Bullying by an Anti-Bully Bully? Bully for you!

A couple days ago, my Facebook feed (ugh, I feel like I’m doing product placement every time I type that) included the following story, thanks to a Christian friend in my list:

Anti-Bullying Speaker Curses Christian Teens

Of course I clicked. 

Unsurprisingly, the ‘Anti-Bullying Speaker’ referred to in the article is sex columnist, prominent GLBT spokesperson and, yes, Anti-Bullying Advocate, Dan Savage.  He writes right here in Seattle, doncha know.  Savage is no stranger to controversy, and his often explicit rhetoric has made him a particular thorn in social conservatives’ sides.  He is famously responsible for giving a name to a certain byproduct of butt sex, which just happens to be the name of a former Republican Presidential Candidate.  What a coinkydink.

If you read that headline, what are you going to assume?  The speaker, Dan Savage, attacked the Christian students, right?  If you ‘curse’ someone, you are aiming your curses at that particular person.  The article says that the attacks became so harsh that students up and walked out.  And, indeed, the article has an interview with the Journalism Advisor of some of the students, Rick Tuttle:

“It became hostile,” he said. “It felt hostile as we were sitting in the audience – especially towards Christians who espouse beliefs that he was literally taking on.”

As the teenagers were walking out, Tuttle said that Savage heckled them and called them pansy-assed.

When I read this article a couple days ago, I was disappointed to see Savage’s positive message undermined by this sort of controversy, and knowing Savage’s penchant for heated rhetoric I was willing to believe that this event had happened as reported (the video at the end of the article wasn’t on there when I originally read it).

Of course, my disappointment with Savage was mitigated by the commentators on the article itself:

Americans have to realize who we’re dealing with in (f)maggots like this and all the other cockroaches, Commies, and America haters that helped put an illegal Kenyan Muslim Marxist racist Chicago street monkey in OUR White House.

Communists HATE Christianity because it represents everything that is a threat to them and their decadent beliefs and lifestyle. It’s absolutely UN believable that Americans could be so stupid to actually believe that someone with a name like BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA could be a CHRISTIAN.

HELLO, AMERICANS!!!??? Do you know ANYONE on the face of the earth who is a CHRISTIAN with a completely M U S L I M name??? THINK ABOUT IT!!!

That particular comment continues on with an anti-Obama Birther rant that’s not relevant to this topic or anyone with a working brain.  That is an extreme example of the kinds of people who frequent Fox News and comment on these sorts of articles (whenever a Gay person does something in public, the troglodytes come out in force), but make no mistake, even the more rationed and balanced statements are fairly hate-filled:

…the belief that “everyone deserves to be respected for who they are” may be what decent, God faring people live by but it is naive and even dangerous to believe that Communists, radical liberals, radical gays, radical athiests, etc. believe the same.

They don’t just (and are NOT) “speak up” against those THEY hate and disagree with, they seek to SILENCE them and FORCE them to accept their distorted, twisted, and hate filled beliefs


Dan Savage is a depraved individual who has insisted on making war with God. Insisting on that actually leads a person to depravity. Depravity is a scary state of mind and soul. Depravity has made him into the very thing that he hates….a bully.


…its because homo’s have issue’s in there heads. I still think gay dating should be out of the question. in the 40’s, 50’s an 60’s everyone was close to the bible and believed that being gay was a sin (it still is). What changed all that? That would be drugs an crack from the late 60’s.

So, not the most balanced commentators in the world.

But, okay, idiots make comments, it’s the internet.  That still doesn’t excuse Dan Savage attacking Christian teenagers.  Bullying in the name of anti-bullying is absolute hypocrisy.

Well, I wake up this morning, and what do you know, the video of the ‘attacks’ is online.  So, let’s all get some popcorn and watch it together:


Note that the first girl leaves the audience before Dan Savage makes a single criticism of the Bible.  He brings it up and he’s obviously going to make an argument, and the girl just leaves.  That’s pretty sad considering she’s there as a journalism student and she can’t bear to hear anyone even remark critically on her beliefs.  She’s in for a tough road as a journalist (that is assuming she is leaving for that reason; considering that a stampede of students start following her seconds later, it’s a pretty safe assumption).

By the time Savage has uttered the phrase “bullshit in the Bible” three times, it seems like most of the Christian teens in the room have vanished (it’s like the reverse ‘Beetlejuice’).  Those are the only instances of curses that Savage speaks.  I don’t think ‘pansy-ass’ constitutes a curse, but even if you do, he didn’t call the “Bible people” pansy-asses, he said leaving was pansy-ass.  I know, semantics, but there is a difference.  Also, keep in mind that he said that of the Christians who were no longer in the room.  He never once cursed the Christians, forcing them to leave.

Should Savage have used the word ‘bullshit’?  Maybe not.  If he had used the word ‘bunk’, no one would have had a ‘curse’ to hang their hats on, and the points he made would have still been just as sound.  What he says is utterly true and it would have been great for the Christian teenagers to hear it instead of walking out because they were offended.  I think Dan Savage needs to fashion his message a little better for the audience, but I also think the audience needs to get over their knee-jerk reactionism, especially as they are there as ‘journalists.’

(As an aside:  I think it’s not only okay to speak candidly about sexual matters with teenagers, it’s necessary.  Teenagers are exposed to sex in everything, so if you’re going to reach them and teach them about safe sex, be honest and be blunt.)

But here’s the real question: Did anything Savage say constitute bullying?

If bullying is critiquing another person’s beliefs, then we’re in for a pretty silent lunchroom.  And Savage didn’t attack Christianity, or Christians.  You could say he ‘attacked’ the Bible, but if you get past the word ‘bullshit’, you’ll find that the things he attacks (prohibitions against shellfish, acceptance of slavery, stoning of non-virgins) are things that Christians readily attack everyday, because they do not follow them.

There is a culture of victimization in American Christians that is frankly getting tiresome (and probably offensive to Christians in other parts of the world who actually are victims of oppression).  If the worst thing that happens to you is someone calls your holy scriptures ‘bullshit’, you’re living a pretty sweet life.  As an atheist, I’ve been told I was going to hell (or worse) by loved ones and strangers.  I don’t feel like a victim, I don’t feel like I’m being bullied.  I feel like I’m on one side of a cultural-divide.

That’s what Christians need to understand:  People are going to disagree with them, and because their beliefs have an effect on the public (at least, they hope so), sometimes that disagreement is going to be forceful and vehement.  They may be cussed at.

That is not bullying.

Bullying is when an individual or group oppresses another person with threats and public humiliation.  And this may be a controversial statement, but I’m going to stand by it:  A majority can’t be bullied by a minority.  They can be attacked, they can be insulted, but bullying requires power (either real or perceived), and as the old saying goes, There’s safety in numbers.  There is power in numbers.

A group of gay teenagers could theoretically bully a straight teen.  A flock of atheists (that’s the technical term) could bully a Christian.  I’m sure it happens somewhere.  But the gay community isn’t bullying the straight community.  Atheists aren’t bullying Christians.  Did David ‘bully’ Goliath?

So, did Dan Savage do anything wrong?  Ethically, morally, I’d say no.  He wasn’t being a hypocritical Anti-Bullying Bully.  Could he have tempered his speech and avoided this whole non-starter of a controversy?  Probably (though, who knows).

What should the Christian teenagers take away from this?  They should remember how they felt when they were being ‘bullied’ by Dan Savage and remember that the next time they tell a gay teen he is depraved or going to hell.  They should fight even harder to stop bullying and use their interest in journalism to stand up for the oppressed.

Or they can work for Fox News.

Teen Lit and Writing for Adults

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

I am so tragically unhip.  This isn’t exactly a newsflash, but it’s weeks like this that I see just how out of step I am with everyone I know.

It is possible that the cave you live in is not a wifi hotspot (there’s a homeless guy for that), in which case you might not have heard that this week, teen literature sensation The Hunger Games is appearing in movie theaters as the true first blockbuster of the year (sorry Tim Riggins).

I eloquently posted the following on my Facebook (something that’s surely totally passé, only further proving how out of touch I am):

As someone who has never read a single Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games or anything that could remotely be called ‘teen lit’ since I was, you know, a teen (and barely then, either), I must say this looks like the most interesting of the spate. It’s sci-fi instead of fantasy, and the female protagonist seems like a positive role model for girls, instead of that limpid pool of twatification that is Bella.

I could probably be talked into seeing this.

Of course, the universal response to this post was, “You should read the books!  LOLOMGSPLUGE!”  Or something like that.

Though I have very little experience with teen lit, I have been led to understand that the genre has grown considerably in recent years and there are genuine works of merit within it (the Twilight books notwithstanding).  I never read Harry Potter not because I have some major problem with teen fiction, but because they’re fantasy books and I don’t care about fantasy books.

That floats your boat?  Super, have at it.

I do have a passing interest in science fiction, at least when the science is emphasized, so The Hunger Games might be more up my alley, if, you know, I was still 16.  Unless I’m mistaken, though, this is science fiction of the ‘Future Dystopia’ type, and not of the speculative, map-out-where-we’re-going sort.  I’m a nerd, I want my science fiction books to teach me science.

Which is all to say, the movie sound likes an enjoyable couple hours at the theater (with a heroine I’d actually want my hypothetical future daughter to aspire to), but as a reading experience it would surely leave me dry.  I’ve been reading for a long time, I have a pretty solid grasp on what I enjoy.*

I don’t have a problem with teen literature.  I don’t really have a problem with adults reading teen lit, as part of a balanced reading diet.   But, as someone who has worked in bookstores of all size and denomination (corporate, privately owned), I know this is rarely the case. When the Harry Potter craze was in full effect, a study found, contrary to optimistic reports, that teens weren’t actually reading any more than before.  They mostly just read the Harry Potter books and that was it (and some gave up when the books got too long).

From experience, I can tell you this trend holds true for adults, too.  Aside for the mile-long line of apologetic, grown-ass women buying every Twilight book with their eyes averted, for the most part these book Sensations draw out a bunch of non-readers who can feel relatively confident that these books won’t require they ever use a dictionary.

I know a lot of adults who never mention reading a book unless it features a wizard or a vampire.  If you are shamed by that description because it hits too close to home, good.  You should be ashamed.  Don’t call yourself a reader if you never read a book that challenges you.  You’re not a reader, you’re a passive receptacle for childish things.  Pick up some Cormac McCarthy, some Fyodor Dostoevsky, some Michael Chabon.  Or, if you like a little more playfulness in your literature, read Mark Twain.  He essentially created the modern young adult novel with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and then grew the story up with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, still one of the greatest American novels ever written.

If you’re scared of jumping straight from Young Adult to Actual Adult, start with Salinger and work your way through all those books you skipped back in high school because, I mean, ugh, reading books for school is lame, bleehhh

Covering my ass: Most of my friends are real readers (if not, I’ve probably insulted them at some point and they’ve subsequently blocked me from their newsfeed), so I’m fairly confident that they’re reading books other than Teen lit.  I reiterate, as part of a healthy reading habit that mixes a variety of genres and styles, Teen Lit is a-ok by me.

Writing For Adults

Personally, I don’t read teen lit.  The last book I read from that genre was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a slight but enjoyable work of non-genre teenage literature that I read when I was 19 after my college best friend recommended it. 

I don’t read teen lit because I don’t write teen lit.  I write adult literary fiction.  I’m not interested in dumbing down my fiction to appeal to a mass audience.  This is not to say I’m intentionally hoping to alienate anyone with my writing.  Quite the contrary, I hope that I have a successful, well-received career as a writer, with a wide-ranging audience.  But I’m not going to write about werewolves or sappy teen love stories to get there.

“My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is sage advice from my favorite writer and I’ve carried it next to my heart for a long time.  I don’t take his exultation to mean write for teen youth.  People my age (the dreaded late 20s) are the youth of my generation, and so I hope to write words that speak to them.  I refuse to write down to them so the dumbest among them will gobble up my books.

I’m a big believer in the notion that you put out what you take in, which is why I voraciously devour great adult fiction in the hopes that my writing will steal even a fraction of that genius.  Sometimes I don’t enjoy the book I’m reading, sometimes I read a book and it’s so dense that I must muddle through and finish it just to be done with it.  That’s okay.  Reading should be both a pleasure and a mental work-out.  If it’s only the former and never the latter you’re doing it wrong, as the internet would say (well, actually, they’d say, ‘Your doing it wrong’).

So enjoy your teen lit, curl up with that pretty book after a long day at work and let yourself get enraptured in it so you can forget forget your deadlines and shithead boss.  And then, tomorrow, change it up and read something with a little more heft.

But save your breath.  I’m not going to read your teen lit, and telling me it only takes a day to read isn’t helping persuade me.

*I’m not ‘open-minded’ when it comes to literature.  Because I’m a writer, I am very judgmental of the work I read.  When it comes to music, on the other hand, I have no talent in that art form and so I am far more willing to put aside prejudgments and be won over.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – A Brief Examination of Alcoholism in a Literary Icon

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

            The 20th century was a shining moment for American literature.  Great literary figures had grown up in the States in the previous one hundred twenty-five years of the nation’s history, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that American authors truly began to challenge European authors (especially the British) on the international literary stage.  One of the most prominent novelists of his age, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what some consider the definitive American novel, yet gnawing at the edge of his talent was an addiction that would eventually overshadow his greatest achievements.

           Francis Scott Fitzgerald had an uneventful birth, but his childhood was still troubled, mostly because he “grew up embarrassed by his mother and alternatively proud and ashamed of his father.”[1]  This shame derived from the fact that his parents were not among the upper echelon of society.  From an early age, Fitzgerald believed that he must find a way of inserting himself among the moneyed and influential classes, a preoccupation that filled much of his writing, though not without its fair share of critical consideration.  While his first and largely autobiographical novel, This Side of Paradise, depicts a young college “egotist” attempting to fit in among the Ivy League, his third and most highly regarded novel, The Great Gatsby, paints a rather grim picture of the rich and their utter disregard for decency and human collateral.  That is not to say that Fitzgerald rejected wealth and its excesses, only that it never quite lived up to his childhood aspirations.

           Fitzgerald flat out rejected his Irish ethnic heritage, almost certainly because it set him apart from those in high society.  In his attempt to recreate himself in the image of his ‘superiors,’ though, Fitzgerald never fully disassociated from his Irish roots, becoming “a mixture of aspiring, self-loathing WASP and, as he once put it, ‘straight 1850 potato-famine Irish.’”[2]  As concerns his religious upbringing, Fitzgerald likewise moved away from it, writing in a letter to his friend and, later, critic, Edmund Wilson, “I am ashamed to say that my Catholicism is scarcely more than a memory.”  He then waffles and claims it is “more than that” but then derisively asserts that he never goes to “church nor mumble[s] stray nothings over chrystaline [sic] beads.”[3]  There can be no question that Fitzgerald had little room in his life for the structured religion of his forbearers.  Of course, as most of the people he wished to call his peers would have been Protestant, it’s no surprise that he felt a need to distance himself from his Catholic heritage.

           He attended Princeton for a time, but he was never an ideal student and didn’t graduate.  While Fitzgerald certainly had his scholastic failings, he was a very popular and active member of his class and made a few lasting literary connections, but ultimately he dropped out to fight in the war (though, to his regret, he never made it overseas).[4]

           Fitzgerald is among a long line of Irish-American literary figures, and with that heritage comes an appreciation for alcohol.  It has been noted that the greatest undoing of the Irish was “not in how much the Irish consumed, but how they consumed it.”[5]  Alcohol plays arguably as large a role, for instance, in Italian culture as it does among the Irish.  However, the difference between the two cultures is “in the style and purpose of their drinking.”[6]  For the most part, drinking in the Italian culture involves wine drank with a meal, whereas for the Irish, the alcohol of choice is usually hard liquor, such as whiskey and it is done as a “recreation,” with emphasis placed on imbibing for purposes of “socializing, celebrating and mourning.”[7]

            For Fitzgerald, this cultural attitude towards drinking was obviously at play.  He began drinking at a young age and it would become such a prevalent force in his life that alcohol and alcoholics appear as central characters throughout his writing.  Whether it was the revelers at Gatsby’s parties or the disastrously young and married couple in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald filled his writing to the brim with liquor.   He peopled a great deal of his short stories and pretty much all of his novels with alcoholics, though he rarely seems interested in self-indictment.  His characters, even when they display some of the most reprehensible characteristics of alcoholism, are by and large sympathetic people, often quite charming (as Fitzgerald, himself, was).[8]  That is not to say that he didn’t craft true-to-life characters.  One of his great gifts as a writer was his keen sense for humanity, but at times it seems he had a blind spot for his own greatest weakness.

            A heavy dose of denial and rationalization explains how he could live so long pursuing a deadly habit without stepping back and realizing the dangers.  Part of that was undoubtedly cultural. 

            He never truly gave up alcohol, though there were periods in which he claimed to have cut back or even gone long periods without any drink.  In the Roaring Twenties, when he and his beautiful wife, Zelda, were the talk of the town, they lived up their celebrity both in the States and abroad as ravenous partiers.  Despite their public personas, though, the Fitzgeralds were lousy drunks.   When inebriated, Scott was prone to “theatrical” displays, almost invariably making a fool of himself in front of his companions.  “In Zelda Sayre, he found a companion who liked drinking – and exhibitionism – as much as he did.”[9]  Almost every friend they had as a couple could attest to an embarrassing story involving the couple’s drunkenness.  Ernest Hemingway, friend and competitor, fellow literary giant and alcoholic, looked down on Fitzgerald’s seeming inability to handle his alcohol ‘like a man’ and painted a very unflattering portrait of him in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s account of the expatriate American writers living in France during the 1920s.  In general, Fitzgerald does not come off well in Hemingway’s memoir.

            This is not to say that Fitzgerald was unaware of his drunken escapades.  His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, reads like a fictional version of the early years of his marriage to Zelda (just as his final complete novel, Tender Is The Night, offers insight into the later years of their troubled marriage), with a husband and wife who drink too much and make spectacles of themselves both in play and while fighting.  As is usual with Fitzgerald’s characters, though, the reader’s sympathies are with the couple, or at least with the husband, Anthony.[10]

            What is most astonishing is that, unlike other authors of his time and disposition, Fitzgerald remained married to one wife.  This fact has probably been largely responsible for the general myth that Scott and Zelda were literary romantic heroes, doomed to tragedy but passionately in love with each other.  In reality, their marriage was often contentious, even before Zelda’s mental breakdowns, though those made the situation all that much worse.  Up until her first collapse in 1930, they managed to find ways to rekindle their love and continue together, despite Scott’s fear of infidelity and Zelda’s feelings of abandonment, and even her accusations that he was a homosexual.[11]  Whatever had kept them together throughout the 1920s, their marriage began quickly unraveling in the 30s, much in the same way his literary reputation seemed to crash concurrently with the stock market.

          Of all their ups and downs, the one thing that can be said for their marriage is that Fitzgerald apparently never turned violent towards Zelda, which would have been entirely out of character for him.  He was a less physical person in comparison to, say, Hemingway who Zelda disliked on the grounds that he was a “poseur” who artificially inflated his masculinity (plus, she suspected her husband of being sexually attracted to him).  Hemingway, for his part, thought that Zelda was a bad influence on his friend’s writing productivity.[12]  In fact, Zelda and Scott did fight often, and when she had her breakdown and was admitted to a sanatorium, the letters between Scott and her doctor reveals just how bad the cracks in their marriage had become.  It also exposes an alcoholic who was unwilling, perhaps unable, to quit drinking and his justifications for it:

Two years ago in America I noticed that when we stopped all drinking for three weeks or so, which happened many times, I immediately had dark circles under my eyes, was listless and disinclined to work.[13]

Here is the author arguing that the alcohol helped him write, not the only time he would claim this.  At the same time, he is suggesting that he frequently went long periods without drink, throwing in the “which happened many times” to imply that it was no great task to be sober.  He made such claims to friends and editors, too, quite often, even going so far as to say that he planned to “quit drinking for a few years.”[14]  Of course, it was never true.  Ironically, his justification for drinking were the negative effects he felt when he wasn’t drinking, almost certainly symptoms of withdrawal.  But he couldn’t see it that way.

            Zelda had apparently threatened to not take him back if he kept drinking, but Fitzgerald refused to be bullied into sobriety, as he saw it.  In fact, he puts much of the impetus for his drinking on her, writing, “the regular use of wine and apperatives [sic] was something that I dreaded but she encouraged because she found I was more cheerful then and allowed her to drink more.”[15] Here, again, is an alcoholic who apparently has been browbeaten into the overindulgence of drink against his will.  The alcoholic as victim is a common theme.  Displaying a fine gift for contradiction, he later admits in the same letter that his abuse of liquor is a crime he must pay for with “suffering and death perhaps but not with renunciation.”  A glass of wine at the end of the day is, after all, “one of the rights of man.”[16]  In this one letter, Fitzgerald seems to check off every excuse and justification in the alcoholic’s handbook before finally concluding that he will not give up drinking simply because Zelda has asked him to.

            Fitzgerald’s final ten years would continue in pretty much steady decline.  His fourth novel, Tender Is The Night, was not well-received upon publication in 1934 (though it has since, like Fitzgerald himself, received critical revival), and he spent much of the decade supporting himself with short stories and attempting to find success as a Hollywood screenwriter, success that would not come.  The period would provide fodder for what would be his final, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon.

            While a more self-aware author would have explored his history with alcohol  more directly (as Eugene O’Neill, a contemporary of Fitzgerald, did through his plays), he relegated the topic to secondary plot points.[17] However, from Fitzgerald we have a refreshingly candid but at times still self-deluding confession in his 1936 series of Esquire essays titled, “The Crack-Up.”  As a means of summing up his life, it serves as a better analysis of his motivations and failings than those offered by his peers like Hemingway.  In the second essay, he explains that he spent a great portion of his life “distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives.”[18]  For a man who famously wrote about and lived among his generation’s upper class, this is a remarkable admission of feelings of disconnection.  Yet, in the first essay he claims to not have been “entangled” in alcoholism, having periods as long as six months in which he didn’t touch even a drop of beer.[19]  While he did practice temperance during the writing of The Great Gatsby, this seems to be a pretty clear example of the author trying to offer up a sympathetic self-portrait for posterity.  In confession he could not admit to his audience (and, it seems, to himself) that he was an alcoholic, even at the end. 

            In 1940, at the age of 44, Fitzgerald died of an alcohol-induced heart attack, leaving behind a legacy of wasted talent.

           Posthumously, Fitzgerald has been recognized as one of the great writers of his (or any) generation in all of American literature.  His failing was that of so many of his peers, which in a way makes his tragedy seem inevitable, though it was not.  His literary strengths were overshadowed by his personal weaknesses; most damning, an unwillingness to admit them to himself.   For this reason, literature’s great gain was his greater loss, a truism of so many of the world’s finest artists.


[1] Scott Donaldson. Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald, The Rise And Fall Of A Literary Friendship (Woodstock: Overlook Pr), 1999.  15.

[2] Edward O’Donnell. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History (New York: Random House Inc), 2002, 258.

[3] F. Scott Fitzgerald. On Booze (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation), 2009. 80.

[4] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 56.

[5] O’Donnell, 1001 Things, 66.

[6] Kevin Kenny. The American Irish, A History (New York: Longman Pub Group), 2000. 201.

[7] O’Donnell, 1001 Things, 66

[8] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 232-235.

[9] Ibid.,223.

[10] Ibid., 232.

[11] Ibid., 156-158.

[12] Ibid., 156-157.

[13] F. Scott Fitzgerald. A Life In Letters. Ed. by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli and Judith Baughman  (New York: Scribner), 1994. 196.

[14] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 235.

[15] Fitzgerald, Life In Letters, 196-197.

[16] Ibid., 197.

[17] Thomas Dardis. The Thirsty Muse (New York: Houghton Mifflin), 1989, 250.

[18] Fitzgerald, Booze, 22.

[19] Ibid., 13.