Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education

Overview

In modern-day America, newspaper advice columns have become public forums for the discussion of human sexuality. Although questions posed to newspaper advice columnists ranges from matters of etiquette to intimacy, as they have for decades, increasingly most of the limited space in these newspaper features address issues that fall under a broader heading of sexuality. Questions about marital fidelity, dating and relationships, sexual practices, gender roles, and sexual taboos have all become "hot button" topics ...

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Overview

In modern-day America, newspaper advice columns have become public forums for the discussion of human sexuality. Although questions posed to newspaper advice columnists ranges from matters of etiquette to intimacy, as they have for decades, increasingly most of the limited space in these newspaper features address issues that fall under a broader heading of sexuality. Questions about marital fidelity, dating and relationships, sexual practices, gender roles, and sexual taboos have all become "hot button" topics within the morally conservative mainstream press. In Confidential to America, David Gudelunas shows how, since the 1950s, advice columns have been one of the few consistent, mainstream, and widely available public forums for the discussion of topics severely restricted in other places.

Newspaper advice columns serve as sites of discussion about sexuality within a larger culture that is severely divided on questions of how, when, and to what extent one may formally speak about sexuality. Even now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, high schools remain hesitant to devote more than a semester or two to formal discussions of sexuality. When they do, under current governmental policy and pressure, these discussions are often restricted to abstinence-only programs or what might be described as "non-discussions" of sexuality. Community-based sexual education programs are similarly restricted in their reach, funding, and, more often than not, effectiveness. In America in the twenty-first century, talking about sex in educational contexts is perceived to be almost as risky as having sex.

Gudelunas demonstrates that while formal discussions of sexuality are strictly regulated and often thwarted, the informal curriculum of sexuality, particularly in the American mass media, has become ever more vocal on the topic of sex. From depictions conveyed through fictional and reality-based popular culture, to discussions taking place in the cafeteria (if not the classroom) and in Internet chat rooms, sexuality dominates our collective conscience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Roll over Ann Landers and tell Dear Abby the news: the secret is out. Someone has finally figured out what we've been up to all these years in the personal advice columns speaking to America about the unspeakable, and teaching the lessons that schools are forbidden to teach. For decades newspaper advice columns were our best, and often our only source of information and counsel on affairs of the heart and urges of the flesh. Confidential to America tells one of the great untold stories of American journalism, from Beatrice Fairfax to Dan Savage and everyone in between." —Larry Gross, Professor and Director, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California From its origins in seventeenth century London to "the twins from Sioux City," Dan Savage and the Internet, Gudelunas dissects the conversation among millions of Americans known as advice columns. As Savage acknowledged, he writes only half of his column—the readers write the other half. This unique form of community dialogue among more than 100 million readers is not so much about advice as it is "a place to talk taboo." While others have focused on the "advice," Gudelunas' refreshingly accessible book turns our attention to how a few column inches in the newspaper provide us a mass media for intimate conversations between individuals.

—Fred Jandt, Professor of Communication and Dean,Palm Desert Campus, California State University "From its origins in seventeenth century London to "the twins from Sioux City," Dan Savage and the Internet, Gudelunas disects the conversation among millions of Americans known as advice Columns. As Savage acknowledged, he writes only half of his column—the readers write the other half. This unique form of community dialogue among more than 100 million readers is not so much about advice as it is "a place to talk taboo.

While others have focused on the "advice," Gudelunas' refreshingly accessible book turns our attention to how a few column inches in the newspaper provide us a mass media for intimate conversations between individuals." —Fred Jandt, Professor of Communication and Dean, Palm Desert Campus, California State University, San Bernardino

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412806886
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/18/2007
  • Pages: 234
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Gudelunas is assistant professor of communication at Fairfield University. His areas of research include communication industries, journalism, new media technologies, media history, cultural studies, and popular culture. Some of his professional affiliations include the International Communication Association and the National Communication Association.

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Table of Contents


List of Figures     vii
Acknowledgements     ix
Introduction     1
Clean Talking and Dirty Living: Sexuality Discourse in the United States     9
The Early History and Context of Newspaper Advice Columns     21
Columnists and Characters     37
Advice in Transition     81
America's Consciences: Ann, Abby, and the Art of Advice     93
New Media for an Old Message: The Future of Newspaper Advice Columns     151
A Place to Talk Taboo: The Functions of Newspaper Advice Columns     171
Conclusions     203
References     217
Index     223
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