Enjoy Obviously Fake Advice-Column Letters for What They Are: Catharsis

A gift to bored minds everywhere

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There is not much point to Twitter, except to kill time and to occasionally tweet idle thoughts that your editor sees and asks you to expand into blog posts for publication. But one thing Twitter is good for is surfacing the cream of the crop of advice-column letters and r/AmItheAsshole (AITA) posts for people who aren’t quite engaged enough to get their supply of torn moral confessionals straight from the source — relative “normies,” if you will.

For example, today’s letter that is making the rounds is this one from Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice column; specifically, the one supposedly from some schmuck who feels betrayed that his wife secretly wrote and sold a $100,000 book in her brief snatches of time during lunch at work. The letter, screenshotted and shared without attribution by some person on Twitter this morning, quickly went viral. As of press time, I have personally seen it retweeted onto my feed by at least a dozen people I follow.

I have also seen several cries of “fake,” which I guess I can understand. This letter is almost too perfectly calibrated to provoke: there’s a hater husband, a hypercompetent wife, a significant book deal, a misunderstanding of how lunch breaks (and possibly the cost of college tuition) work, the suggestion that a woman stall her dreams and passions for the sake of childcare — all CATNIP for the internet crowd, as the skeptics questioning the letter’s authenticity are certainly aware of.

But, although I understand the suspicion with which many are eyeing the letter — especially in the wake of the revelation that at least a handful of Dear Prudie letters are fake, as writer Bennett Madison revealed in Gawker two months ago — I have to say: it doesn’t matter.

(Disclosure: I used to work for Slate but have no idea how advice-seeking letters were selected or vetted.)

AITA posts and advice columns play an important role in the online ecosystem, and that is not to tell the unvarnished, authentic truth. It is to bring people together in collective catharsis, allowing mutuals and strangers alike to undergo the purification and purgation of emotions through this shared experience of yelling about one thing in common.

Consider how ancient Greeks cleansed their psyches by going through the motions of pity and fear while watching tragic plays at the theater. This is that but for people who spend all their time on social media. Dunking on anons lets them excise all their pent-up frustration in a mostly harmless way. I feel the same about other low-effort, low-stakes arguments, too, like declaring that waffle-cut fries are the worst form of spuds, or whatever. Everyone tap-tap-types their little opinions, gets their metaphorical rocks off, relieves some of the tension in their lives, and then sleeps a bit more soundly that night. (As long as they’re not vindictive freaks about whoever posted the original take, of course, which is where the real risk lies.)

In a way, the Slates and Ask a Managers and AITA users of the world are performing a public service, providing this kind of fodder for entertainment and emoting. Our forebears had their rich oral traditions, those epic tales of heroism and creation spun around a crackling fire. This is categorically not that. But it is, at the end of the day, a gift all the same, for workdays are long and restless minds in need of some kind of diversion. Thank you for the content.