Young adult novelist Bennett Madison turned in 25 fake letters seeking advice from Slate’s Dear Prudence column starting in 2018
A disillusioned novelist turned in fake letters to an advice column to avoid the ‘cultural revolutionaries’ in the writing world, but cut his experiment short when Tucker Carlson shared one of his fake missives detailing a wife’s despair at her COVID-conscious husband’s insistence on wearing a mask during sex.
Bennett Madison used fake emails to submit 25 letters to Slate’s Dear Prudence column starting in late 2018. Twelve of the letters were answered in print or on the column’s podcast.
The one that got Carlson’s attention – ‘My Husband Won’t Take His Mask Off – Even for Sex’ – was published in May and describes a wife’s frustration over her husband’s seemingly permanent pandemic-era accessory.
Madison, writing as ‘Maskless and Alone,’ vents: ‘He wears it to sleep, to do most of his bathroom activities, and, yes, even during lovemaking. To eat, he pulls it up to expose his mouth, and then quickly pulls it back down between bites.
‘I want to kiss him on the lips romantically, like we used to, and not through a piece of fabric. (He does not change his mask very often and it is often smelly and soiled.)’
Columnist Tori Bosch suggested the husband seek medical and psychological care.
‘Once he has committed to some sort of treatment, see if you can get him to promise to change his mask every day until he feels secure going without it,’ Bosch answered.
Madison’s most popular letter detailed a spouse’s frustration of their husband’s mask wearing
The absurd letter, published in May, said that the writer’s husband would not remove his ‘smelly and soiled’ mask ‘even during lovemaking’
Madison embarked in the long-term writing exercise after growing disillusioned with his career as a young adult novelist, he revealed in an essay for Gawker on Monday, where he suggested that the current culture of social justice in the writing world dampens creativity and free expression.
He’s written young adult novels such as September Girls and The Blonde of the Joke.
‘In my anonymous, fabricated letters to Prudence, I could follow the most demented threads of my imagination without having to anticipate the omnivalent flavors of opprobrium that might rain down on me from YA’s brigade of cultural revolutionaries,’ he explained.
He added: ‘I can speak only for myself: at a moment when stories increasingly serve as delivery mechanisms for moral and political messaging, it felt like a tiny form of resistance to engage in fiction that was at its heart completely pointless.’
The novelist cut his experiment short after Carlson ranted about the letter on air. ‘What I thought of as harmless trolling might actually have evil consequences,’ Madison said
His unique hobby came to a halt after the Fox News host used his ‘mask sex’ letter to decry COVID hysteria on air, complete with a chyron reading ‘TERRIFIED LIBERALS KEEP THEIR MASKS ON DURING SEX.’
‘I had meant the letter as a mild comedy of manners set in the neurotic milieu of the Brooklyn middle class – a milieu that was, of course, my own,’ Madison admitted in the Gawker article.
‘While part of me was excited to have duped a dweeb like Tucker Carlson with such an obviously phony scenario, I was disturbed to have provided chum for the pro-Covid, bleach-drinking lunatics in his audience.
‘Now, Tucker Carlson made me consider that what I thought of as harmless trolling might actually have evil consequences.’
In time, Madison learned that a good letter ‘must be plausible, but it must also be ridiculous.’
The letters were submitted to the Dear Prudence column on Slate, which was run by Daniel Lavery (above) until early this year, when he migrated to the Substack newsletter platform
In a letter published in March, Madison, writing in character, said that a friend threatened to ‘expose’ him on social media for making an appointment for a COVID vaccine.
‘Her reaction was not what I expected. She accused me of only wanting to go to sex resorts and blamed me for taking vaccines away from “African American grandmothers.” (My friend is white.)’
Danny Lavery, Slate’s main Dear Prudence columnist at the time, responded in earnest.
‘Her accusation that all you care about is wild hedonism and not public safety or your parents’ health is clearly baseless, but beyond that, it’s not irresponsible to want to get vaccinated so one can resume enjoyable activities like going to the movies again someday. It’s pleasurable, and it’s unrelated to life-threatening concerns, but that doesn’t make it irresponsible.’
In another fake letter, ‘My Daughter Is Pretending to Be Demonically Possessed… and I Can’t Take It Anymore!’ Madison’s character emphasized that she feared ‘dampening her daughter’s creative spirit by scolding her for crab-walking around the house and spitting on her family members.’
‘This child is perfect, and has a great big imagination,’ advice columnists responded in a podcast for Dear Prudence, according to Madison.
Madison’s fake advice letter experiment recalls an experiment by a trio of researchers who submitted false ‘grievance papers’ to reputable social science journals in an effort to expose their lack of scientific rigor.
Professor Peter Boghossian and two others authored a 2018 study with a similar premise: mocking the moral and political righteousness of the current moment by publishing fake articles in reputable journals
Authors Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose wrote 20 papers based on fake theories like dog rape in an effort to prove how academic journals would publish anything they agreed with as long as it followed woke orthodoxy.
In the end, four were accepted and published online and three were pending publication when the had to cut the experiment short after they were found out by a Twitter user and reporters in 2018.
Boghossian, one of the authors of the prematurely ended study, resigned from his job as a philosophy professor at Portland State University this month, citing harassment and intolerance from people who disagreed with his research.
He accused the university of having ‘transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division’ in a letter published in Bari Weiss’s Substack.