I think I’m done listening to Delilah

Image of radio host Delilah with curled blond hair, and left hand on left hip, in a black dress in front of an iHeart Radio emblazoned wall in Las Vegas
(image courtesy of Billboard)

Over the last few months that I’ve been jobless, I’ve spent many a night at home. I tend to keep the radio on to have some background noise bc I don’t have a television in my room and I don’t like having the volume on my computer turned up bc too many sites auto-play videos, which gets old fast. The only radio station I’ve listened to that I can regularly pick up out here in the middle of Nowheresville, USA is a local station that’s part of the iHeart network, and features Delilah Rene Luke. ‘Delilah’, as she is known to listeners, has been a radio personality since 1974, when she was 14. Her enormously popular, eponymous show (which has roughly 8 million listeners) begins at 7 pm CST and runs til 11 pm CST and is notable both for the atmosphere Delilah has created and her callers. She gives the show a relaxed, down home feeling, full of support, encouragement, hope, and words of love.  One of the hallmarks of the show are her listeners, who are encouraged to call or email the show to share their lives with her. They share stories of hope, joy, sorrow, and frustration. Every night, upwards of 50,000 people call hoping to talk to the famous host, but usually only 50-70 actually reach her (she screens the calls herself). Typically, the caller will request a song to be played as a dedication to a friend or loved one, but on a fairly regular basis the caller asks her to pick a song for them.

One particular segment of the show (one I suspect is quite popular) is the equivalent of the ‘Dear Abbey’ advice column. She selects a caller asking for advice on a subject, and a short time later, she offers her words of wisdom for the caller. In the time I’ve been regularly listening to her, I have heard Delilah offer a lot of advice. It didn’t take me long to notice a heavily religious slant behind not only her words of wisdom, but behind the whole show. Only recently did I learn that she is an Evangelical Christian. Discovering that was a light bulb moment. It explained why her guidance frequently came across as being of questionable merit. Rather than offering solutions to her guests that were based in reality and had evidence to back them up, her advice frequently, but not always, turns out to be some variant of ‘gods got the wheel’.

I usually tune out her recommendations when they are too god focused, and pay more attention when she offers up her personal, less divinely inspired solution for how a caller should handle a situation.  On occasion, I’ve written about her advice on Facebook. Sometimes, her wisdom is tolerable or even reasonable:

(note: The four sets of quoted material below are all reproductions of my own posts from Facebook)

Dude seems to be flailing in his search for an answer. On the one hand, he characterized his wife as “playing the role of the Wicked Stepmother to a T”.
On the other, he said his son is a teenager now (a recent development) and teens are “cr*zy anyway”.
So he seems to be blaming both of them, I guess. At any rate, he doesn’t know what to do, so he figured to call a popular radio show host with a hotline to god.

(not seeing any special qualifications that she has for solving his family problems. Yes, she’s a mother with several children, but without being part of their family and seeing the nature and extent of the tension, it’s really hard for anyone to say “AHA, here’s your problem”. In addition, I don’t think Delilah is a qualified therapist, so her advice wouldn’t necessarily be derived from evidence-based solutions)

To her credit, she noted something of importance–Dude referring to his wife as “playing the role of the Wicked Stepmother to a T”. Without saying “Dude, that’s a sexist stereotype. You really should treat your wife with more respect than reducing her down to a stereotype”, (which is totally something I would say, though there might be a little bit more ::ahem:: coarse language (“might be”? Ha)), she basically said IF she’s acting in this way and it’s not just his perception (or his son’s or both of theirs), then he needs to act to protect his child. Not having any further information–I don’t recall him mentioning any particular abuse his son experiences from her, for instance–I’m not really sure what he can or needs to protect him from. That’s a teensy quibble, not a significant problem, given her lack of information.

She then went on to say basically, that if it’s just his perception (or his son’s) and that’s not actually how his wife is acting, then they need to find a good family therapist. Which is what I think she should have started off with, TBH.

1

Sometimes it’s the most unhelpful, facile advice. The kind that would make you want your money back if your therapist offered it:

PEOPLE NEED A QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL GIVING THEM ADVICE YOU HACK!

The fact that she is so beloved and respected (her Wiki page says upwards of 8 million ppl listen to her each week) amplifies the problem, bc listeners will hear her “encouraging” advice about drug addiction–‘move on, leave it behind’ (spoken, at least, with a note of care, rather than dispassionately)–and take that to heart, rather than seeking assistance and answers that have an evidence based approach to handling complex issues like grief and addiction.

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Other times her suggestions are less compassionate and more authoritarian leaning:

On tonight’s episode of ‘No More Advice Delilah, Please’,
the radio personality gives her motherly advice to an 18-year old high school senior who is dating a Hispanic guy roughly her age. His parents have met her and are perfectly fine with their relationship. HER parents, OTOH, are anything but fine with it. Apparently her parents don’t want her dating outside her race. The issue at hand is that they have been dating for a while and she has had to lie to her parents about where she’s going and what she’s doing and she’s tired of doing that. She’s a star athlete, with great grades, is active in her church, and does community service work regularly. She feels she is a great child and that lying to her parents is antithetical to that status. OTOH, she cares deeply for her BF and doesn’t want to end the relationship. So Delilah, please tell the world:

WHAT FUCKED UP PIECE OF ADVICE ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE THIS YOUNG WOMAN?

If you know anything about the advice offered by Delilah, then you probably have some idea of the answer.

First of all, Delilah characterized the parents and their opposition to interracial relationships as ‘absurd’.

And. That’s. It.

I was screaming at the radio for her to call it what it is:
R A C I S T

She couldn’t or wouldn’t do that. Way to beat around the bush.

The advice she offered kinda pissed me off too. She said “you live at home you have to follow the rules set forth by your parents”. Now, I get where she is coming from on this, and ultimately there is a lot of truth to that. Despite being 18 and an adult, the woman does live at home with her parents and is still in high school (I’m guessing this is a past episode or that this piece of mail came to Delilah after the school year ended), so her parents’ rules do have to be acknowledged.

But where I think Delilah went and gave her trademark bullshit advice is when she told the woman “you have to respect your parents’ rules and be honest with them”. Ummm, no. She is not required to respect her parents’ racism. And be honest with them? She’s an adult. If she wants to lie to her parents bc she is in a relationship, that’s her call. It’s not their business anyways.

Delilah basically told her to stop lying to her parents and suspend her relationship until she moves out of the house.

Me? I’d have given her advice on how to effectively hide the relationship until such time as she no longer lives at home (which might not happen immediately after high school and even if it does, going to college often happens with some kind of support from parents and that could be threatened). I’d have supported the woman and said she has every right to be in a relationship with the person she chooses. I’D HAVE FUCKING TOLD HER THAT HER PARENTS’ RULES ARE RACIST AS FUCK. She sent a letter asking for support and instead, Delilah tells her she’s up shit creek without a paddle for who knows how long.

3

Here, have another one of my “favorites” (where the word is spoken with as much contempt as possible):

Dude calls in to complain that he invited his mother to his college graduation months ago. She invited his father whom he did not want there.

Delilah tells the guy he cant change his mom from being codependent (dad is apparently toxic and emotionally unavailable & Delilah is somehow qualified to decide the mom is codependent over a phone call with the son). Nor can he change his father.

So her advice?

Forgive the father or the resentment with eat you alive.

There’s that toxic religious bullshit again.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EVER FORGIVE ANYONE–EVEN A FAMILY MEMBER–IF THEY HAVE BEEN A TOXIC PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE.

Perhaps it _can_ consume you, but that is not a destined outcome and treating it as such is, once again, bullshit advice from Delilah.

4

 

Then there’s the counsel she gave a caller on tonight’s show. This crap took the cake and moved me firmly into the I don’t just dislike her and think she needs to be off the air, but I despise her camp:

Her caller tonight was a woman–an aunt–looking for advice on a family problem. Her sister has three children, two of whom are brothers, both in their 20s, and struggling (as are many young people in this economy) to make enough money to make ends meet and live on their own. So they were living with their mom and saving money with plans to move into their own place in January 2019. That plan was thrown out of whack a few months ago when some sort of incident occurred that resulted in dear old mom kicking them out. The nature of the incident is not explained to listeners, but the aunt told Delilah that her sister had a history of acting in questionable or inexplicably frustrating ways (paraphrasing). She and her husband took them in (you know, so they wouldn’t be homeless) with the understanding that they both had to follow the rules of the house, which she said both have done. With the holidays coming up she was looking forward to having the entire family together, but her sister refuses to be involved in any celebration if her sons are involved. To complicate matters, the brothers have a younger sister who might not be allowed to attend any celebration without her mother. The aunt said she really wants to know how to solve this family dilemma, and as she typically does, Delilah offered what for her probably passed as good advice.

In a manner that was less warm and comforting and more Grinch-like and scolding, Delilah told the aunt that she was taking the side of the brothers much too unquestioningly. That she needed to speak with her sister to get the other side of the story, bc clearly she wasn’t getting the entire tale. She claimed the brothers weren’t willing to agree to the rules at their mothers’ home, which I found questionable (though not impossible) bc the aunt said the guys follow her rules.

Then she said what really ticked me off: that the aunt was giving in and catering to the victimhood mentality of her nephews and had fallen for their story. At no point in her recounting of the woman’s story did Delilah mention anything about them being or acting like victims. Moreover, the tone she took with the woman felt like she was chastising her, as in “how dare you take your nephews into your home. Don’t you know what they did to your sister?” when it is extremely doubtful Delilah has any idea of the inciting incident. In all the time I’ve listened to Delilah, she has never even hinted that she omits anything from the calls that she receives, so I don’t believe that the aunt told her what the incident was and she just failed to mention it on air. Her comments gave the appearance of her having all the facts of the situation and I have a seriously difficult time believing that.

I also found myself unsettled by her comments about the brothers’ supposed victimhood status. Delilah came across as her attempting to cast doubt on the claims they made by insinuating that they were really just pretending (which reminded me of rape apologetics). With the lack of information given about the incident between mom and sons, there is no way for Delilah to reasonably conclude that the sons were pretending to be victims. Nor is it reasonable for her to even suggest it, absent any evidence. Her smearing of the brothers wasn’t finished with the aspersions on their character. No, she also made the unevidenced claim that they weren’t following the rules at their mother’s house. Nowhere in her recounting of the aunt’s story was that mentioned, and as I said, it’s strange to me that they would adhere to their aunt’s rules, but not their mothers (it’s not inconceivable though, as I can imagine scenarios where that could happen). It sounded like Delilah was superimposing a narrative of her own over the aunt’s.

Another thing that irked me is how cruel she came across. This is someone who regularly talks about love and its importance in life. She talks about family and how family should stay together. She talks about forgiveness and how vital it can be to forgive people. Yet there was no compassion for these two brothers who were kicked out of their home just a few months before they were to move into place of their own. Not only that, but they were kicked out shortly before the holiday season.

On the one hand, the attitude underlying her comments is odd. After all, she speaks of herself as very family oriented and she regularly talks about the importance of forgiveness. And of course, you’d have to live under a rock to not know that many people who wear the label Christian think of themselves as loving people with big hearts filled with mercy, compassion, and the capacity to forgive others. Certainly, there are many Christians for whom these words play a central role in their behavior throughout their lives.

Yet, on the other hand, I also have to remember–for all that Christianity is touted as loving, forgiving, and kind, a cursory glance of the history of Christianity shows a great deal of ugliness. From barbarism and misogyny to endorsements of slavery and rape, and even the glorification of genocide, there is much about Christianity worth condemning. As for its adherents, one doesn’t have to look far to find believers who oppose gender equality, queer rights, and Civil Rights, or those who support the current POTUS. Speaking of those supporters, one strain of them, Evangelical Christians, are even worse in my estimation.

I think the straw that broke the camel’s back tonight was Delilah’s deception. In past shows, though her counsel ranged from useless to marginally helpful to questionable, I never got the impression she was being dishonest. I always felt there was sincerity behind her advice, however misguided it often was. Even the show (which she puts on at home) made it feel like honesty was part of an unspoken contract she made with her listeners.  But listening to her make assumptions and blatantly false statements tonight was the final straw. Actually, I have to walk that back a bit. It’s not just my issues with her honesty and sincerity that drove me away. It was also her treatment of the aunt. The way Delilah seemed to chide the aunt for taking in her nephews, as if she should have left them homeless was repugnant. At no point did she show any compassion for them nor an understanding of the economic realities of the country they are inheriting. Oh yeah, and the whole victimhood narrative that she injected into the aunt’s story came from out of left field, but was very revealing.

I probably ought to have quit listening to her show by now. After all, it’s not like I was listening in the hopes that’s she’d offer some advice applicable to my life (single for almost 17 years now, plus gay). For that matter, I’m surprised I lasted this long given the heavy influence of religion, which I typically have little tolerance for. I think though, that her sincerity and warmth, combined with the coziness of her show was comforting in some ways. It didn’t hurt that so much of the music she plays is stuff I listened to growing up in the 80s and 90s, so at least I could listen to some good tunes for 4 hours. Come to think of it, I did find myself looking forward to hearing some of the stories from callers, so there’s that. No matter, I think it’s time to make use of Pandora more. I think I’ll take a break for a while and possibly return in the future to listen to her life coaching faux advice just to shred it for the bullshit it almost always is (it’s not like she is going to retire the show anytime soon, though that would be a good thing), but as a regular listener? Nah. That ship has sailed.

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I think I’m done listening to Delilah
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2 thoughts on “I think I’m done listening to Delilah

  1. 1

    Hi Tony,

    I’ve never been able to stomach Delilah for more than a minute at a time…and I’ve been running into her program for as long as I’ve listened to the radio. Without fail, her voice is cloying, her song selections are tired, and her advice laden with passive-aggressiveness under saccharine pretenses.

    This post perfectly articulates *why* she’s so grating, and why I don’t trust evangelical Christians to convey advice about anything.

  2. 2

    Ha yeah, I used to listen to and like Delilah back when I was a depressed gay teenager stuck in small town Alabama, and I remember appreciating the seemingly loving message she was putting out there about the importance of love and family, but when I revisited her show after college I was unhappily struck by how subtly (and not so subtly) religious and authoritarian that message was. Also, not nearly as accepting and loving as I remembered. Finding out she’s an evangelical christian makes a lot of sense in hindsight.
    Of course, I discovered a lot of religious stuff tucked away in a bunch of things I loved as a child/teen when I later revisited them as an adult–A Wrinkle In Time and The Dark Is Rising in particular are two books that made me go “Wow, how did I not see this before??” I’m still glad I read them when I was younger because I got some good stuff out of them–they really fueled my imagination and inspired a lot of my art–but I can’t read them with the same uncritical enjoyment now. Same with Delilah–she helped me get through a rough patch as a kid, but now I see all the problems and just can’t enjoy her show anymore… even if she does play a bunch of my favorite sappy 80s and 90s songs.

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