Kitty Corner: ‘Dear Prudence’ provides an amusing snapshot of the human condition

Grace Cillo | Daily Trojan

Here’s a guilty pleasure I don’t often admit: I love reading advice columns. It is not the most scholastic of pursuits, but everyone needs an occasional dose of schadenfreude, and the entertainment value can’t be matched. The sordid extramarital affairs, the difficult, demanding siblings, the scheming mother-in-laws — oh, those incorrigible mother-in-laws — I eagerly lap it all up, wrapped in the smug, self-righteous knowledge that I’m much too smart and savvy to ever find myself mired in such situations.

Some of the columns I enjoy include The New York Times’ “Social Q’s,” which bills itself as “lighthearted advice for awkward social situations,” and has elicited a chuckle out of my usual stony-faced Internet-browsing expression. New York Magazine’s “Ask Polly” is another great one, even if Heather Havrilesky’s replies tend to err a bit on the garrulous side. But my absolute favorite column, one that I check religiously, is Slate Magazine’s “Dear Prudence.”

I started reading “Dear Prudence” nearly five years ago, when it was helmed by Emily Yoffe. Yoffe assumed the Prudie identity in 2006, and still represents, for me, the ideal advice columnist: She possesses compassion in spades; she is stern but kind when addressing letter writers who are clearly in the wrong; she sprinkles her answers with a dash of humor and sass. Her words of wisdom are always gracious and thoughtful. Honestly, I’d want Yoffe to be my second mom.

In 2015, after nearly a decade in the role, Yoffe handed the reins over to Daniel Mallory Ortberg. Predictably, long-time readers, averse to change, protested. Some squawked at his age; he was 28 when he landed the gig. He is also a lot more hip than Yoffe, sporting multiple lip piercings and a fashionable undercut. But Ortberg does an admirable job as Prudie. He takes a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to advice, but he is just as considerate and generous as his predecessor.  

I’m very selective about the media I pay for, but I eventually caved and took out a subscription to Slate just so I could access the bonus content; all the good questions are under lock, for Slate Plus members only — those sneaky bastards. Ortberg also hosts a podcast called “Dear Prudence Uncensored” with Nicole Cliffe, who is the “Care and Feeding” columnist and answers questions regarding how to wrangle young children.

Reading advice columns almost feels like rubbernecking. The letter writers lay bare every squalid detail of their predicament, emboldened through the use of goofy pseudonyms like “Jonifred” and “Jimothy.” Whenever I’m in a bind, I turn to “Dear Prudence,” and am always reassured that no matter how dire the straits I’m in, there are people out there who have it a lot worse.

Life is truly a rich and colorful tapestry. The plights people manage to get themselves into never cease to amaze me. “Dear Prudence” is a snapshot of the human experience, with all its strains and stresses, woes and joys, fears, hopes and dreams. More riveting than any fictional movie, it is unparalleled in its ability to make you laugh, cry or wince in sympathy.  

Kitty Guo is a junior majoring in journalism and computational linguistics. Her column, “Kitty Corner,” ran every other Wednesday.