Over the last few weeks, it’s been brought to my attention by several loyal readers (thanks, KF and JZ) that there’s a new kid in town. Meet Mann Landers, who (according to himself), has been “[p]roviding relationship advice for Males since early 2010.” So, two months into the year, how’s he doing?
First of all…I love the name. No, really, I do. Though I wonder how long it’s going to be before Margo Howard, giver-of-lame-advice and daughter of the late Ann Landers, accuses him of copyright infringement as she did Amy Dickinson in last year’s Advice Columnist Smackdown.
But all in all? I have to say, Mann, I’m not impressed. But hear me out–it’s not for the reason you think.
Yes, as noted above, this column is for Males. With a capital “M.” It comes off as the beer commercial of advice columns. At best, it consistently reinforces stale gender stereotypes. At worst, it teeters over into the misogynistic. With a capital “M.”
I mean, it hardly bears saying….the offending content is obvious enough (subtle, he’s not), and it’s just as clear that Mann is doing it on purpose, probably as much to annoy women as to entertain men. If the responses of Mann Landers actually reflect the thoughts of its author (more on this below), he would probably be triumphantly pleased to learn that feminists everywhere are offended by his column, or at least rebut that we’re all too sensitive and can’t take a joke.
To fuss about how anti-feminist his column is would be like telling someone their designer distressed jeans have holes in them. Everyone knows the pants have holes. The wearer chose them on purpose to define and align himself with those who are into holey pants, and, almost certainly in part, to annoy those who hate holey pants. What does he care, what will he do (besides a little dance), if you point out how annoyed you are by the pants? Well…
Dear Mann Landers,
I don’t care about your holey pants. Wear what you want, it’s a free country. But I will point out to you that your fly is down.
Erm, OK, the metaphor falls apart. Things do that, or so I’ve heard.
I do have a point, Mann Landers, and I promise that I’m getting to it. My real problem with your column is something I don’t think you’ve done on purpose, and something that, if you realized it, you might fine tune: You’re trying too hard to be funny, and it’s backfiring.
This is not about me being offended or not getting your jokes–it’s about you not being sure if your advice is tongue-in-cheek or not. And if you don’t know, how can your readers?
Is this a sincere advice column for men whose values and goals are similar to yours? It often seems like it–your Feb. 12 column on how to correctly buy lingerie for your SO was surprisingly thoughtful (if only with the aim of not pissing off the SO, so she’ll still be willing to have sex with you). If this is for real, fine. More power to you. Though if that’s the case, I probably won’t bother to read you, unless my eye-rolling muscles need a workout.
However, your sign off, “You’re Welcome,” has an air of facetious self-importance about it, as does your goal to “better lives” with your responses. (At least, I hope it’s facetious)
And meanwhile, your meandering tale about your pilgrimage to Thailand, in a February 18 response to a guy who can’t sleep in the same bed as his girlfriend, is clearly completely made up, an attempt to entertain readers with its ridiculousness.
So….what’s the deal? Are you “one of the guys”? Or poking fun at them? Are readers supposed to do what you say? Or, with a wink, are they supposed to understand that you really mean the opposite? I can’t tell–in fact, I think it might be a bit of both–and that, more than anything, is what puts me off about your column.
Satire is a powerful tool but it’s hard to do well (and even when you do, there will always be those who don’t get it). If you want to do satire, you can’t intermingle it with sincerity. Alternatively, you can be dry and witty, and still give sincere advice–but leave out the elaborate, fantastical tales. Or, perhaps your entire column is meant to be a comment on how ridiculous, unhelpful, and columist-centric advice columns are, in which case, bring on the made-up, ridiculous stories and convoluted responses!
All of these are valid ways to bring humor to an advice column….but you can’t do them all at once, which is what it feels like you’re trying to do. Figure out what you want to do, and bank on that!
Skeptical in Cyberspace