Go back to Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor has done it again: he’s written another insipid article loaded with casual bigotry, this time against gays. I’m pleased to see that Dan Savage has savaged him, so I don’t need to go on at length.

However, this really isn’t the first time Keillor has done this—he has a history of unthinking stereotyping and rejection of gays and atheists. He’s an excellent example of why, when I see the Religious Right and the Religious Left, I don’t think the problem is the Right or Left…it’s the Religious.

My criticism of Keillor from 2005 is below the fold. Not only does he reject atheism and homosexuality, but he does so on the most trivial grounds—gay people want to get married to economize on their wardrobe? It’s nuts.


I have to confess to having had a fondness for Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion. I know it’s sappy and maudlin, and it speaks most clearly to a fairly narrow cultural mindset, but it’s my culture. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but my mother and grandparents were Minnesota transplants of Scandinavian descent, and that understated Northern Lutheran lifestyle was familiar ground. The rhythms of the speech, the homey tales of Lake Wobegon, even the hymns they often sing are pleasant reminders of growing up. My grandparents were devotees of the cult of Lawrence Welk, but I imagine they would have been very comfortable with Garrison Keillor, too.

I also like that he’s a vocal Democrat, and has spoken strongly on liberal values. He represents some of the best of the good ol’ down-home American attitude. But…

But he also represents some of the worst. He was brought up in a fundamentalist home, and all too often, it shows through. For instance, here are a few examples from his stint as an advice columnist on Salon:

I’ve had a crush on the girl who lives downstairs since she moved in. We have gotten to know each other to some extent and are on friendly terms, and I feel we are very different people. I am an atheist/humanist and she is the youth group coordinator at a local Catholic church. She is not dogmatic or anything, but it is a stumbling block for me that we will not get along on a very basic level if a relationship should occur. I wonder if it is possible for the secular and the sacred to come together in harmony. Please help me with my conundrum.

Guy Upstairs

Dear Guy,

Keep your mitts off that nice Catholic girl, you heathen, and go bother the Unitarian girls. Life presents enough stumbling blocks in the natural course of things without you going and walking into trees. You asked for my advice and that’s it. Cool it. And if you can’t cool it, then start reading your Bible and taking instruction in the faith.

Yikes. That was harsh and rather one-sided—I would have advised the poor fellow to get to know the girl better, and discover if their different religious beliefs might not be more compatible than he thinks, and if he were the Catholic and she the atheist I would have said the same thing. Keillor seems to have a knee-jerk intolerance towards non-Christians. Here’s another example:

I’m in my late 20s, looking forward to moving in together with my boyfriend, whom I adore, and getting on with our lives. We are committed to each other. My parents are working very hard to convince me that if I want to have kids with him (I do), we need to get married and he needs to convert to my religion. My sweetie is an atheist anarchist who has thought about his beliefs and is a very principled fellow. I don’t know what to do, but my parents are putting on the full-court press and it’s very upsetting. I don’t want to shun my family but I adore this man and I just want everyone to get along. Can you suggest some reading material?

N.Y. Woman

Dear N.Y.,

Yes, I’d suggest the sacred texts of your religion, and I’d suggest that your sweetie read them. He can be an atheist anarchist on his own time, but if he wants to marry you, he’s got to marry your family, and he should know the religion and be comfortable around it and able to hear it talked about. If you were farmers, he should know corn from dandelions, right? So get him on the ball. Atheistic anarchism is a refuge for the immature and indolent. Smoke him out.

It’s strange how he notes that “he’s got to marry your family”, but doesn’t seem to recognize that she also has to marry his, and most importantly, him. Perhaps there should be some reciprocal acknowledgment of each other’s beliefs, hmmm? Would her family be comfortable around atheism? And why assume he would be uncomfortable with it? More often than not, atheists are familiar with the religious—many of us grew up with them—and it’s frequently far less upsetting for us to be around Christians than for some Christians to notice our existence.

Case in point, I’m willing to overlook his casual dismissal of atheism; I’m used to it. The indifferent bigotry of the religious is something you have to get accustomed to if you are going to get by in our society. This weekend, though, Keillor published an opinion piece in the Strib that really left me cold.

I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. I’m sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team. Still, it’s probably good for them to have to fight for the right to marry. My parents eloped against strong opposition from both families and they were in love for the rest of their lives and held hands and were tender on into their 80s. Of course they always had fresh strawberries.

Can you trivialize it any more, Garrison? Homosexuals only want to marry to share clothes…do heterosexuals only marry to share the rent and get that tax deduction? I think homosexuals want to fall in love for the rest of their lives and hold hands and eat strawberries together, too, and it is not our privilege to stand in their way. Keillor’s parents eloped (as did mine, by the way), but despite their family opposition they could stand up as adults and get society’s blessing on their independence and their partnership. Gay marriage is about granting consenting adults autonomy and recognition and public commitment to one another. There is no good cause to deny it, and pretending it is just about sharing wardrobe accessories is contemptible.

Ah, but again he reminds me of my grandparents: they were good people, loving and kind, and I cared for them very much, but my grandfather hated “the Japs” and could be spiteful and mean when he was drunk, and my grandmother warned me not to date any Negroes when I went off to college. That I loved my grandparents doesn’t make their unthinking racism any less wrong.

When he’s being shallow and stupid, Keillor doesn’t take any half-measures. I thought this was particularly weak:

Politics is transitory, too. The big huffers and woofers come and go and the tidal changes they promise don’t quite happen. Look at the Conservative Revolution: What did it change? It got us into one reckless war in Iraq and it steered the economy toward the reef, but any fool could have done that, you didn’t need a conservative.

All it got us was a war and a damaged economy, but no big deal. Tell that to those parents who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq, or the unemployed and homeless who are in despair. It makes a difference. Imagine if this country had had a responsible, competent president in 2001 who, instead of launching an unjustified war and spilling blood and treasure on foreign sands, had invested in sensible domestic security and made only measured strikes against those responsible for attacks against our country. Imagine that we hadn’t sunk trillions of dollars deeper in debt, and were not committed to an insane war that has damage our international reputation and committed us to years of bloody folly. Only a fool would think that having Bush and his neo-con cronies in office has made no difference in the history of our country. Bush made a difference—for the worse.


  1. BlueIndependent says

    I confess I had only heard ruminations of Mr. Keillor’s vacillations on specific subjects, but this is a pretty stark example. Unfortunate indeed, and it takes some serious weight out of that tone heard over NPR signals nationwide on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

    His opinions on these two subjects seem so hardened and unprofessionally argued for (is there a professional way to argue them?) that it almost doesn’t sound like it’s even him. But I have read a few of his Salon pieces in the past, and it sounded like good ol’ home on the prairie Garrison.

    This ellicits one of those distressed “WTF?” reactions from me.

  2. says

    Well, at least Keillor can still get on national radio and mock the stupid president.

    I am disappointed to see an idol of mine has feet of clay.

    Maybe I can just chalk this up as just Minnesota matter?

    didn’t think so.

    What about all that Reader’s Digest grade poetry he assembles?

    I just wouldn’t take a comedian that seriously.

  3. notthedroids says

    Oi veh I wish I hadn’t read that.

    It’ll be a long time before I can enjoy PHC (or at least the NFLW) again.

  4. Christian Burnham says

    Oh, and all hail PZ as well!

    Just think what this country could have been with decent leadership over the last few years.

  5. Great White Wonder says

    NPR stinks and Keillor is just another glaring example of why. Thank God I live in a civilized part of the country where I have numerous college radio stations to choose from.

  6. Wesam says

    I pictured him as Mr. Garrison from South Park while reading that. The similarities seem to go beyond just their names though.

  7. Christian Burnham says

    Slightly OT,

    From CNN
    Global warming gap among evangelicals widens

    “We have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children,” said the letter, which was signed by prominent religious conservatives such as James Dobson, Don Wildmon, Paul Weyrich and Gary Bauer.

    Those people are scarier than any Bond villain. At least the Bond villains only wanted gold bullion. These people don’t mind if our planet burns to a crisp.

  8. JJR says

    Gay couples want legal recognition of their unions for very concrete, material benefits & basic human rights issues. Spousal benefits, Next-of-kin recognition that automatically grants your loved one the right to make decisions for you if you are medically incapacitated and unable to do so…this sort of bigotry is startling coming from Keillor, but I guess that’s religion for you.

    I suspect the harsh love advice to the mixed couples is also kind of a “circle the wagons” response…heaven forbid the religious partner question HER views and maybe opt for atheism? Perhaps there are Anarchists and/or atheists who are immature and indolent. There are also some that have come to those positions through well-considered self-examination and a deep analysis of the world around them. Lord knows there are plenty of indolent and immature gawd-squaders out there.

    Still, I’m inclined to take a Tevye-like position for atheists and humanists. Do your best to seek out another atheist or humanists as a potential life-partner first. Don’t settle for a wishy-washy agnostic, they may turn on you later. And people who are only nominally religious now tend to become very religious when the reality of children enter the picture, or with age, or both. Find a nice atheist girl and save yourself a world of woe. I speak from oh-too-painful personal experience on this one, folks.
    You gotta accept people as they are…it’s folly anytime we tell ourselves “oh, s/he’s change” or worse “I can change him/her”. Religion, as Marx said, is an opiate, and as with other addictions, the only thing that can make the addict quit is the addict admitting they have a problem and making a conscious decision to quit.

    I’m wondering if the girl in the 2nd example is Jewish, since most of the time the parents wouldn’t be so insistent on a potential son-in-law converting to THEIR religion. The nice thing about Judaism if you’re lucky enough to be born into it, is you can be an outspoken atheist but still be accepted as a Jew….better that than marrying a Christian or converting to Christianity or both! I don’t know about conversion Jews, though. If you convert under Orthodox auspices then later come out as an Atheist, I don’t know if they revoke your “Jewishness” or not. I’ve often said if there was a way I could convert to SECULAR Judaism, I’d do it. ;-)

    But I reiterate, marriage is a very serious thing, and if the two partners aren’t of one mind on that God question, either YES or NO, it usually only ends in tears at some point on down the line.

    Just my $0.02 worth.

  9. ScienceBreath says

    Believe it or not, Prairie Home Companion gets some air time here in New Zealand. It plays on Radio New Zealand National (the closest equivalent would be the US’s NPR) and usually over the summer months when people are on vacation.

    I’ve got to say that I’ve never warmed to it. In fact I find it freakin’ depressing. Each to his own, I guess.

  10. QrazyQat says

    The saddest part is that Keillor can be, and often is, funny, yet he had to steal a 15-year-old Seinfeld bit about gay couples sharing wardrobe (and Seinfeld’s formulation was actually funny).

    The most hypocritical part, of course, is that he’s decrying the state of marriage while being twice divorced.

  11. Patrick says

    I’m willing to read a couple of his comments a little more generously. His comments on gay marriage, while stating clearly that he’s against it, do suggest that he acknowledges that gay people can and do form lasting, committed emotional relationships. That’s one up on a lot of people with conservative social views. And as for his comment on conservatism, I read that more as saying, “Big ideas come and go, but stupidity is forever.”

    This is a limited defense, of course. The religious bigotry makes me sad.

  12. Todd Adamson says

    Garrison Keillor comes from the Plymouth Brethren. I grew up in a PB household (the Exclusive cult branch) and I can attest to the fact that you have to travel a very long distance to the left from the nether regions of PB-dom to even reach a middle of the road conservative. I’m not defending his attitude towards gays and atheists, just trying to explain how he can seem like a liberal on political issues, and yet have social conservative leanings.

  13. valhar2000 says

    Those nice advice column pieces of his merit a bat to the head. That procedure would have to be beneficial, since it could not possibly make more stupid than he already is.

  14. BlueIndependent says

    Ya I had no idea about his marital history, but he does smack of Newt for this. In fact, it might as well *HAVE* been Newt that wrote this. No doubt they are on the same side of this issue now.

    So this begs the question: is Keillor the liberal Newt? I say maybe not since GK still cannot stand BushCo. But then, Newt has also been less than charitable to Bush lately…it’s a tough call.

  15. Chris B. says

    This seems as good a time as any to mention here that I play in The Gated Community, a Marxist, anti-Keillor country band based in Minneapolis. Check us out here; I especially recommend our gender-bending “(I Can’t Tell If My Baby’s A) Boy or a Girl”.

  16. fardels bear says

    I doubt many of you will agree with me, but I think Keillor’s piece is failed satire (some of the comments over at Dan Savage’s place point this out too). Keillor is a satirist and can be very effective at it. This is not one of his effective works, however. Satire has to be spot-on or it fails and this is pretty clearly a failure.

    I doubt Keillor is anti-gay, although you can’t tell it from this recent dreck.

    As for his advice, well… Back in the 1980s, I worked in a bookstore in his neighborhood. It was well-known among us that he was a jerk and all the booksellers tried to steer clear of him when he came in. He has two failed marriages and has crapped on a lot of people personally and professionally. Who would go to such a man and expect good advice?

    And, BlueIndependent? It RAISES the question. It doesn’t BEG the question.

  17. BC says

    Still, it’s probably good for them to have to fight for the right to marry. My parents eloped against strong opposition from both families and they were in love for the rest of their lives and held hands and were tender on into their 80s.

    That’s true. It’s probably healthy for couples to overcome societal disapproval. It makes their relationship stronger, and makes sure their love is true. Next week: Why we should outlaw interracial marriage – we’re only trying to help them by putting obstacles in their way. (roll eyes)

  18. says

    RE: “He’s an excellent example of why, when I see the Religious Right and the Religious Left, I don’t think the problem is the Right or Left…it’s the Religious.”

    When people decide that the all the issues of life, politics, economics, culture and social order, are determined by the contents of one book, they may not come up with the same answers, but their answers are equally unconvincing.

  19. Paguroidea says

    It’s so very disappointing to hear Keillor make those comments. He’s considered (or was considered) a role model by many Americans.

  20. says

    I’ve heard the same argument before, that this is just poorly done satire. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a couple year’s worth of pattern here — you’d think he’d realize it didn’t get a laugh the first time.

  21. fred says

    It is hard to believe that the first one is not satire. I mean REALLY HARD to believe. That sounds like the kind of stuff you would find in some hate group brochure.

  22. Daryl McCullough says

    There was a time when Pharyngula was one of my top-three blogs, but I find reading it to be incredibly painful these days. It seems so bitter, so intolerant, so bereft of sympathy for flawed human beings. It makes me wince every time I check in on it lately.

  23. David Livesay says

    I’m afraid this shows the sad state of liberalism in this country today. I am disgusted every time I hear democrats get up and advocate for “civil unions” and other related concepts as alternatives to marriage for gay people. “Separate but equal.” Haven’t we been down this road before? It just sickens me to think that people who call themselves liberal believe that gay couples need a different kind of institution, as if theirs was a different kind of love.

    I have absolutely no doubt that what my gay friends feel when they look into the eyes of their beloved is exactly the same emotion that I feel when I look into my wife’s eyes. Human love is human love, and implying that gay people feel something different sounds uncomfortably like the slavery apologists’ claims that slaves didn’t really suffer when their masters beat them. It is a denial of their basic humanity.

    Instead of raising consciousness on this issue, however, politicians feel they need to bend over backwards not to offend bigots. That’s not leadership. That’s appealing to the lowest common denominator.

  24. BC says

    It seems so bitter, so intolerant, so bereft of sympathy for flawed human beings.

    Indeed. The nice, tolerant, sympathetic thing to do would be to join the bandwagon and insult gays and non-believers.

  25. Desert Donkey says

    I too think this is satire, no matter how long the pattern. As a sporadic listener of A Prairie Home Companion I read Keillor’s columns with his gently wry voice speaking. My perception is that he makes fun of the simpleness and religion that are that rural midwestern culture (transplanted to the northwest, where I too grew up).

    The man amuses by gently mocking himself and his people and he can be a bit off the mark. Irony is dangerous stuff, at any time it can miss with some or all of your intended audience and then it just sounds rude.

  26. Christian Burnham says

    This is just a test, because the spam filter told me I had probably been banned from posting!

  27. Christian Burnham says

    (OK, I think I found the offending word. Sorry, spam filter.)

    Oh- for those times of old!

    In those halcyon days, when Pharyngula was one of Daryl’s top three blogs and PZ had none of that bitterness and intolerance we see so often in him now.

    Daryl, we hardly knew ye!

    Maybe we can get PZ to start taking Pro*ac and obtain a subscription to Reader’s Digest. We could buy him some slippers and a velvet smoking jacket.

  28. says

    I’ve already got the slippers, thanks, and I wouldn’t have to smoke in the smoking jacket, would I? Filthy habit and all that.

    Maybe if they were pink bunny slippers I would have a happier outlook on the world.

  29. Christian Burnham says

    That’s the problem with political comedians. They can always evade responsibility by claiming their comments are an attempt at humor or satire.

    Garrison clearly does want to be taken seriously when he talks about politics. He also had a responsibility (whether he liked it or not) to answer readers’ problems seriously when he worked as an advice columnist for Salon.

    I think many political comedians do an admirable job of handling difficult issues- Stewart, Colbert, Franken, Maher…

    The problem with Keillor (at least as evidenced by PZ’s quotes) is that either you assume he wants to be taken seriously, in which case he’s sometimes an idiot, or you assume that he wants it to be satire, in which case he’s unfunny.

    I can forgive offensive jokes if they’re genuinely funny offensive jokes. Bill Hicks was among the funniest and most offensive comedians I’ve heard- AND he made thoughtful political points.

  30. says

    Now I happen to live in Minnesota, and I listen to PHC fairly regularly, and I’ve even been to one of the PHC shows. As I said at the beginning, I’m pretty familiar with the Minnesota style, and I know what kind of wry, self-deprecating humor is common around here.

    Unfortunately, these examples don’t ring true. They sound more like the gnawing resentment of a bigot masked by Keillor’s understated comedy. The man can poke fun at himself this way, but you can’t convince me that Keillor is a godless homosexual…and if he’s not making fun of himself or the Minnesota stereotype we have here, it falls flat and looks rather nasty.

  31. David Livesay says


    Better make those blue bunny slippers lest Garrison Keillor have another reason to dump on you.

  32. Christian Burnham says

    Oh- and to follow up…

    Dan Savage is a supreme example of someone who’s offensive, funny and has a keen sense of moral responsibility.

    P.Z.: Maybe they do discounts for the over 50’s on Reader’s Digest subscriptions. You could also do with reading ‘The Little Book of Calm’, or ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’.

    You’ll die of heart failure if you keep on being so intolerant of theocratic fascists all the time. Remember, it’s hard to hate Republican warmongers after a nice bubble bath.

  33. says

    Christian Burnham:

    Oddly enough, I discovered that the spam filter blocks messages containing Prozac earlier today. It joins the no-no list alongside incest and soma (that last one is what really throws me).

    I can forgive offensive jokes if they’re genuinely funny offensive jokes. Bill Hicks was among the funniest and most offensive comedians I’ve heard- AND he made thoughtful political points.

    Sweet Lady Isis, yes!

    The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love. That’s the message we’re brought up with, isn’t it? Believe or die! “Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.”


    People suck, and that’s my contention. I can prove it on a scratch of paper with a pen. Give me a fucking Etch-a-sketch, I’ll do it in three minutes. The proof, the fact, the factorum. I’ll show my work, case closed. I’m tired of this back-slapping “aren’t humanity neat?” bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.

    And also:

    Wouldn’t you like to see a positive LSD story on the news? To hear what it’s all about, perhaps? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Just for once?

    “Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration. . . that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves.

    “Here’s Tom with the weather!”

  34. Anna says

    I considered they might be satire, but after checking the Salon articles, I see the letters addressing atheism are each preceded by non-satirical responses to other letters. I doubt an experienced writer like Keillor would switch tone so drastically in the middle of a piece. I’m forced to agree with PZ that Keillor’s bigotry is showing.

  35. Caledonian says

    what exactly is concern trolling and is daryl doing it?

    “Concern trolling” is loosely defined as pretending to be a fan of a site/philosophy/political association in order to attack it while disguising that attack as feedback/constructive criticism.

    Is he? Possibly… but it’s hard to say.

  36. Christian Burnham says

    No PZ, you shouldn’t smoke.

    You know why?

    God hates fags.

    (Let’s see what the spam filter does with that one.)

  37. Ichthyic says

    I’ve heard the same argument before, that this is just poorly done satire. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a couple year’s worth of pattern here — you’d think he’d realize it didn’t get a laugh the first time.

    hmm. somebody on Savage’s blog pointed out this link:


    where the author analyzes Keillor’s positions on the plotical platforms the dem party should be adopting if they want to woo red staters.

    In looking at that article, it seems to me that Keillor’s latest piece is a further attempt by him to try to get the democratic party to back-burner social issues in favor of what he views as the vastly more important and ubiquitous economic issues that many red staters actually agree with the dems on.

    so, while it might have been poor satire, it’s likely that the aim is not at all at the gay marriage issue, but rather a not-so-subtle poke at what he views is slowing the acceptance of the dem party.

    I bet he is surprised that the argument did not become one over the focus of the dem party, instead of his supposed homophobia.

    I predict if he responds to the attacks at all, he will again try to point out what he was saying in the article linked to above.

  38. 386sx says

    It’s so very disappointing to hear Keillor make those comments. He’s considered (or was considered) a role model by many Americans.

    Why would he be considered a role model. Can’t people tell it’s an act? And a corny one at that. Doh!

    Wow, there sure are a lot of trolls in this thread, by the way. Holy crap…

  39. Chris Chandler says

    I dunno, the advice column excerpts strike me as being perfectly reasonable. Somewhat too-subtle in the assumptions they make about the world, perhaps, but reasonable nonetheless.

    “Life presents enough stumbling blocks in the natural course of things without you going and walking into trees.”

    I actually got a chuckle out of that line.

  40. says

    Is it too late to suggest that Mr Keillor not be sent to Lake Wobegon, but, rather, be thrown to an agitated wobbegong, instead?

  41. Colugo says

    I found this on a site called Gay & Lesbian Humanists

    Garrison Keillor:

    “I think that gay marriage is also an issue that does no good for us and I want to see us divest ourselves of this. … The symbolism of gay people marrying is terribly potent, terrible powerful, and we ignore this at our peril in our party.”

    Radio interview with above quotes; Keillor discusses other topics, including abortion

    It should also be noted that Dan Savage himself has repeatedly been accused of prejudice against bisexuals (biphobia) for years.

    See, for example, this letter to the editor by bisexual activist Robyn Ochs:

  42. says

    Garrison and I were colleagues when we were both much (much) younger. I saw him in concert a couple of years ago. It was pretty clear to me at the concert that he’d found God through getting sober in conjunction with triple bypass surgery. He was definitely different than the guy I’d grown up listening to on MPR (I am from Lake Wobegone, International Falls, PZ). This is a bad piece of writing, but it definitely reflects the changes I’ve seen in him.

  43. says

    That said, anybody who has been in 12 step programs for a while knows that you “don’t take anyone else’s inventory.” He’s showing newbie nerves.

  44. notthedroids says

    It’s kind of like finding out that Andy Griffith was a rabid racist. (Although I think there were at least a couple episodes that showed he wasn’t.)

    If I were clever and had the time I’d write a satirical response in the form of a NFLW. It’s odd, the tagline (“Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking . . . “) implies open-mindedness in matters of gender.

    Maybe if he didn’t have such a great voice we wouldn’t have thought he was so smart.

  45. Dani says

    Whoa. Way to take some stuff out of context, Colugo.

    Keillor was speaking about issues that the Democratic party should ditch, in the interests of actually winning some elections and getting a bit of power. He wasn’t referring to society in general getting rid of those ideas:

    “I think that gay marriage is also an issue that does no good for us and I want to see us divest ourselves of this,” Keillor says. “The symbolism of gay people marrying is terribly potent, terrible powerful, and we ignore this at our peril in our party.

    “I think that gay marriage/union/benefits must be a state and city matter. Gays have tended to migrate from hostile places to friendlier places — San Francisco, New York, New Orleans — and this migration has been a boon to the friendlier places. Gay-friendly areas are the richer for it, in all sorts of ways. Tolerance has economic and cultural benefits. And so we can allow Missouri or South Carolina or South Dakota to be hostile to gay marriage and suffer the consequences.”

    If you read the whole interview, he’s basically saying that he’d be willing to sacrifice the rights of gays in South Carolina in order to preserve some degree of economic stability for the middle class. Yes, that sucks, but it certainly doesn’t mean he hates gays.

    (And yes, I agree that it’s not so great satire/irony. But then, America suffers from a serious irony deficiency)

  46. False Prophet says

    PZ, you were wrong. There’s nothing casual about the bigotry in that article.

    I’ve often said if there was a way I could convert to SECULAR Judaism, I’d do it. ;-)

    Posted by: JJR | March 15, 2007 07:13 PM

    There is, JJR: the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Now I wish I was Jewish so I could convert with you. ;-)

    Blake and Christian:

    One of my favourite Bill Hicks bits is his take down of the creationists (“Dinosaurs in the Bible”) (audio here).


    What’s with all these Christians wearing crosses around their necks? You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a cross again? It’s like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a rifle necklace: “I’m doin’ it for John, Jackie. Just doin’ it for John.”

  47. says

    I think there is a difference between Garrison Keillor and the PHC. The latter is of course his work, and his personality and proclivities show through in it, but it is also an artistic effort that involves acting. Jack Palance was, by all accounts, a sweet man, but never played that role in a movie.

    In other words, it’s OK to like the PHC.

    And about that, I always say: People who are not from Minnesota often don’t realize that the Prairie Home Companion is not really a joke. On the other hand, Minnesotans often don’t realize that it is a joke…

  48. cbutterb says

    Whoa. Way to take some stuff out of context, Colugo.

    I found it perfectly clear in Colugo’s quote that Keillor was talking about the Democratic Party in particular. Probably because it had the word “party” in it.

    If you read the whole interview, he’s basically saying that he’d be willing to sacrifice the rights of gays in South Carolina in order to preserve some degree of economic stability for the middle class. Yes, that sucks, but it certainly doesn’t mean he hates gays.

    Replace “gays” with “blacks.” Still acceptable to you? Care to explain why not?

  49. says

    Christian, et al.

    Read the Salon piece again. Note how it ends. He’s in a classroom with children who look and sound very different than the children he grew up with. He’s there to tell them a story about “the old days” when he was young, and what does he tell them? Is it true? Or is it a silly story built around old stereotypes and myths?

    Is he making fun of the children? Does he not like them? Or is he making fun of himself, making fun of his discomfort in the face of relentless change?

    Is this a man who ever has spoken about tradition without poking fun at it?

    His ideas in the piece are complex and subtle. He’s not writing a fucking political manifesto. And he’s using gay couples more as a metaphor for a generation than anything else. A metaphor for a group in which he obviously includes himself.

    But Keillor never says or writes anything, I don’t believe, that is meant to be taken as a political assertion. He’s illustrating a point of view much like an actor portraying a character, and you are supposed to understand his words as an expression of that point of view, not as a plank in a political platform.

  50. atomic dog says

    Keillor’s shtick has always been about positioning himself as the voice of a mythical middle America, with just a tiny bit of big-city irony. Sometimes it works but most of the time it’s cloying as hell. It’s because Savage can’t or won’t speak from that place that he’s incisive and funny.

  51. says

    Dan Savage, whoever the hell that is, obviously missed the point too. He can’t wait to tell us that Keillor has been married THREE TIMES, and has thus created for his children the kind of confused network of family relationships he bemoans in his article. As if Keillor wasn’t aware of that when he wrote the article.

    Not every thought is an assertion. Not every observation is a judgment.

  52. Christian Burnham says


    Savage wouldn’t have brought up Keillor’s divorces if it weren’t for Keillor’s hypocrisy.

    It’s quite fair to scrutinize the personal lives of celebs/pols who pontificate about the personal lives of the public.

  53. says

    We’re ALL concerned with politics. That doesn’t mean everything everybody writes is a political diatribe. Sometimes people just write about the things they contemplate, that intrigue or mystify them. Not everybody is crystal-clear in his righteous indignation and ready to assert certainties.

    Sometimes people write things that are subtle, thoughtful, even conflicted. It takes a lot more courage to express your struggle with conflicting values than it is to crow about your certainties like some loud-mouthed adolescent. It’s not as entertaining and doesn’t drive traffic, but it takes more courage and maturity.

  54. says

    “Savage wouldn’t have brought up Keillor’s divorces if it weren’t for Keillor’s hypocrisy.”

    I don’t know what to say to you. To accuse Keillor of hypocrisy you have to believe Keillor is a very oblivious and unreflective man, which we all know he isn’t. You honestly think he was passing judgment on others from his glass house? That’s not Keillor. He was talking about things very close to his personal experience, and he wasn’t criticizing anybody for anything he hadn’t already criticized in himself.

  55. Christian Burnham says

    You seem to be implying that people who take a differing view to this particular published columnist are ‘loud-mouthed adolescents’ who don’t possess ‘courage and maturity’.

    You seem to feel that Keillor is so refined and delicate, that his political columns should be above discussion (at least from plebs like us). Only people with an advanced degree in understated wit and irony should be allowed to tackle this satirical master.

    I think you’re doing a disservice to Keillor and to us. We’re all adults. I don’t think anything anyone has said has slipped into yah-boo name-calling. I also think that Keillor is strong enough to take criticism.

  56. triangular gutters says

    Growing up in Albert Lea in the 80s, there was one black guy and one Latina in my high school graduating class. We made fun of the atheist in jr high.

    Let’s just say that it was not really an ideal environment for understanding the traces race and culture and gender have made on the larger American landscape. From what I’ve seen from my classmates, many have taken relatively strong conscious stances towards egalitarianism (live and let live), but still are haunted by biases learned in the cradle. “Gay folks are OK, but I don’t want to be around them.”

    Perhaps I idealize the place, but I do hear that from Minnesotans, and from Keillor on the whole. “I have centuries of distaste for you, but I’m trying my best to be nice.” A bit condescending, but it gives me hope for the next generation.

  57. usagi says


    Dan Savage is 1) a syndicated sex advice columnist (check your local left leaning weekly rag or The Stranger in Seattle online, and 2) a gay man with a long-term partner (if they lived in Massachusetts instead of Washington state, they might conceivable by husbands by now) with an adopted a son who’s about to enter his teens (if I recall his age correctly; he may be slightly younger). He’s seriously pissed off at the outrageous comments public figures like Keillor feel they can make about gay parents. I don’t blame him.

    If it makes you more comfortable to believe that column was intended as satire, feel free. You’re wrong. It’s part and parcel of an attitude that’s constantly thrown in the face of gay parents.

  58. says

    Mr. Burnham, don’t you let that straw man push you around. You show that sum’bitch who’s boss. God, I hate those fucking straw men, don’t you?

  59. wrg says

    Yeah, shame on us! We think Keillor said mean things about atheists and homosexuals just because, uh.. he did. But, obviously, he couldn’t have meant these things, because that wouldn’t reflect well on him. We all know he isn’t a bigot, so obviously his remarks are in no way bigoted.

    Is that what you want to hear, Max?

    If I cared to, I suppose I could convince myself that he’s saying any laudable thing I liked if I worked hard enough at it. But it’s a weird advice column where the recipients are expected to pay more attention to subtle hints than what the text says directly. Not every thought is an assertion, but isn’t it obvious that you shouldn’t assert anything unless it’s meant to be an assertion?

    Even if I buy your odd claim that Garrison Keillor is always portraying the character of Garrison Keillor rather than some real Garrison Keillor, I’ll feel free to complain about Keillor and let him sort out whether it’s the man or the character that deserves it.

  60. wrg says

    You seem to feel that Keillor is so refined and delicate, that his political columns should be above discussion (at least from plebs like us). Only people with an advanced degree in understated wit and irony should be allowed to tackle this satirical master.

    Whoops, should have occured to me in my last post, but it looks like we’ve got yet another version of the courtier’s reply.

  61. says


    I understand you don’t agree with the man. That doesn’t mean he’s a rotten person and we shouldn’t think about what he’s suggesting we think about.

    I never said he was being satirical. Generally, the man’s not a satirist. I said he was being subtle, thoughtful, and conflicted. He was ruminating over how the changing world conflicted with values embedded in his memories of childhood.

    Let me suggest this: If you’re such a rigid ideologue that you can’t engage a person in an honest discussion about the evolution of cultural values in our society, then you’re no better than the neoconservatives who have turned their backs on reality because they refuse to entertain anything that is not ideologically pure and which doesn’t map with their mid-90s geopolitical paradigm.

    If a person is willing to HONESTLY and calmly discuss anything, then rational people should be open to that discussion. Keillor isn’t some right-wing politician pandering to the moron component of his base. He’s somebody struggling between liberal values and traditions he celebrates even as he observes them from an ironic distance. He’s trying to make sense of it all.

    To impose summary judgment based on some liberal litmus test is… well, regardless of how the test is characterized it isn’t a liberal way of doing things. It’s the way THEY do things. They don’t like to think. They’re scared of complexity and nuance and ambiguity. You’re for them or your against them. We’re supposed to be different.

  62. says

    “Yeah, shame on us! We think Keillor said mean things about atheists and homosexuals just because, uh.. he did. But, obviously, he couldn’t have meant these things, because that wouldn’t reflect well on him. We all know he isn’t a bigot, so obviously his remarks are in no way bigoted.”

    Did none of you people take English Literature classes in college? Most of you write really well, so I would think you’d have some exposure…

    Read the final paragraphs of the article. Remember that crazy, hippie English Lit teacher you had your freshman year? What would he have to say about those final paragraphs? You’d try to shake them off, but he wouldn’t let you…

    You dismiss the part of what he writes you don’t understand because your passion for righteous outrage is satisfied. But Keillor didn’t write this to satisfy nor provoke that pseudo-religious impulse. First sentence to last, it’s a whole.

  63. 601 says

    I’m not Keillor’s biggest fan, but I think you’re being too hard on him here. This is his kind of humor targeting a mainstream mindset, and trying to move them a little toward the light.

    And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife’s first husband’s second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin’s in-laws and Bruce’s ex, Mark, and Mark’s current partner, and I suppose we’ll get used to it.

    This does end on a positive note. Unfortunately, for a majority of Americans, this is as much as can be expected for a while.

  64. CalGeorge says

    Things are not what they seem!

    Televangicals are nice, ethical people.

    Bush is smart.

    Global warming is an opportunity to build more houses inland.

    Keillor is not a bigot.

    Shove those rose-colored glasses back up your nose.

  65. David Livesay says

    Why would he be considered a role model. Can’t people tell it’s an act?

    Clearly, most people cannot. Most people are suckers for anyone who appears “folksy,” even if they happen to be a Yale frat boy or an aging hollywood actor.

  66. stogoe says

    No, we get the whole ‘speaking to a mainstream mindset’, but it’s still a big pile of steaming hate. A half serving of hate may suit some people better than the Bill Donohue All You Can Eat Buffet of Hate, but it’s still hate.

  67. Christian Burnham says

    Yeah, anyone who doesn’t like Keillor’s remarks is ‘no better than the neoconservatives’ according to Max.

    That’s soooo true!

  68. Sonja says

    I grew up in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities (like Garrison) and he is right about the way it used to be. It was a great place to grow up. And I assume, at his age, he’s feeling very nostalgic about his childhood.

    What he is wrong about is to judge other ways of growing up that he knows nothing about. For someone who is supposed to be creative and imaginative, he isn’t able to put himself in someone else’s shoes? He can’t imagine how the children of a gay couple will, when they are 60 years old, also look back with the same nostalgia about how great their childhood was?

    He could have easily made his point about how much he loved his childhood experience without denigrating other people’s lives. Shame on Garrison — he should know better.

  69. Steve_C says

    Garrison Keillor likes to push the whole… “the simpler times were better” nostalgia…
    When everyone went to chruch on sunday, there was no crime, everyone just loved living
    in their nowhere town doing not alot and not letting the alien outside world intrude.

    It’s crap. Even if that figment ever existed, it will never be again and it wasn’t better.

    One man’s paradise is another man’s prison.

  70. Louis says

    This guy Keillor seems to have not met many gay people. Or perhaps he is trying, and perhaps failing, to be funny or make some oblique point. I’d guess having read the piece he isn’t actually seriously homophobic, but that being said, he has chosen an unfortunate series of ways to express himself.

    In a sense what this chap is saying, or rather how he’s saying it, is quite dangerous. It’s a sort of down home, folksy bigotry. Bigotry in its house clothes relaxing on the front porch as it were. It doesn’t appear to be the firey bigotry of gay bashers and atheist haters across the globe. And that’s why it’s dangerous, it’s so familiar, it’s packaged in a grandfatherly way. Monty Python satirised it excellently in their quiz show sketch (Confused elderly contestant: “I don’t like darkies”, Quiz show host: “aha ha ha. aha ha ha ha ha ha ha……Who does. Now then Mrs Scum…”). It is however, as someone correctly points out, the bigotry of another generation, and soon to fade sadly away with the better aspects of that era.

    Anyway, even if you’re straight what’s wrong with the occasional chartreuse trouser? If one has the figure to carry it off, and luckily I don’t, then go right ahead.


  71. Steve_C says

    It’s Ronald Reagan type bigotry.

    “If those fairies just went to church, heh heh, well, well there wouldn’t be a problem now would there. Heh heh.”

    Go take another nap grandpa.

  72. Louis says


    That’s actually a good way of putting it. “Ronald Reagan Bigotry”.

    Senile: check! Antique: check! Bigot: check! Gipper: Check!


  73. Greg Peterson says

    After reading Keillor’s piece, I was ready to make a tepid defense, but after reading Savage’s brilliant response, I agree with Savage that Keillor is demonstrating something like the banality of evil in this writing. Too bad, because there’s some stuff about Keillor I sort of like, including his positive review of Jennifer Hecht’s celebration of secularism, “Doubt: A History,” about which Keillor wrote the following:

    “Doubt: A History, is a bold and brilliant work and (lucky us) highly readable, thanks to the elegant and witty author. It’s the World Religions course you wish you’d had in college, a history of faith told from the outside. Jennifer Michael Hecht is a strong swimmer in deep water against treacherous currents.”

    I took that to mean that Keillor was at least sympathetic with anti-theocratic forces. This idiotic (and confused–what the hell WAS his theme, anyway?) essay calls that commitment into question.

  74. says

    Keillor irked me when he said stupid crap about “women can’t be loners. Only men can be loners. Women are too connected to the universe” or something like that. Yeah. I refute it thus (although we are having a debate about my gender at my blog). And what did he do to poor Robert Altman?

  75. CalGeorge says

    Go read Mark Twain’s “War Prayer,…”

    Go read Twain’s The Noble Red Man (1870) and come back and tell us whether he has his head up his ass or not.

    He is ignoble–base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development. His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts. With him, gratitude is an unknown emotion; and when one does him a kindness, it is safest to keep the face toward him, lest the reward be an arrow in the back. To accept of a favor from him is to assume a debt which you can never repay to his satisfaction, though you bankrupt yourself trying. To give him a dinner when he is starving, is to precipitate the whole hungry tribe upon your hospitality, for he will go straight and fetch them, men, women, children, and dogs, and these they will huddle patiently around your door, or flatten their noses against your window, day aft er day, gazing beseechingly upon every mouthful you take, and unconsciously swallowing when you swallow! The scum of the earth!


  76. says

    And, geeze, why aren’t YUPPIES and divorced parents complaining?

    Woody Allen said, way back in the Kennedy administration when all the world was atwitter about Evelyn Woods’ speed reading, that he’d taken the course, and had accomplished something with it.

    “I read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.”

  77. bernarda says

    You are so overreacting and oversimplifying. As he often does, Keillor engages in caricature.

    “The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men — sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.”

    Notice he writes “stereotypical”. I don’t care one way or another about whom someone loves, but I do find the stereotypical–undoubtedly a minority–gays boring as hell.

  78. Sakurai says

    So on the one hand, it’s good for couples to have to struggle. On the other hand, life has enough stumbling blocks already. This seems a bit inconsistent.

    The creepiest thing about Keillor’s comments, for me, is when he describes same-sex marriage as “marrying somebody on your own team”. If he considers women to be his opponents, no wonder he’s had rocky marriages. “I have to struggle with the enemy to obtain sexual satisfaction – who are these people to be getting it from somebody they actually like? It’s unfair!”

  79. Colugo says

    Something I learned from a Google search yesterday: entering “Garrison Keillor” and “soporific” in a search yields 380 hits. Is anyone surprised?

    On a different note:

    Based on the comments above, there is something of a “Borat” issue: How much of the folksy, small town, traditionalist character “Garrison Keillor” is the real Garrison Keillor, the thrice-married rich guy who maintains a Manhattan apartment?

    There’s also the related “meta” issue: does Keillor use nostalgia and bigotry to slam stepfamilies and gays, or is he actually subtly critiquing nostalgia and traditional bigotry? That is, is it really just “meta-bigotry”?

    ‘Meta-bigotry’: Sarah Silverman, Ali G, Dave Chappelle, South Park

    (On the topic of bigotry, meta- and otherwise, I noted earlier that Dan Savage himself lives in a glass house due to his remarks on bisexuals.)

    Given Keillor’s op-eds and interviews, I suspect the reality is that there is a lot of psychological overlap between the persona and the real Keillor, and his statements on atheists, Unitarians, and gays reflect his genuine impressions and biases. Including, quite likely, some remorse about his own domestic history. Unlike Borat / Sacha Baron-Cohen or even Sarah Silverman, a lot of Keillor’s shtick is that he actually is that crotchety, nostalgic character. A virulent homophobe and reactionary? No. Someone who is basically a liberal, but with some cultural conservative tendencies? Definitely.

  80. QrazyQat says

    he’s basically saying that he’d be willing to sacrifice the rights of gays in South Carolina in order to preserve some degree of economic stability for the middle class. Yes, that sucks, but it certainly doesn’t mean he hates gays.

    Yeah, that’s certainly true, because after all anyone, even teenagers, can simply pick up and leave their homes and move anywhere. So he’s not hating gays because he only wants to throw some of them into the oven — how sweet. With thinking like that we’d still have slave states and free states. Very nice.

  81. Steve_C says


    That’s a bit lame. That’s like… fine, be gay… but please don’t hold hands or kiss in public.

    Be gay but I don’t want to see it, it makes me uncomfortable?

  82. MichiganMike says

    I agree with bernarda. Your quotes are prime examples of GK’s style when poking holes in the facades of the self-rightness (small-minded gay bashers, pious ultra-religious, judgemental ultra-conservatives, etc). They are so obviously blatant characatures that I’m surprised at how many apeople didn’t recognize that fact!

  83. Virginia Dutch says

    We progressives often accuse conservatives of lacking a sense of humor and irony.

    But Dan Savage and plenty of others seem to have totally missed the dripping irony in Keillor’s Salon piece, along with just about anything else he has done. Lighten up, folks!

  84. says

    I have to say, I was surprised by the tone of the comments today. I read lots of Garrison Keillor, and nothing I’ve seen strikes me as genuinely insulting or bigoted, and much of it is spot on. Maybe we need to lighten up a little, and chill out eh?

  85. says

    cbutterb | March 16, 2007 12:59 AM

    Exactly what I was arguing on the Stranger SLOG. Nobody would tell African Americans to shut up lest they hurt the party.

    Re Dan Savage” “the Kid” is 9.

  86. stogoe says

    I’m suprised to see so much of the Scott Adams Defense being used in this thread.

    There must be some real deep fanatical Keillor-ballsweat-lust going on, because damn.

  87. Scrotum Manipulator says

    They are so obviously blatant characatures(sic) that I’m surprised at how many apeople(sic} didn’t recognize that fact!

    They aren’t that blatant if so many people are having a hard time seeing the “humor.”

  88. CalGeorge says

    If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control.

    Give me a fucking break.

  89. Steve_C says

    The overall point of of Keillor’s essay was… “I know what’s good for kids. It’s common sense…”

    He’s saying… 2 parents of the same sex that never divorce. Is best. That’s his underlying idea. And he makes digs at all the other realities.

  90. 386sx says

    However, this really isn’t the first time Keillor has done this–he has a history of unthinking stereotyping and rejection of gays and atheists.

    That, and the immigrants and the cowboys, too. Don’t forget about the immigrants and the cowboys, people.

  91. David Livesay says

    He’s saying… 2 parents of the same sex that never divorce. Is best. That’s his underlying idea. And he makes digs at all the other realities.

    Really? I didn’t catch where he said that.

  92. TR says

    Keillor has always been a bore, now we just know he’s a bigoted bore as well.

    and Salon is really starting to jump the shark.

  93. Steve_C says

    Umm… the name of the essay is called “stating the obvious”

    First… Art Museum visits are good. ” I would have been happy to tell them for, say, $500 and a nice lunch.”

    “I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them, and I could tell you about how good that is for children, and you could pay me whatever you think it’s worth.”

    He’s talking about the good old days when Monogamy was popular… and bellyaches about how it’s fallen out of favor…

    I could you not get that?

  94. says


    I’m suprised to see so much of the Scott Adams Defense being used in this thread.

    It’s sad that we’ve got a name for this.

  95. rawbob says

    Read a little deeper folks.

    It amazes me that the writership and readership of this blog, which prizes itself so for its scientific approach, so easily jumps to a superficial, (dare I say it?) liberal, (dare I say this too?) PC interpretation of some peoples’ words.

    This reminds me so much of the response to George Bush’s advice to Nancy Pelosi that he knew some good Republican home decorators after she became the first female Speaker of the House. This a few weeks after he had observed that the Dems were already “measuring for drapes” prior to the election.

    PZ and his readers were veritably spitting vitriole at Bush’s “sexism,” when, if taken in context, Bush’s comment should have been seen as a mea culpa and a (rare) moment of humility on his part.

    (and I ain’t no republican neither)

  96. CalGeorge says

    Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids.

    He’s living in a nostalgic baby-boomer suburban fantasy world.

    It’s limiting to think this way, but that’s what he does for a living – make other white people feel warm, fuzzy, and complacent about their middle-class existences.

  97. Steve_C says

    Are you saying that he’s giving some mildly comic look at complex modern society and just saying…

    “Oh look that the way things have turned out… guess we’ll have to make due.”

    He’s not making a value judgement?

  98. Scrotum Manipulator says

    (and I ain’t no republican neither)

    Nope, you’re just a Concern Troll™

  99. Observer says

    I don’t read Keillor since he’s a little to schmaltzy for my tastes (going back to the “What I Learned in Kindergarten” days, so I felt I could read this article of his with little preconceived notions about him, except that it was pointed out that he is divorced – three(or two?) times.

    This is not a Scott Adams comparison – Adams obsfucates science. I get this. Rawbob apparently gets it, Max Undargo seems to get it, Ed Darrell and a few others get it. In fact, the two most important words are hyperlinked in the article, if you can’t get it.

    It’s a really simple statement folks. And the kids (in the class) would get it – they got it. :-)

    And stop accusing people of being “concern trolls” because they have a point, dammit!

  100. rawbob says

    (Nope, you’re just a Concern Troll™)

    Had to look that one up… Nope.

    You’ve got an interesting name, though.

    Does it mean “Satire-challenged?”

  101. Steve_C says

    What is he satiring???

    Is he making cracks about modern life?

    Is he satiring nostalgia and the baby boomer era?

    Someone please explain to me what he’s making fun of?

    Government spending millions to be told what common sense tells us?

    Please. Enlighten me. What’s the “deeper” message. “Aww crap, guess I’ll have to get used to gay marriage and Brittney’s got two daddies?”

  102. stogoe says

    The Scott Adams Defense(c) line up there is not about his obfuscation of science.

    It’s about Keillor’s (and Adams’) defenders’ constant use of the “oh, but he’s just joking. Funny ha-ha, you guys. Don’t you get it? Funny ha-ha. It’s a joke” deflection.

  103. says

    Having read the Salon article, honestly I’m having a little trouble being offended… or amused. I just found the whole thing insipid – it’s a senile, meandering piece. The paragraphs on “stereotypical gays” might as well have wandered in from a different essay.

    Then again I’ve never been a Keillor fan. He always struck me as a pale imitation of Jean Shepherd, minus the brilliantly honed cynicism. He gets credit for being a satirist but he’s almost the exact opposite – he presents the foibles of small-town, small-minded American life on the surface, but underlying it all is a case of deeply reactionary nostalgia. Scratch away the surface and the man’s a walking, talking “Uff da!” sweatshirt.

  104. Observer says

    It’s not satire. (That part I disagree with Ed Darrell’s comparison to Mark Twain’s “War Prayer.”)

    It’s not about whether being a gay couple is wrong or right. He says “we’ll get used to that…” but…

    You don’t need to pay a focus group/committee/whatever a lot of money to discover/study the obvious.

    I should hope he’s humble. I think he’s thinking that. I agree.

  105. says

    I’m with Steve_C – my main criticism of his essay is that it’s muddled and pointless. Maybe he’s trying to be sly and satirize the viewpoint he’s ostensibly advocating, except I can’t even tell what that viewpoint is, so the satire definitely isn’t going anywhere. Maybe he’s genuinely advocating a viewpoint, which again, fails due to the meandering ambiguity of the piece. Maybe he had a deadline, and submitted an unpolished stream of consciousness, relying on readers to read depth into it.

    The point is, I can’t tell. Having been burned by “A Modest Proposal” at the age of twelve, I’m pretty vigilant about spotting satire. But in this case, I’m just confused.

  106. davidm says

    LOL, how hilarious.

    You are all … clueless!

    But thanks for the entertainment! Whenever I need to be entertained by sheer cluelessness, I pop in here. It’s better than Uncommon Descent.

    Maybe next, PZ will write a post blasting Jonathan Swift for his Modest Proposal. Maybe he’ll say that the odious Swift was committing the Naturalistic Fallacy, or something profound like that. :D

  107. Observer says

    Davidm, don’t be an a**hole. I certainly can’t get all the inner workings of squid, evolution, physics, and what not correct, and arrogance is not becoming in light of the fact that you’re not writing the most heavily visited Science Blog posting for FREE.

    Ed Darrell said: And, geeze, why aren’t YUPPIES and divorced parents complaining?

    Because they feel guilty. PZ is not one of those people.

  108. DocAmazing says

    Without taking any of the heat off of Keillor (Udargo and others to the contrary, he made some real asshole remarks–not subtle satire– and appears quite willing to throw anyone he considers “weird” under the bus so as not to offend The Reg’lar Fellers), Dan Savage is no saint. He was a big supporter of the Iraq invasion: I am unaware of any apology that he has subsequently made.

    I’d love to be corrected on that one.

  109. Paco says

    Christ on a cracker.

    He’s a humorist. Think Steve Martin, sometimes funny, sometimes incredibly tasteless.

    Now he’s reminding me of the Dead Kennedys — satire so ham-handed that even smart people don’t get it. I go with the “Borat” analysis.

  110. cory says

    Was I redirected to the wrong Salon article? One small,somewhat non-committal mention of gay parents and I can’t even find a God in that article.

    What am I missing?

    Of course, I am on my second glass of a remarkably drinkable cheap pinot noir….

  111. Adam says

    Heh, davidm, I was thinking of the Modest Proposal parallel too.

    Swift wrote an essay about how if we ate babies we’d have less hunger in the world. It is considered to be one of the great satires. Yet it sparked widespread outrage. I suspect even when the satirical intent was pointed out, those who’d been outraged weren’t placated. “Well, if it’s satire, it isn’t very good.” Or “He’s just a bigot trying to hide behind the satire label.” That’s one of the beauties of great satire–even when you explain it, some people will be unwilling or constitutionally unable to understand it.

    Maybe Keillor really is a bigot. But I think he’s a brilliant storyteller and ironist. Maybe I’m biased–I’m an English major. (That’s an inside joke–PHC frequently sketches heroic English majors who defeat the bad guys and make women swoon. It’s more irony. Get it?) I am willing to believe in Steve_C’s professed openmindedness and spend a little time explaining the piece, if davidm, rawbob, Virginia Dutch, Brian Coughlan, bernarda, Ed Darrel, or Max Udargo don’t do it first.

  112. Christian Burnham says

    Swift’s essay was satirizing the indifference of the wealthy to the Irish poor.

    Keillor’s point seems to be that it used to be a less complicated world when gays stayed in the closet and women weren’t able to divorce.

    Might I suggest that only one of these two essays is a masterpiece? The other could only be remembered as an embarrassment to an occasionally witty writer.

    And Adam- don’t be so patronizing. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of over-achieving over-educated people who post to Pharyngula are aware of ‘A Modest Proposal’. Do you think that PZ’s blog is devoid of ironic humor? Sheesh- he’s the Alanis Morissette of Bloggers.

  113. Mango says

    I don’t see how it can be read as satire. What exactly is he satirizing?

    His focus is on simplicity and responsibility. He reminds the reader there was once a simpler time, before lack of privacy, telemarketers, debt, mass consumption, a narcissistic focus on me. He views these complications as failures of responsibility
    of adults, moral failings. He views being an adult as having to make choices (divorce), possibly gayness, and pines for a time (world war 2 imagery) when men, women, the entire country were made of a sterner stuff.
    He ends off with more imagery of what the “right stuff” is. Western imagery, when men were men, women were women, and the choices simpler, more focused.

  114. Pyrtolin says

    What is he satirizing? You point at it in your response right there. To focus on the easiest bits to see:

    He’s satirizing the belief that things were ever simpler or better; that we’ve left a golden age behind us. He mocks the people that do pine for that time (Read some of Orson Scott Card’s essays if you want to see the kind of person he’s lampooning).

    When he says “plastic dishes…before pizza” he’s basically saying “this myth never actually existed”

    He then moves on to a double header where he both mocks people’s conceptions that the previous generation didn’t have to balance providing for children with personal rewards and the current one for being self involved and essentially still children who have yet to grow up. (He then takes a jab at those who would sat that monogamy is natural by pointing out just how much nature is concerned with anything aside from assuring reproduction)

    He then digresses slightly to set the stage by highlighting how complex the situation we already take for granted really is, so that he can show how little adding gay marriage to the mix will really change that.

    Getting back to the main flow, he reminds us of the popular gay stereotype so that he can contrast it with the bland parent stereotype to highlight the friction between the two- the suggestion is to let go of both those equally inaccurate perceptions and take a look at the realities on all sides.

    He emphasizes this by pointing out just how much a school in his area has changed with the times, but yet how, for all their apparent differences, the kids are just kids, while reminding us, at the same time that he knows his characterizations of the past are pure fantasy and we need to take that into account to get at what he’s really saying.

  115. bloix says

    Keillor is one of the very few public figures who speaks for progressive politics in a language that is accessible to Americans with traditional values. Bill Moyers is another. So is Garry Wills. These are men who come to their progressive political beliefs through their religious beliefs. I personally don’t share their religious beliefs but there is no doubt that each of them has done more to further the things I do believe in than I ever will, and I honor them for their accomplishments.

    You may like Dan Savage better but the simple truth is that a huge number of people who are natural Democratic voters, and whose own objective interests are aligned with the Democractic party, who would find Dan Savage revolting if they ever had the bad luck to come across his column. He would make them literally ill. (This is a man who thinks it’s amusing to talk about the goop that comes out of a man’s butt after you fuck him.)

    You might think Keillor is blinkered in some areas and you’d be right. But he is far less blinkered than his natural audience. He is a bridge over a very wide cultural divide, and he shares characteristics of both sides. He doesn’t much like atheism and he’s dealing with homosexuality the best he can. He’s a lot like his audience that way. If you want to reach people, rather than just insult them, you can’t get too far out in front of them. Keillor is just about as far in front as a large part of his audience can handle.

  116. Christian Burnham says

    You make being the lowest common denominator sound like a compliment.

    So uppity atheists and gays should keep their heads down so as to not offend mainstream America?

    Is this the modern version of being too black or too Jewish, or too Catholic etc?

    Oh- and people who don’t like Dan Savage generally don’t read him. The internet consists of more than a few sites these days.

    BTW- I loved Savage’s ‘Santorum’ meme. Best-meme-evah!

  117. says

    DocAmazing, by March 2003 Dan Savage was already writing that President Ward Churchill Bush (my words) had botched the war. But he was still babbling about “Islamo-fascism” and mocking the claim that bombs create terrorists. I don’t know if he’s ever addressed that attitude.

    As Bob Altermeyer confirms, fear tends to increase right-wing authoritarianism. Every crisis he could test for except a government attacking nonviolent protestors tended to increase people’s scores on the RWA scale.

  118. dug.inn says

    “So uppity atheists and gays should keep their heads down so as to not offend mainstream America?”

    No. But perhaps they could rethink wearing leather DOM gear or a Riddler costume to the PTSA meeting.

  119. raj says

    PZ, I think that you and Ed Brayton over at Dispatches (and Dan Savage) are way too harsh on Garrison Keillor on the gay issue (I’m gay, by the way). I read those excerpts as a mild attempt at humor, not bigotry.

    Save on wardrobe expenses? Just to let you know, my long-time same-sex partner have often traded clothes. We could, because we’re the same clothing size. That’s not why we’re long-time partners. But yes, PZ, it really does happen.

  120. bloix says

    Christian Bernham- no, I’m arguing that there is a place for Keillor. If you don’t like him, maybe he’s not talking to you. You suggest that people who are offended by asshole-fucking jokes should stay away from Dan Savage. I suggest that people who are bored by small-town foible jokes should stay away from Garrison Keillor.

    What Keillor has done for progressive politics is invaluable. He’s put the lie to the CW that liberals live only in Manhattan and Santa Monica and that “real” Americans are conservative. He’s self-evidently as heartland as they come, and his liberal politics are rooted in family, community, conventional morality, and religious belief. His audience is a crucial part of any progressive coalition that can ever have a hope of governing America.

  121. Christian Burnham says

    There’s a difference.

    Everyone has the right to debate the topics that a columnist writes about. Savage is offensive mostly in the sense that he’s scatological- or discusses matters that might put you off your cornflakes. (Nature of his job and all.)

    If people find Savage icky, then they can take him or leave him. Go read another web page.

    However, we’re not debating the ickyness of Keillor. We’re debating whether he’s right or not. We’re debating whether his arguments hold water- and whether he should be admired or not for making those points.

    You could also spend some time debating Savage’s ickyness. But I don’t really see the point. It’s a bit like debating Carrot Top’s comedy.

    To be productive, use debate when people are wrong. Not when they’re just bothersome to your personal taste.

  122. raj says

    However, we’re not debating the ickyness of Keillor. We’re debating whether he’s right or not. We’re debating whether his arguments hold water- and whether he should be admired or not for making those points.

    No we aren’t. We’re discussing whether his rather lame attempt at humor (actually, it wasn’t that lame) reflected bigotry. There is a difference. There is a huge difference.

    I don’t know what set Dan Savage’s panties in an uproar over Keillor’s column, and, quite frankly, I don’t really care. What I find offensive–not about Keillor’s column, but about Savages, is that he allowed the uproar in his panties to overtake his otherwise good judgement. I can only presume that he had a column to write, on deadline, and chose to center on this rather stupid issue.

    Maybe I’ll refer do Dan as “Dan Whiner” after this.

  123. Christian Burnham says

    And you have every right and reason to disagree with Savage’s POV.

    I’m arguing with Bloix’s statement that many people would be offended by Savage’s ass-****ing jokes, which I don’t doubt. But who are these people who would read Savage’s column if they find it too icky?

  124. Steve_C says


    I want to accept your assessment of the essay. However, Garrison’s entire schtick is that
    he does think times were simpler and better. He even brings up his parents as a model of how things should be. I don’t think he’s a reactionary. And I do believe he’s progressive. But there is an underlying value call that he makes.

    Your could be completely right. And I just don’t get his brand of commentary.

  125. Paguroidea says

    Mollishka – You’re right in that it’s depressing. However, at the same time it is very good to get such things out in the open. If no one notices or doesn’t bother to bring it to the attention of others, it will continue. Maybe if enough people complain to Keillor he will change his stance or avoid the topics in question all together. If he avoids the topics at least he won’t be hurting people. We’ll have to keep an eye on that guy!

  126. Steve_C says

    GK posted this at his Prarie Home site…

    Ordinarily I don’t like to use this space to talk about my newspaper column but the most recent column aroused such angry reactions that I thought I should reply. The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing, and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days, and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails. That’s okay. But the underlying cause of the trouble is rather simple.

    I live in a small world — the world of entertainment, musicians, writers — in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes. Ever since I was in college, gay men and women have been friends, associates, heroes, adversaries, and in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other and think nothing of it. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial. In almost every state, gay marriage would be voted down if put on a ballot. Gay men and women have been targeted by the right wing as a hot-button issue. And so gay people out in the larger world feel besieged to some degree. In the small world I live in, they feel accepted and cherished as individuals, but in the larger world they may feel like Types. My column spoke as we would speak in my small world and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.

  127. Stogoe says

    Are people confusing sex columnist Dan Savage with nationwide hate radio jock Mike ‘Weiner’ Savage?

  128. Paguroidea says

    Thanks Steve_C. I’m glad he straightened that out. Now for those comments he made previously made about atheists………..

  129. Stogoe says

    And there’s the problem. Keillor’s radio persona of ‘folksy, midwest heteronormative lowest-common-denominator boob’ absorbs the all-too-real casual bigotry that infuses such a life, and thus his entertainment-arena tongue-in-cheek ‘funnin’, coming from such a voice, just sounds like he means it.

    All that’s assuming we take him at his word, of course.

  130. says

    “I think that gay marriage is also an issue that does no good for us and I want to see us divest ourselves of this,” Keillor says. “The symbolism of gay people marrying is terribly potent, terrible powerful, and we ignore this at our peril in our party.

    “I think that gay marriage/union/benefits must be a state and city matter. Gays have tended to migrate from hostile places to friendlier places — San Francisco, New York, New Orleans — and this migration has been a boon to the friendlier places.

    Maybe this is off-topic, but it’s worth mentioning that in practical political terms, Keillor’s formulation–keep gay marriage a local issue, but back away from it in the national party–doesn’t work. It’s been proven not to work. John Kerry was explicitly against gay marriage, but anti-gay bigots still identified him with the threat of it. People in Texas and Wyoming were terrified of gay marriage because it had become legal in Massachusetts. The people who vote based on their opposition to same-sex marriage are people who will only be satisfied by a national ban, and if we want it to remain even a local matter, we have to agitate for it on a national basis.

  131. davidm says

    I don’t see how it can be read as satire. What exactly is he satirizing?

    He is satirizing the very attitudes that you and P.Z. claim that he holds.

    Seriously, are you people void of the capacity to admit a mistake? Have you any idea how ridiculous you look?

    But this is a good example of why we need to be protected against scientists, and against scientism. Because outside your narrow little fields of literal-minded specialty, you are clueless. And therefore you are as big a threat as creationists.

    I submit for your approval the closing section of Feyerabend’s Against Method: http://www.galilean-library.org/feyerabend2.html

  132. Steve_C says

    David. Shut up. GK expected everyone to understand his context and he assumed too much.

    Obviously there was a problem with his essay. He had to post a comment on it to clear things up.

    It wasn’t just scientists that had a problem with it. If it’s read straight or with just smirk it seems way off base.

    I’d love to hear how he would of read it on his radio show. Alot was lost in translation.

  133. davidm says

    David. Shut up. GK expected everyone to understand his context and he assumed too much.

    Yes, he assumed too much for clueless little test-tube people. And no doubt rolled his eyes as he patronized you with a comment to clear things up.

    But as I say, this is why you will not be allowed to dictate how things go in this world, any more than creationists will be. Read Feyerabend.

  134. Steve_C says

    I’m not a scientist… so what exactly am I not going to be allowed to dictate.
    And what do you get to dictate? What’s funny? What’s obvious? Who dictates?

    I’m fairly sure he was explaining himself to gay people and not scientists.

    Even GK could see how it could be interpretted in a way he did not intend.

  135. spencer says

    No. But perhaps they could rethink wearing leather DOM gear or a Riddler costume to the PTSA meeting.

    Uh-huh. And who the hell does that?

    Nobody, is who.


  136. says

    as i have said elsewhere, i hate keillor for the simple fact that he pretty much stole his act from jean sheperd…delivery, content, tone, and style. the only difference being i don’t believe sheperd ever broadcast live stage shows on a regular basis.

    this new brouhaha only reinforces my dislike for keillor.

  137. davidm says

    Gosh, where is P.Z., the bullying Joe McCarthy of Scientism (“Are you now, or have you ever been, a Creationist?”) to admit that he made a complete ass of himself in attacking Keillor? Nowhere to be found! What a surprise! And where are his gibbering little sycophants? Nowhere to be found! :D

    The rest of us who have a clue will learn how to defend ourselves against science in the following essay:


  138. says

    Those who are excusing Keillor “because he is writing satire” have got to be kidding me. If you not see the difference between “A modest proposal” and “A Prairie Home Companion” because they both employ the device of satire, you are either a simpleton or else just have an ax to grind.

    Unlike most satires, say Borat or “A modest proposal” or Stephen Colbert, Keillor is not out to denigrate Lake Woebegone. Instead, through the humorous exaggeration of it’s folksiness, modesty and plain, lutheran values, he has created a kind of universal hometown that is popular outside of minneosota because it resonates with those of us yearning for a less complicated, more authentic experience than modern life seems to offer. I guess “less complicated” also means none of the gay parenting business and no gay men who might resemble an actual human being rather than a shrieking bundle of overdressed mannerisms.

    As for GK’s response: I can well-believe that he is not anti-gay in real life. After all, he’s not really a small-town down-home guy — he plays one on radio. But does he, or his gay friends, not think it’s problematic that he has set out a place which is supposed to be an ideal of small-town america but it’s a place where gays (and atheists) are fair game just for being gays and atheists?