Dan Savage's MTV sex advice show pushes conservatives' crazy button

In reviewing "Savage U,"  MTV's  sex advice show featuring Dan Savage, I predicted that it was going to be a culture-wars lightning rod at some point. The show debuted with an episode set at the University of Maryland April 3.

Well, it didn't take long.


On April 7, Brent Bozell, publisher of the right-wing media watchdog website NewsBusters went absolutely off the rails with a column attacking MTV and Savage as merchants of "smut."

Here's how Bozell started his column, and he was only warming up:


MTV is now trying to lure young viewers with a saucy sex show in the "advice" category. They didn't reach for Dr. Drew or God forbid, Dr. Ruth, or an actual doctor of anything. They turned to filthy sex columnist and gay activist Dan Savage.
The new show is called "Savage U," and it documents Savage touring college campuses to offer snarky/smutty advice to college students. This is MTV's libertine ideology pitched right at children, and Savage is blunt about how he'll be going around the parents.

You can read the full review here.

There is nothing like sex to make some conservatives absolutely lose their minds. I mean that.

"Lure young viewers," "filthy sex columnist," "smutty advice," "libertine ideology" -- are we time warping back to the 1950s of Joe McCarthy or what? Really, this is nutty talk.

What's fascinating about this is that Bozell's NewsBusters site is in many ways a commendable operation. It is deft at deconstructing liberal assumptions underlying media pieces that are presented as if they were written from a down-the-middle point of view. And they have flushed out considerable mainstream media malfeasance over the years.

NewsBusters recently led the way, for example, in exposing the egregious editing by NBC News and the "Today" show of a 911 call involving George Zimmerman shortly before he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. While NBC News has since acknowledged the mistake and fired a producer, it has yet to adequately address the outrageous act, but it's not for lack of effort by the NewsBusters team. You can read about that here.

You can also read the praise I have for "Savage U" here.

Here's the thumbnail version:

Acting responsibly is one of the biggest themes sounded in "Savage U."

Another is to accept and embrace who you are. Don't be ashamed and don't let others try to make you into something you're not — no matter how much you want to be with them.

Both messages seem like excellent advice for college students who have ample opportunity and freedom to do harmful things to themselves and others as they struggle to find adult identities.

Yes, I like the MTV production -- a lot.


I don't have time to educate Bozell on media theory. But here's the core of what's wrong with his analysis: The media effects theory on which it is based has been totally discredited by serious scholars and analysts for at least the last three decades.

When you talk about "young viewers" as helpless victims who are targeted by a message and instantly fall prey to it, you are positing a pre-World-War-II era mass communications theory known as the hypodermic model.

This model saw mass media as a giant hypodermic needle that "injected" messages into our brains. And no brains were more susceptible to the injections than those of children.

In part, the model grew out of a fear of Hitler, Mussolini and fascist use of radio and film to reach huge audiences with propaganda in the 1930s. For a long time, even after World War II, it dominated discussions of violence on American TV.

But that model has been replaced among serious analysts for at least 25 years by a much more sophisticated cultural studies view of how media messages are received differently by each person based on her or his personal history of family, education, social class, race, religion, ethnicity and values.

Bozell's analysis would be laughed out of any reputable university. It is not only out of date and wrong, it is downright ignorant.

"Savage U" returns at 11 tonight with another epsiode, this one at Ohio State University. I urge you to have a look, and stop back to let me know what you think.

As for Bozell and his tired '50s rhetoric, well, let's just leave it right there for now, as they say in the world of television.

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