Saturday, November 11, 2006

I Feel Like A Man Without A Country

The birth, death, and possible phoenix-like rebirth of Dear Rudence.

As you may have noticed, Dear Rudence has taken a bit of an extended vacation, and I'd like to share my thoughts on that if I may.

You see, I've been thinking a lot about recent events, and be rest assured it is more than just my own laziness which has seen the lack of additions to the Dear Rudence canon.

I've come to a bit of a crossroads where the writing of it has been concerned, and that has more to do with thoughts I've been drawn to regarding DR's history. I've been doing this parody column for years now, and recently I began thinking about where I started out and why, where it's gone, and where I find myself now.

I'd like to share with you what I've been thinking about in a brief history of Dear Rudence.

The Birth Pangs

It all started when I was reading DP for the nth time. It was the typical softball, my husband this... my girlfriend that... my shop teacher and a dachsund the other... bleah. Just bleah. So I perused the DP fray looking for an interesting other take on some of these problems which always seemed to generate a little opinionated traffic. I don't know whether it was the material that day, or some of the answers Prudie was giving out, or some combination of the two, but it really hit me just how over the top you could go with this if your goal was to make people laugh.

I was a lot younger than I am now, and the piss and vinegar boiling through my circulatory system was a great deal more concentrated. Because of this and my natural affinity for sarcasm and an apparently inborn misanthropy, the joke, as they say, wrote itself.

On that day Rudence was born.

Rudence would be the diametric opposite of Prudie: rude, crass, impolitic, lecherous, disgusting, and painfully matter-of-fact, the most atavistic masculine stereotype... the Evil Prudie if you will. Rudie will generally view the world ("the mass of idiots", he refers to them) with contempt, but because he's no dummy and has a very high opinion of himself, will consider it his "calling" to "clue up" the human race.

Rudie refuses to be sly or ridden with licentious innuendo, but only because "most of his readership wouldn't get it, and can barely spell their own names, let alone 'innuendo'". Rudie's default position would be: "You are a total fuckwit, and here's why..." Rudie would only come off of the default position if and only if the person writing for advice was dead wrong, in which case that person would be praised for being "ahead of the curve." Of course these rules would be modified in full view of each individual case, with the sole criterion being the risibility quotient of the result.

Rudie will always refer to himself in the third person, to put a fine point on just how obnoxious he's prepared to be to deliver his pearls of vitriolic wisdom.

When I realized that Rudie was merely an accurate expression of my own id, I felt confident that I could pull this off to some positive result.

But how to do it?

Well, why not just copy the whole damn thing, change all of the Prudences to Rudence, all of the Prudies to Rudie, and just parody the column wholesale? Simple. Effective.

But what else?

Absolutely try to find some put-down reference to their signed aliases. If a promiscuous writer pens that they're in danger of losing their significant other because of their cheating, and they sign their letter as "Troubled in Cincinnati," reply "Dear Fucked Everywhere." And by all means mimic Prudie's sign off line "-Prudie, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-ly", only just go wild with it.

So created a post, performed the necessary cut, paste, and rip, supplied some caustic commentary and... eureka!... Dear Rudence, Your Column Alternative was born.

I really was just trying my hand at it, for my own entertainment, but I came back the next day to find that I'd gotten at least a few replies off of it, most of which were LOL, ROFLMAO, or the best, descriptions of how John/Jane Q. OfficeWorker got the weirdest stares from laughing so hard at their monitors. Then, I knew I was onto something pretty cool.

Now, little did I know it, but doodahman had already had the same idea for a while... I don't recall whether or not he was calling it My Two Cents or not by this time... so I checked his out. The last thing I wanted to be was derivative. To my relief, he was approaching it differently... same deference to pointing out the foibles of others with rapier, often caustic, wit, but from a first-person, semi-serious manner. My intention was to go full on into "attack" mode, fully dress in the Rudie persona, leaving no earth unscorched. In other words, there was room for the both of us, and so I continued.

The Autumn Years

Time went on, and I diligently posted DR each week. As DR evolved, if I had something personal to get off my chest, I'd start the column off with a welcome and a brief catharsis in Rudie style, rather than just going right into it as I'd done before. Somewhere along the line, I think it was during J. D. Connor's reign as Fray Editor, I'd impressed him enough with my humor to earn the coveted (and sometimes uncoveted) star poster status. For me, the presence of that little gold bauble only drew attention to the DR column, which had previously been buried amongst the throng of top posts.

If I'd take a week off, for whatever reason, people seemed to actually miss their Thursday morning fix. Talk about making it all worthwhile.

But eventually, I would get fatigued. I found myself rehashing themes, dealing with the same old "basic three" problems, "My mother in law is an asshole", "My wife/husband/dog/dishwasher is cheating on me" and "My friends hate my boyfriend/girlfriend/choice in upholstery".

So I took a prolonged vacation, even going so far as to offer up ghostwriting the column to interested Fraysters, give them a chance at the helm for awhile. No takers.

DR dropped off the map for a while. I wasn't concerned. MTC was still going strong, and a few other interesting parody columns took up residence as well.

I came back after a few months, and within short step, the former Prudie announced her retirement from Slate to pursue other opportunities. I made a post essentially thanking her for being such a good sport about things and providing me with an opportunity to do my thing, and wished her the best of luck in her future endeavors. She responded cordially, confirming my suspicion that she did come into the Fray to read our little parodist scribblings. From her response, I do believe she also got a kick out of it.

The Death of Dear Rudence

DR died a slow death recently. While I still believe that there is room for MTC and Dear Rudence at DP, the recent spate of Fray server troubles, the flap between Geoff and Ender, and the giving of and immediate taking away of doodahman's "shadow" column has kind of left me wondering whether I want to do this column or not. While I still find myself posting in BOTF from time to time, I find myself frustrated and uninspired by the turns of events over at the Fray.

I'm not sure that Emily Yoffe really appreciates doodah's efforts, or mine for that matter as I've posted a few recent columns. Not that this would stop me from doing it, but having the suspicion that your work is unappreciated by some where before you never had that suspicion kind of changes how you feel about it and whether or not it's time to move on to something else.

It's like having a neighbor with a connecting backyard. If you get along really well, you share the space without a thought, have barbeques together and whatnot. Then the neighbor sells the house, someone else moves in, and within a week, they have fenced in their property. While they may be just as nice as the people who moved out, you get the sense that this demarcation is very important to them, that it be clear to everyone where their domain ends and yours begins.

I've always liked the barely controlled chaos over at the Fray, and it just seems like there is some force trying to reign it in. I'll reserve judgment until I see more, but suffice it to say that, I don't like the direction this is taking. Not blaming anyone. Just sayin'.

But now, I feel like a man without a country. Dear Rudence, for now, is dead.


I've entertained the thought, and if I think people want to see more, if I can capture just a little of the impetus for doing it that I had when I first started... I'll do it. Otherwise, no.

Personally, I like the Rudie character. He's the unashamed bastard we all want to be sometimes when confronted by life's double-digit IQs. Maybe he just needs a new focus. A different vehicle perhaps...


sikwoiu said...

For what it's worth, as soon as my wife read her first DR on wagtheslate, she was a fan. I took to emailing her your articles. So, if you do decide to resurrect DR (or perhaps expand DR’s source material), you’ll have at least one devoted reader (well, two).

Anonymous said...

Good heavens, that was quite a treatise! What a self-important person you must be--verily, a legend in your own mind.

Abstract: Elbo Ruum wants Dear Rudence to be a feature of WikiFray.

august said...

Elbo -- I tend to like dead things, but I'd be sorry to see Rudence go.

Elbo Ruum said...

To Anon...

Quite an accurate estimation of my own self importance. Or Rudie's at least.

Since it was sort of a feature of Wag the Slate (after being a feature of DP for years) I'm entertaining the idea, but like I said, I don't know if I want to keep doing it.

MsZilla said...

If any input from me helps, I say damned the digital torpedos and bring on the snark! Rudence Lives!

Yes, I know it's hard to be confronted with the fact the same idiocy keeps showing up with a different meat-puppet but that doesn't diminish the challenge of making even more fun of it. It's the only way to stay sane.

You may not realize it in this shifting, fairy-chess world but this has history, and weight. I would miss it.