Due to circumstances out of anyone's control, the last week has acquired a definitely penile... er... flavor, so to say. To mention only two headlines, such as Watcher’s Council Nominations: Erections Have Consequences Edition and Weiner Comes Clean But Doesn’t Resign. But still my attention was on another penile subject, that of the Intactivists, the relentless fighters against male circumcision and their intrepid leader, Matthew Hess.
To start with, a few disclaimers:
- While a Jew, I am not a religious one. I am not saying this to make proud or to apologize, just as an input data item, useful or not - up to you.
- I don't have a horse in the race on circumcision. While I have been following the religious dictate as far as my progeny is concerned, I can take it or leave it, thousands years of tradition and whatnot notwithstanding.
- I (and other, less active, participants in this here blog) do take utmost care with the battle cry "Antisemitism", trying to use it sparingly and only in clear-cut cases. Hitler and David Duke come to mind easily, but of course, there are many, many more out there, sadly. On the other hand, there are some gray areas better to be avoided for lack of clarity and proof.
First of all, let's see what Matthew Hess has to say about himself. On his care2 page, he characterizes his own stance on male circumcision as "rabid":
His professional life (if "life" is a fitting term in this case), as it is described by himself, looks singularly focused on the same appendage:
The term "rabid" (Marked by excessive enthusiasm for and intense devotion to a cause or idea) that Mr Hess uses to describe himself is, accidentally or not, used as well by Dr. George Kaplan, a urologist with Rady Children’s Specialists of San Diego Medical Foundation: "There are people who are rabidly anti-circumcision, and I use that word purposely."
In the article linked above, written by Dave Maass, there is a lot of useful information on the whole issue. For the purpose of this post, which is an attempt to understand the Matthew Hess phenomena, the most important part is provided by our hero himself, and it's nothing less than full disclosure of the circumstances that lead Mr Hess to his all-consuming obsession.
Matthew Hess, a Pacific Beach resident who recently turned 40, remembers the first time he saw another kid’s “intact” penis. He was 8.Yeah. Obviously no one cared to explain to Mr Hess that over-enthusiastic use of that appendage may indeed cause a marked diminishing of the sensation after years of such use. But, I guess, even if somebody did explain, it would have been too late, because the obsession has already taken over. And obsessions have a mind of their own. At least we were given an insight into the real source of the problem that consumes Matt's waking hours.
“I actually didn’t register it at the time that I had been circumcised,” Hess says. “I just thought his penis was naturally different somehow. I just thought, ‘That’s not like mine. That’s different. I like mine better.’”
Hess has since changed his mind and engages in therapies to “restore” his foreskin.
“I was in my late 20s when I just started to notice a slow decline in sensation,” Hess says. “Year after year, it started to get a worse and worse after sex. I went to a urologist, and he didn’t have much of an answer. It struck me that my circumcision could have something to do with this. I researched online and quickly found a lot of information about what’s lost. That made me pretty angry.”
The cause of his personal anguish notwithstanding, Matthew Hess presents quite a pathetic image. I shall borrow a piece of Fresno Zionism post:
Here is a photo of Matthew Hess, leader of the movement, holding a device that supposedly can be used to create a foreskin on a circumcised penis (in the words of the immortal Dave Barry, I Am Not Making This Up):
Very funny. But plenty of idiots take it seriously. You can actually buy one of these devices. There are ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures at the site. Unbelievable.The picture of the chief Intactivist becomes more and more pitiful as the details surface, you would agree. However, until now, the means he and his followers employed in the service of the cause, were exceedingly poor, as you can ascertain viewing this example:
Even if I were a rabid enthusiast of the cause, I would have been discouraged by the singularly soporific manner of the voice-over. I bet one could put more feeling in recitation of a Yellow pages' contents.
Being obsessed, Mr Hess doesn't mind playing loose with facts. The main part of his position statement on male circumcision reads:
Although legal protection of only girls from circumcision would seem to violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the fact remains that it is still widely considered to be legal in this country to mutilate a boy's genitals in the name of social custom, hygiene, religion, or any other reason. This is true despite the well documented lifelong damage that male circumcision causes each of its victims.Which is an intentional misdirection, because AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) stance on the practice at the moment is neutral, and is not likely to change in the direction Mr Hess would prefer - just the opposite, judging by the news.
So, all in all, the case trumpeted my Intactivists was quite a moribund one before the story of the antisemitic cartoons exploded. In a way, choosing an obviously antisemitic trope for the cartoon was similar to Mel Gibson's trick of creating a publicity storm around his infamous movie. But is it so simple? On the face of it, one can't escape the feeling that the whole affair has a strong smell of a contrived, spoof-like action. Two different bloggers wonder about this. However, one of them offers another bizarre explanation of the antisemitic escapade:
My reader also warns of a new breed of anti-Semite I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years:Wow indeed. Curiosier and curiosier...
In this instance, I think it’s yet a third kind of acceptable anti-Semitism, a little-known one yet one that is persistent especially in California: Gay activist anti-Semitism. A certain subset of gays are strong “uncut” proponents and want all penises to have foreskins because they prefer them that way, and so try to force the world to comply; when they get the biggest pushback from Jewish groups, their frustration turns to hatred.
I have no idea if he’s right. (I certainly don’t pretend to know anything about Matthew Hess’s sexual orientation.) But if he is — wow. Isn’t anti-Semitism supple? Isn’t it versatile? It slices, it dices, it makes Julienne fries! Historically, it’s proven able to provide a solution and an explanation for anything, even mediocre sex. Speaking from the Jewish side of my family, I quote the Scots: Whae’s like us? Damn few, an’ they’re a’ deid.
An interesting response from Matthew Hess to a direct question about his perceived anti-Semitism:"A lot of people have said that, but we're not trying to be anti-Semitic." Does "not trying" mean that he already is anti-Semitic enough or that he is, indeed, truly unaware of the anti-Semitic flavor of his creation?
And, to top the accumulated list of mysteries, a quote from an (unnamed) Jewish affairs advocate:
“We have not uncovered any kind of bigotry in their background or anything like that,” said the advocate. “That said, it seems that they are so fanatical in the belief of their cause that they are just either willfully blind or willfully ignorant to the fact that they have stooped to trafficking in these really hateful tropes.”E.g., while the cartoons are clearly anti-Semitic, there is no bigotry in the perpetrators' past. Go figure...
So, while the only certainty that exists re Mr Hess is that he is a fanatical (and pathetic) torch carrier for his cause, all the rest is questionable, and there are quite a few questions:
- Was his use of anti-Semitic tropes an intentional PR exercise? Doing a Gibson, so to say?
- Why didn't he use Muslim circumcision as an example for his cartoons?
- Did the hateful imagery come naturally to him? In other words, is he inherently anti-Semitic or (see question 1) to a degree that he isn't even aware of it?
- Is there indeed a Jew-hating segment of gay community or it's a figment of someone's imagination?