Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Open Letter to Bill Donohue About why his Column Sucked.

Dear Mr. Donohue,

I hope you don't feel I'm being too forward in writing this letter. I don't really know who you are, but I wrote a missive to Bono earlier this week, and that put me in a letter-writing mood I guess. And I couldn't help but notice your column in the Washington Post, under the “On Faith” heading. Is that where they ask people to write essays and automatically accept them “on faith” no matter how sloppy they are? Or what's the deal with that? Anyway, you said a lot of provocative things in your essay—you sure don't like gay people!--but your writing was a little sloppy, I thought. And I have this degree in Writing that isn't doing me any good, and nothing but time on my hands, so I thought I'd give you a few pointers in case you get asked to write another column:

1. Start off with a good hook. Your first sentence begins with the line, “There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days,” which is a little heavy and disorienting. Define your terms! Who are these cultural nihilists? Are they the gays? Are you talking about musical theater? (I don't like that stuff either.) A better way to start off would be pointing to a specific example of “cultural nihilism” and then use that example to get to the point of the essay. Speaking of which...

2. Have a clear reason for writing the essay, or a “thesis.” It sounds like your thesis is, “These people are really bad,” which is a little unfocused. You should limit yourself to a smaller topic so you can be more precise. Like the thesis of this essay is, “Bill Donohue made a lot of formal mistakes in his essay that are unrelated to the content.” This allows me to focus on particulars and not make vague generalities. Speaking of which...

3. Avoid vague generalities. You attack artists for mocking Christianity, saying, “From scatological artistic exhibitions to the latest obscene installation, the charlatans have succeeded in politicizing the arts.” But you should really bring up some examples. Are you talking about Piss Christ? That was made over 20 years ago. You might not be up on much contemporary art—you don't even live in New York City like I do—but if you are going to make sweeping statements, you might want to give us the impression that you know what you are talking about. And who are these outrageous people politicizing such a neutral field as “the arts?” Is it the gays again? Specific examples would help.

4. Oh, and you should write with transitions. See the two “speaking of which” lines I included at the end of the first two items on my list? Those are “transitions.” They allow the reader to move from idea to idea easily, and allow us to follow your reasoning. It's a basic technique that most Freshman Comp courses teach. (By the way, did you go to college? It sounds like you don't like education in this country very much! Is it because there are so many gays in the colleges?) Here you have a lot of paragraphs that are only connected by the idea that you don't like any of the people you are talking about. That may work for some comic writers like Jack Handy or Stephen Wright, but since you probably weren't trying to be funny, it doesn't really work.

5. Don't misrepresent facts. Whoops, there's no transition between the last two paragraphs, but this is a numbered list, so that's excusable. Anyway, you say some things in your essay that should have maybe been more carefully considered. I don't want to be all nitpicky, but you say “Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge.” It turns out the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee was Catholic and so is the Vice President, and the gays just protested in Washington, which is sort of the opposite of what you said. Oopsy! And you mention that Lee Bass's $20 million gift to Yale was returned because Yale hates “western civilization,” but the Yale student newspaper says it was because Bass wanted to hand-pick professors for the courses his money would have funded. (By the way, Yale's art school is really important in the art world. Are they the ones responsible for introducing politics into art?)

6. Conclude with a clear plan of action for the reader to follow. This is the traditional way to end a persuasive essay, and you sort of do this. Here's your last paragraph:

The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

I'm a little confused by this, quite frankly. Do you not walk your dog? And while you have a clear message for conservatives (“Start fucking, right now”), I'm not sure what I should do, since I don't consider myself a religious conservative. I should not have kids? That seems extreme. Or are you saying that the world is a better place if I don't reproduce? That also seems really mean-spirited. Or, I know, maybe you mean that all the people you don't like are gay, and so can't have children in a biological sense, which would mean no more gays, right? Anyway, you don't need to worry about me reproducing just yet. I use condoms, which should make you, the head of the Catholic League, very happy.

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