Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Dan Savage made Rick Santorum's name mud...or close enough

You can bet that the 26,000-plus Coloradans who voted for Rick Santorum at yesterday's Republican caucuses, pushing the conservatives' conservative to a surprise victory, are not faithful readers of Savage Love. Because Dan Savage, the author of that sex-advice column, not only took issue with Santorum's stance on gay sex, he took action.

He made Santorum's name mud.

Well, not mud, exactly.

In 2003, Santorum, then a senator from Pennsylvania, was talking about anti-sodomy laws with a reporter when he said this: "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, you have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does." A healthy society, he continued, would not condone sodomy or "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

In 2003, Savage was already a sex-advice columnist with a large following. In response to the Santorum statement, a Savage Love reader suggested, "If Rick Santorum wants to invite himself into the bedrooms of gays and lesbians (and their dogs), I say we 'include' him in our sex lives -- by naming a gay sex act after him." So Savage started a contest...that resulted in an entirely new meaning for "Santorum."

In the end, "santorum" became the name not for a sex act, but the end product of a sex act: the brown froth that results from anal sex. And Savage used the definition often in his column, sending the alternative meaning of "santorum" out into cyberspace, where it lives on, and on.

That wasn't the columnist's last crusade. Savage likes his stunts, but he's also a sensitive guy with a spouse and a son, and in the summer of 2010, he created the amazing "It Gets Better" campaign, to help young gays who were being harassed -- sometimes to death.

But it's his Santorum Google bomb that's in the news. Because there was an unexpected byproduct of that sex-byproduct label: People googling "Santorum" are often very, very surprised by what they find.

And many people are googling "Santorum" these days, as the New Yorker reported in this recent story on Savage and Santorum. For a look at what people find, check out Buzzfeed's "25 people who just googled 'Santorum' for the first time."

There's a new Savage Love in Westword every week; read them all here.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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