian cable network, only to be informed that as a gay man who cannot marry, he is doomed to a life of fornication and shall never rise to adulterer status (he is reassured that "fire is fire" and he's bound for hell right alongside the adulterers).
"Skipping Towards Gomorrah" is funny. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny, but as one would expect from Dan Savage - author of "The Kid," regular contributor to "This American Life," and editor and sex columnist for The Stranger - this book is not for the prudish. It's replete with four-letter words and anatomical descriptions that will make Mom blush, although Savage's forays uncover interesting and entirely unexpected snippets of American culture.
Hoping to indulge himself in a little "Falwell-style" gluttony, Savage attends a conference sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in San Francisco. He soon realizes that the meeting is little more than a thinly-veiled meat market. BBWs (big, beautiful women) attend primarily to try and attract an FA (fat admirer).
In Las Vegas, Savage attends the annual Lifestyles Organization (LSO) convention which hosts a weekend of frolicking for more than 3,000, mostly suburban, "playcouples." He calculates that with many such groups across the country, there are more people involved in organized swinging than the entire gay male population, underlining the irony that while swinging is ignored by conservatives as a fossil from the '70s, gay marriage is blasted as an irreproachable threat to the American family.
Savage begins each chapter by detailing the historical legacy of one of the seven deadly sins - greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, envy, pride and anger - pulling references from the likes of Dante and Saint Jerome on gluttony and Peraldus, a 13th-century Dominican friar, on envy. He ends each chapter with ruminations on the appeal of the sin. We gamble not because we are greedy, but because our lives are too safe and predictable. We need sloth because of increasingly hectic schedules.
Savage does pull a few surprises. He points out that Osama bin Laden and Jerry Falwell harbor similar ideologies. They both hate liberated women, sexual freedom, secular culture and fundamental human rights. But then he goes on to unconditionally support the war on Afghanistan. In the chapter on pride, he offers a strong argument against gay pride, claiming that the gay community has moved far enough forward that simply being out is no longer challenging enough to merit full-fledged pride for most. In the chapter on anger, he begins with a long and eloquent gun rant, only to blow a hole the size of Texas in his argument by admitting that he intends to take up shooting, having discovered in the Lone Star State that, lo and behold, he's a natural shot.
"Skipping Towards Gomorrah" conveys the strong impression that it was not written for kindred spirits but for those it attacks. Savage seems to hope that his words will reach - and irritate - his nemeses. He admits to having devoured their books, and his title itself is a play on "Slouching Towards Gomorrah" by Robert Bork.
But ultimately, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about. If Bork, Bennett and Buchanan on one side, and Savage and his friends on the other, agreed to simply ignore each other, this country could be a far more quiet and peaceful place. At heart, "Skipping Towards Gomorrah" asks for just that: the freedom to live life as one see fits without having someone else's concept of morality get in the way.
on January 8, 2004
The title and introduction for this book suggest that Savage will love every minute of his sinning spree. But it turns out that this book 'reads' like seven episodes of 'South Park', where after bizarre and funny events, one of the kids turns around, says "I've learned something today," and goes on to give out the episode's moral. Savage explores his whole opinion of the sin he's indulging in, for and against. In a sense, he's much more honest and 'moral' than the virtuecrats he rails against- he's bothered to learn something about the sins and sinners he comments on.
The book is not drop-dead funny the way his sex-advice column is, but you will laugh. You will also see Savage condemn the desire for us to justify doing something that gives us pleasure in other terms, as if just giving us pleasure is not reason enough for people to do things that make them happy. The main message in this book is definitely: If it feels good and you aren't hurting anyone else, do it. The secondary message in this book is definitely: If it doesn't affect you, then mind your own business.
While it's not mind-blowing literature, Savage does have some great insights on why we need to ignore the virtuecrats and live our lives in our own ways. This book is for anyone sick of hearing how there's only way to live well.
on May 25, 2003
Dan Savage has given the world a delightfully wicked tale of his trip across America, as he takes the reader through his attempt to commit the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed; Lust; Sloth; Gluttony; Envy; Pride; and Anger. For each sin, Dan introduces the reader to people who have embraced the sin wholeheartedly. Or more appropriately, shows the reader people who don't think the sin is really a sin. To the sensitive reader, BEWARE, as some if not all of the tales are quite shocking. To everyone else, be prepared to double up with laughter at Dan's totally inappropriate, insensitive, and awful sense of humor. [Despite being appalled at some of the stories, I often had to bite my tongue and wipe my tears away as I was laughing so hard on the Metro. Doesn't say much for me being the sensitive guy most folks take me for!]
In all honesty, I did not run out to get this book, and probably never would have read it except that my boyfriend recommended it to me. Let's face it . . . a book that flaunts the fact that the author purposefully decided to indulge in sin (whether or not you believe they are sins) just has a bad ring to it. [Although that's also a big draw to those of us who are a little upset with the religious establishment.] Before you judge it, however, you should realize it is much more than that. Mr. Savage provides facts about each sin, how it has been and is treated in society and politics, and the groups who "celebrate" the sin, including gays, gamblers, swingers, rich folks, and the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance. He provides commentary to dispel or just counter myths and information promulgated by right-wing virtuecrats as well as some liberals. It's truly a wonderful read, whether as pure entertainment or as a commentary on certain aspects of American society that most folks try to ignore.
This is definitely a book I will NOT recommend to my family. Even those that are almost as liberal in their thinking as I am would have a hard time swallowing this much honesty. But to those out there who don't mind being shocked and offended by honest humor about touchy subjects, I would say pick it up and give it a go. It's definitely a wild read!!
If anything disappoints about "Skipping Toward Gomorrah", it's the fact that Dan Savage really could have stretched two books from this material. On the one hand, it's a disarming travelogue through America's heartland (Texas, Iowa, Illinois) and introducing us to a cheerfully diverse group of American citizens celebrating their pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, Savage is trying to write a great liberal memoir, to counter the suffocating glut of right-wing manifestos by every low-end-of-the-AM-bandwidth pundit with a book deal.
So what's wrong with putting those two ideas together? Nothing! As it turns out, squeaky-voiced radio rightist Glenn Beck just did a similar book from the opposite perspective. Now, if only Savage had his own radio show... we could call it... "The Savage Nation"!
"Gomorrah" (titled after a dreary Robert Bork volume from the Regnery Press-happy mid '90s) loosely follows the Seven Deadly Sins, and shows how well-adjusted, law abiding Americans can live at what's considered the "edge" of decency and still live productive lives. To demonstrate how Savage truly has his finger on the pulse of our culture, two issues in this book exploded into the national consciousness after it was published: Bill Bennett's gambling (his name features heavily in the "Greed" chapter), and gay marriage.
As is appropriate for this kind of book, the chapters are written so that they can be read separately. I was most amused by "Envy", a trip to a Zan-themed weight-loss-for-the-rich boot camp in the hills overlooking Cher's house, and "Greed", a visit to a Z-grade casino in Iowa, reminiscent of an unexpected encounter with a slots machine I had in Shreveport last spring. Less amusing were "Sloth", perhaps because I don't share Dan's enthusiasm for the weed, and "Anger", the chapter set in the gun store. Downright horrifying, however, was the "Sloth" chapter. Even the thinnest among us will want to diet after reading about the wheelchair-bound 40 year-olds at the NAAFA convention, who are proud of the fact that they're too heavy to walk anymore. The amusing coda is set in Manhattan, where Savage rents a call girl for $3000 just to interview her... and turns around the next day to rent her boyfriend, who's in the same line of work.
Along the way, Bork, Bennett and Ann Coulter are happily dismantled. The so-called culture war that imploded the Republican convention in Houston in 1992, has returned with a vengeance in 2004, with the only difference that this time, no-one's standing up against it. Voices like Dan's are an oasis in the wilderness. When he's not busy obsessing over VCR-player-sized wedges of chocolate cake, that is.
on May 23, 2004
Who knew that the 7 Deadly Sins could be so much fun? Well, actually, they're NOT always so much fun, at least not the way Dan Savage describes them. And that's one of the things I really liked about this book: it's brutally honest about these "sins," the motivations behind them, and the people who pursue them in hopes of finding...fun? happiness? friendship? excitement? meaning in life? None or all of the above? Perhaps these "sins" are more complex and less, well, "sinful" than some might think. Perhaps it's not that eating or sex or gambling are good or bad in and of themselves, despite what the preachy moralists like Robert Bork (author of "Slouching Towards Gomorrah," which Savage's title plays off of) and William J. Bennett (he of the not-so-little gambling problem himself) would have us believe. Perhaps, Dan Savage suggests, it's more that any one of these activities has the potential to be good, bad, or indifferent. It all depends.
Take gluttony, for instance. What, you might ask, could possibly be wrong about eating a giant piece of chocolate cake? Sounds great to me, chocolate lover that I am! But as the culmination of a humongous meal at a chain restaurant called "Claim Jumper," the two huge hunks of greasy, gritty, cheap chocolate cake that Dan Savage and a friend each scarf down can only be described as surreal, bizarre, and worst of all, not much fun. Actually, I would say that there's something pathetic and sad about the whole experience -- giant onion rings, giant glasses of water, giant roast chicken, giant order of ribs, etc. Maybe this "sin" stuff ain't all it's cracked up to be?
A couple of chapters are truly memorable, including the one on "anger," which centers on guns. The title of the chapter, "My Piece, My Unit," alludes to the strange, semi-sexual appeal that guns apparently have for some (many?) people. Now THAT should be a sin! But the funniest thing about the chapter is that Dan Savage turns out to be quite a shot. Who knew that a liberal skinny gay guy from Seattle could be so good with guns, someone with a "gift" who could "learn to be a real marksman" with some practice (according to his instructor, Paul)? So much for stereotypes!
Personally, I found the chapter on Greed ("The Thrill of Losing Money") to be one of the most interesting and insightful. Are people who gamble sick, depraved sinners? Are they greedy? Or are they just out to have a good time? How about "none of the above" or "it depends?" In just one of the insights that Dan Savage arrives at in his explorations, in this case he comes to the conclusion that "it's not about money, it's about risk and danger...and feeling alive." And to quote Bruce Springsteen (a bit out of context, but what the hell?), "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!"
Besides gluttony, anger, and greed, Dan Savage's other chapters cover the rest of the deadly sins ("lust," "sloth," "envy," and "pride") more or less effectively and entertainingly. And all throughout the book, Savage manages to, well, SAVAGE the finger-wagging hypocritical ultra-moralists out there in a bitingly funny way. So funny, that you may commit the sin of Envy by the end of the book -- wishing you had Dan Savage's writing, journalistic and story-telling talents, that is. On the other hand, if you are a finger-wagging hypocritical ultra-moralist, you might want to avoid reading this book altogether, because it will probably just make you angry. And since we all know that anger's a sin, we certainly wouldn't want that! Personally, I enjoyed spending a nice weekend reading Savage's book and not doing many of the chores I was supposed to be doing. I believe that's called "sloth," and that it's a sin. Whoops!
on January 22, 2006
Best quote, among thousands of jewels, from Dan Savage.
A couple of years ago, I went on vacation with a bunch of friends to a beach resort town in South Africa. Clear blue water, white sand, skimpy bathing suits on lovely people of both sexes. Should have been a wild time, right? Well, it wasn't, at least for the first few days, because I brought along Skipping Towards Gomorrah for my beach-book. I already knew I loved Dan, and thought I could just dip into Skipping whenever I felt like a rest. Ha! Once I started, I was way too into it to stop for much of anything. And, of course, all my friends were constantly running back from the ocean to see what the hell I was laughing at. The elevator scene in the Gluttony chapter can still send me into fits. I had to buy a new copy once I got back to the States, as mine "mysteriously" disappeared. I know whoever stole it from me enjoyed it as much as I did, and hope they're passing it round to everyone they know, and even some strangers.
on October 30, 2002
Thank you Mr. Savage for boldly speaking out on behalf of the sinners among us. After being repeatedly bashed by conservative pundits who feel they know what's best for us, Dan stands up for our rights to live our lives as we want to - even if that means being a sinner. Not being content just to write about it, he goes on a quest to commit every one of the seven deadly sins so he can experience it firsthand and talk with those who sin on a regular basis. He uncovers some funny stuff, but also some sad stories as well. Sad not from sinning, but from the way some are treated, even by those they go to for support.
While I wish I could go on a sinning spree, I'll have to be content to read this book for now. This book talks about our basic rights and freedoms, how America was meant to be from the beginning. The author debunks and criticizes the views of the conservative pundits (and points out a few of their hypocrises), while respecting their right to pursue their own happiness - just not at everyone else's expense. Funny and thought-provoking, I highly recommend this book.
Dan Savage brings the same sharp wit and practical outlook he utilizes in his syndicated sex column to "Skipping Towards Gomorrah", which explores pleasure and vice in our culture. The result is an entertaining, if somewhat lightweight, read. The structure of the book itself is a bit of a gimmick, with each of the chapters of the book being about one particular "deadly sin". This makes the book easy to read, although not particularly in depth. Dan does make some very good points (that not everybody who uses drugs recreationally is an addict, that not everyone is wired for monogamy), and it's also interesting and admirable the way he treats the "pride" chapter: as a way of criticizing, instead of glorifying, gay "pride" events. If there is an underlying theme to this book, it's "live and let live" ... and with so many public figures constantly moralizing and condemning other people, this is a philosophy our society could use a re-introduction to.
on March 5, 2004
I'm highly suspect of anyone who doesn't enjoy this book. After reading the DaVinci Code, which elegantly disassembled the church, I was delighted to discover this gem, which just as elegantly disassembled the confused, arbitrary, and hypocritical dictums of the extreme right wing and the civic and social complacency of who accept their tired rhetoric without challenge. Dan Savage, has a superior wit, which combined with his keen ability to detect irony and hypocrisy, is not only amusing, it's reassuring. After I finished Skipping Towards Gomorrah, I felt better about the world knowing that Pat Robertson, William Bennett, and Ann Coulter aren't the only people whose opinions make it to the publishing dinner table. As a cheerleader for philosophy of the John Stuart Mill oeuvre, I'm thrilled that the marketplace of ideas is still churning and, I say optimistically, facilitating the self-destruction of the virtuecrats and their misconceptions. This is a stunning achievement. More than a challenge to the right wing to step up to the plate, this is a checkmate.