Dan Savage has made a career out of taking on the kinds of questions everyone wants answered, but no one wants to ask. Namely, questions about sex. Savage, sex advice columnist, author, LGBTQ activist and political pundit, is taking his brand of blunt but hilarious advice to colleges all over the country in MTV’s new show “Savage U.” In the April 10 episode, they ventured into the sex-crazed world of Ohio State University.
The show is set up with a fairly basic format: Savage, along with his producer/sidekick Lauren Hutchinson, travels from school to school, visiting one per week. Each episode has three different segments: a large Q&A in an auditorium full of students (something Savage has been doing for years), a few students do a one-on-one (or two, if they’re a couple) with Savage and finally Savage and Hutchinson explore the sex culture of the campus by going to local parties, questioning students they bump into and exploring the bar scene.
The Q&A is by far the funniest part of the show, probably due in large part to the fact that Savage is well practiced in the format. It’s clearly meant to be less heart-felt than the one-on-one section — after all, the questions are often anonymous — but the answers still manage to be incredibly insightful just as often as they are hilarious. Savage is well-known among his fans for his sharp wit and unapologetically pro-sex stance.
When he was asked if it was “OK to make out with a lot of dudes, or is that slutty?” in this week’s episode, Savage stated, “Is it really an either/or question? Couldn’t it be OK to make out with a lot of dudes and [have] it be slutty?”
He went on to say, “I think we need to talk about slut the way straight dudes talk about stud. Slut is a female stud — make it a term of empowerment.” After the applause died down, he finished the discussion off by saying that “some people are going to think that’s slutty in a negative way — don’t make out with those dudes.”
In this episode, however, it’s the one-on-one discussions that really allow fans to see a softer side of the man called Savage. Where he normally has a tendency to be abrasive and even a bit insulting, in a manner that works very well for what he does, in these smaller sessions he’s understanding, compelling and even sweet at times.
At one point, Savage speaks with a girl who had nearly been sexually assaulted after trusting a guy she had a crush on, thinking he was sweet and non-threatening. Afterwards, she had trouble dating and expressing herself, since she had been blamed for the incident and was called a “bitch” because of her refusal to sleep with him.
This is perhaps one of the moments when Savage is at his most likeable, simultaneously comforting her and explaining that she was in no way culpable for the incident. He also goes on to help her come to terms with dating again, telling her, “You have it in you to tell a guy that it’s a longer game and a slower game and you’re not into aggressive douche-baggery at all. A guy will work around that for the privilege and honor of dating you.”
“Savage U” is a fantastic mix of humor and sentimentality, with Savage brilliantly walking the line between his direct and up-front persona that his fans know and love and a softer, more approachable version of himself. Though the show is definitely far tamer than his column in Seattle’s alternative paper The Stranger, it maintains the most important part: sharing information that might not have been accessible to the audience otherwise. Here’s to hoping that students everywhere have a few more questions answered every week.
Howard is a member of the class of 2013.