THE AGONY COLUMN
There is one part of women’s magazines that every man reads. It is the section popularly known as the ‘agony column’, where women, and increasingly men, write for advice on what are sometimes referred to as ‘affairs of the heart’. The person who answers these letters usually has a very reassuring sort of name, which suggests a gentle middle-aged lady of great wisdom and experience, but who at the same time is as homely and approachable as your favourite aunt.
At one time, it used to be widely believed that the letters were, in fact, all made up by someone on the editorial staff, and that the ‘Aunt Mary’ who provided the answers was, in fact, a fat man with a beard, who drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney and was unfaithful to his wife. Although this may be true in some cases, the majority of advice columns today are completely genuine, and the advisory staff are highly-qualified people with a deep understanding of human problems.
At one time the letters, which were published and answered in full, dealt with problems of a very general emotional nature. The recurrent themes were loneliness, unhappiness in marriages and problems of adolescence. Occasionally, only the answers were published, not the letters themselves. Much of the fun in reading them lay in trying to work out the problem that led to such peculiar answers. Agony columns have undergone great change.
Nowadays, everything is much more explicit, and questions of the most intimate kind are fully dealt with. As the agony columns have become more professional and more frank, a lot of the fun has gone out of them. This is undoubtedly a good thing because there is something sad about our tendency to laugh at the misfortunes of our fellow men. In addition, agony columns are no longer restricted to emotional problems. Problems of various natures are now dealt with. For example, the advice columns get a lot of letters from people who are distressed about what they believe to be terrible physical deformities.
Others are terrified of meeting people because they suffer from shyness, or are convinced that they are unattractive. If is not really funny to be so self-conscious about your appearance, or so lacking in self-confidence, that you stay in your room instead of going out and meeting people. If they do nothing else, the agony columns let you know that you are not the only one who is suffering from that particular problem. The advisers seem to be on much more dangerous ground when they start to give advice on the most delicate and intimate aspects of human relationships.
We cannot doubt either their good intentions or their understanding of human nature. But it is risky business to advise a married couple on how to save their marriage when what you know about them is only what they reveal to you in a short letter. Not only that, but the chances are that you only get one side of the story because only one of the partners will write to tell you about the shortcomings of the other. It is difficult to know how you can usefully answer such letters.
To their credit, the best advisers always make the point that without knowing more, they must limit themselves to general advice, and in 50 some cases will .even offer to enter into private correspondence in order to get more information and consequently to give more useful advice. Without doubt, they are, in their way, performing a valuable social service. If they were not, the agony columns would soon dry up for lack of interest, and more importantly for lack of confidence.
Mark the best choice.
1. Line 4, ‘affairs of the heart’ means . a) heart diseases c) love matters b) physical illnesses d) family problems
2. |_ine 13, ‘genuine’ means . a) imaginary b) depressing c) real d) professional
3. Line 20, ‘peculiar* means . a) dangerous b) usual c) common d) strange
4. Line 22, ‘explicit’ means . a) strictly personal c) easily discussed b) clearly expressed d) completely different
5. It used to be thought that readers’ problems were dealt with by a . a) kind middle-aged lady c) team of qualified advisers s b) man lacking good character d) woman from the editorial staff
6. The people who deal with readers’ problems nowadays are generally
a) qualified people who understand such problems b) women who have a wide experience of life c) chosen from amongst homely and approachable aunts d) people who have experienced similar problems