% IssueDate = "11/18/02" IssueCategory = "Reviews" %>
The Book Nook
Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America by Dan Savage; Dutton; 304 pages; $23.95.
Skipping Towards Gomorrah is Dan Savage's answer to Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah as well as similar efforts by the likes of Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly and "Doctor" Laura Schlesinger.
"The truly revolutionary promise of our nation's founding document is the freedom to pursue happiness-with-a-capital-H," Savage writes. "Unfortunately, this promise is considered problematic by some Americans." These "professional virtuecrats aren't content to mind their own business," Savage reminds us.
"Instead, Dr. Laura Schlesinger lectures us on the radio daily, Bill O'Reilly gripes at us on cable nightly, and William J. Bennett seems to produce a book a month." That Savage enjoys baiting the "virtuecrats" goes without saying. He even appeared on O'Reilly's Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor, where he gleefully challenged that pompous ass.
This is not a good time to be a freethinker in America. The virtuecrats are in control, and opposing voices are barely allowed by the corporate media. "While the efforts of the virtuous to make their virtues compulsory haven't been successful . . . the virtuecrats go largely unchallenged in the public arena.
The virtuecrats haven't succeeded in halting the sale of rap CDs, the giving of blow jobs, or the getting of high; they have succeeded in convincing us that no one has a right to challenge them." In Skipping Towards Gomorrah the author of the syndicated sex advice column Savage Love speaks out on behalf of the "virtuous sinners": ordinary, down-home Americans who are law abiding and god-fearing but who indulge in a harmless vice or two.
"To explore the lives of virtuous sinners, I decided to leave home and walk up and down in the United States, committing in turn all the seven deadly sins, except one, which, try as I might, I simply couldn't do. . . . Part travelogue, part memoir, part Bork-and-Bennett bitch slap, this book is a love letter to Thomas Jefferson, American freedom, and American sinners."
For the record, the Seven Deadly Sins are greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, envy, pride and anger Skipping Towards Gomorrah takes us to each sin's natural habitat: a Las Vegas casino for greed, a National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) convention for gluttony; an exclusive spa for envy; and a Texas shooting range and gun shop for anger.
In the case of sloth, Savage (naturally) stays home, and discusses the relaxing aspects of smoking marijuana. ("I am not a pothead. But I do smoke pot. Sometimes. Occasionally. Cautiously.") Savage's belief that marijuana should be legalized goes against the current wisdom as expounded by the virtuecrats (and the Bush Administration). "[U]nbiased researchers have long since documented that marijuana is safe, harmless, less addictive than caffeine, and less harmful than alcohol. Despite this research, nothing remotely positive is ever written or broadcast by American news media about the recreational use of marijuana;" present company excepted, of course.
In the case of lust, Savage attends a Lifestyles Organization (LSO) swinger's convention in Las Vegas, where heterosexual couples add spice to their lives by swapping spouses. Here Savage reminds us that monogamy is unnatural, and that "only fools would build marriages with monogamy as their foundation (and only a foolish society would demand such behavior)."
Swingers can lead respectable lives and have solid families, as is the case with David and Bridget, a couple Dan met at the LSO convention and then visited at their home in suburban Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Alas, although he's happily partnered, Savage cannot commit adultery, according to a "very nice Baptist minister" he contacted through a prayer line.
Today, however, "the message at gay pride parades in the United States hasn't evolved; it's still, Gay is good! There are two problems with this: First, it's misleading. . . . Second, what relevance does a 'gay is good' message have to the vast majority of American gay men and lesbians who . . . don't believe there's anything in the least bit shameful about their homosexuality? What relevance do pride parades have to hip, secure, handsome gay men like Kevin and Jake?" (his two WeHo companions).
Dan Savage is one of a rare breed of author who can be side-splitting funny and deadly serious at the same time. He can be inconsistent at times, as when he writes approvingly of the straight swinger scene but finds "the gay version of the lifestyle - gay bathhouses - revolting."
Even worse, Savage can be as smug and intolerant as the virtuecrats he criticizes. Those who agree with Savage's views will like his book while those who disagree will hate it; in either case there will be no converts. Still, in a literary genre dominated by the Borks and Bennetts it is good to hear a dissenting voice. Reading Skipping Towards Gomorrah reminds us that there is still some sanity left in this world.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and gay book lover who lives in South Florida with his boy friend. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.