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Sound Advice

This Is My Problem

This Is My Problem

Being Jewish prepares you to be an awesome advice-giver. After all, only 1.7 percent of Americans are Jewish, but 100 percent of Ann Landers, Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and Dr. Ruth are.

Emily Yoffe, author of Slate’s thoroughly enjoyable “Dear Prudence,” summed it up nicely: “Judaism is a religion that focuses on justice in this world. It’s not so much focused on the rewards of the next life, but about how to live in this life. Maybe that’s why you see so many Jews in the advice business.”

And yet Jeffrey Goldberg’s monthly “What’s Your Problem?” column for the Atlantic is abysmal. It somehow manages to be both obviously unserious and profoundly unfunny at the same time, thus obliterating five millennia of rabbinical tradition and humor. The result is about as broad and flat as a third-runner-up in a New Yorker cartoon caption contest.

Should I erase e-mails that people who are dead have sent me? This seems wrong somehow.
C.D., Seattle, Wash.

Dear C.D.,
Your letter is worded ambiguously. If you are referring to e-mails sent to you by people who subsequently have died, I would suggest that you review them carefully, keeping in mind the senders’ families. Any e-mails that contain suggestions of compassion, or wit, or some other positive attribute, I would consider sharing, as a comforting and loving gesture. If, on the other hand, you are suggesting that actual dead people are sending you messages, I would strongly recommend switching e-mail providers.

The real mystery isn’t why “What’s Your Problem?” is so bad, but how it’s managed to hang on to such a choice piece of journalistic real estate for the past three years. Goldberg has published a piece of hate mail at least once:

Do you have a contract with the Atlantic? Your column is witless. It’s stupid. It doesn’t belong in the Atlantic. Is the magazine legally obligated to publish it? 
D. R., San Bernardino, Calif.

Dear D. R.,
The Atlantic is, in fact, legally obligated to publish this column. I am prohibited from discussing exactly why because of a gag order imposed by one of several judges in a long-running civil dispute. I am allowed to tell you that the case is being heard by both the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and the Court of Appeals of the Cayman Islands. Without going into detail, I can say that this struggle concerns the disposition of the estate of Leona Helmsley; accounting irregularities at the Uzbek national oil company, Uzbekneftegaz; the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana; Philippe de Montebello; the First National Savings and Loan Association of Lagos; and former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Once the case is resolved, rest assured that The Atlantic will resume regular programming in this space.

So it’s not like he (or his editor) is oblivious to the bricks he’s throwing. I can’t tell if that makes it better or worse. His response sucks—it’s not so much a wink and nudge as it is a maniacal giggle and a shove down the stairs. A word of advice, Jeff: Be sincere, or be funny. Or better: be both.

Credit: chrysostom

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TMN Editor Liz Entman Harper has lived in St. Louis, New York, and Nashville. She sweats the small stuff, like hyphens and commas, and has a day job, but won’t bore you with the details. More by Liz Entman Harper

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