13 June 2011

Matthew Hess: rabid, but how rabid he is indeed?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
When the glaringly antisemitic cartoon courtesy of Matthew Hess was published, it didn't leave any wiggle room to anyone. Gray area it certainly ain't and the case is as clear-cut as possible. So there. But still, something intangible caused me to seek more material on Mr Hess. For, you see, there are some contradictory notions regarding this gentleman.

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.

“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.”
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.

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):
Matthew Hess, leader of anti-circumcision movement, with penis-stretching device
                                Matthew Hess, leader of anti-circumcision                movement, with penis-stretching device
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:
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.
Wow indeed. Curiosier and curiosier...

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:
  1. Was his use of anti-Semitic tropes an intentional PR exercise? Doing a Gibson, so to say?
  2. Why didn't he use Muslim circumcision as an example for his cartoons?
  3. 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?
  4. Is there indeed a Jew-hating segment of gay community or it's a figment of someone's imagination?
And, probably, more. But definitely an interesting case for an extended study...


Pisa said...


1. No. The guy's too obsessed, too focused on one thing only - his dearly beloved and lost forever foreskin. I believe he used the cartoons as means to vent hiis frustrations, even more than to get his message across. Seems like a "maiden-in-a-tower-with-dragon-dreaming-white-horse-knight" type of fantasy to me. Wishful "little-Hess-on-table-with-mohel-dreaming-Aryan-blond-saviour" thinking.

2. I'm not sure whether Hess didn't want to be lableled anti-muslim bigot, or anti-semitism just came naturally to him. Anyway, iit's easier to get an anti-semitic message across to leftist idiots, far-right idiots, idealistic idiots.

3. Based on the Aryan-blonde saviour, I'd say he's certainly anti-semitic to a frightful extent. Frankly, I don't care if he is or not aware of his anti-semitism, he'll probably deny it anyway. Intersting enough, in his cartoon the saved jewish boy is safely returned to his mother. Hess's dream is to strip jews of their jewishness, as oppossed to "mainstream" anti-semitism whose proponents would like to see the jews back in ghettos and concentrations camps. Make no mistake, that doesn't make Hess less anti-semitic, he just thought of a different "final solution". All this because a personal sexual frustration...

4. There are jew-hating segments in every community, even the jewish one...

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I am not arguing your points, Pisa, since they kind of agree with my suspicions. It is just that this "I don't care if he is or not aware of his anti-semitism" - actually, is the most interesting point for me. Can a person be deeply antisemitic without being aware of it to that degree?

Still could be a good question for a psychological/psychiatric study.

Pisa said...

I think most people are racists to a certain extent, I believe racism is ingrained in our nature as means of self-defense. It's ironic that our plight to get rid of this racism often leads to deeper racism, as is the case with black supremacists or white-guilt ridden anti-western leftists.

" Can a person be deeply antisemitic without being aware of it to that degree?". Yes, of course. Hess saves the jewish boy. He sees himself as a saviour of jews, not an enemy. A "classic" anti-semite would probably have written a different story, maybe about a gentile boy being abducted for the evil purposes of the mohel. While there is a part of Hess' anatomy that is completely and utterly anti-semitic, I doubt that his upper head sees things so clearly. In his vision, jews have to be saved from themselves.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Hmm... interesting. Still, I consider it a case worth looking into more. We shall see.

jams o donnell said...

I'll be, err,  interested to see how he deals with the muslim version of circumcision. If  he were to give Mllahs similar treatment then it may indicate that this Hess is so fanatic about his cause that he will use whatever unpleasant sterotype he can to show the pro circumcisers in the worst possible light.

That saod his imagery is vile and would not look out of place in Der Sturmer. Whether he is a crass fanatic or an anti semite he is still the bastard child of Julius Streicher

Dick Stanley said...

I believe David Duke, when accused of racism, denied it. He just likes swastikas, etc. Hess's excuses are similarly worthless. He could hardly draw that stuff (as "lovingly" as it was done) without realizing what he was doing.

As for his inconsolable grief for his lost foreskin, he needs psychiatric help. If his Willy really has been desensitized, which is hard to believe, it would only be due to overuse, whatever that might mean in his case.

Thanks for all the research on him. I now know more than I ever wanted to about Hess. What an appropriate name. Now research his geneology and find out how many of his ancestors were in the Hitler Youth. More than one, I would bet.

Dick Stanley said...

One other thing, it's hard to believe the weiner outfit pays Hess a living wage. But, if so, you need to find out where their money is coming from. Or, in the alternative, what else he does to pay the rent.

GideonSwort said...

<span>What a Putz. A case of Foreskin Bereavement Syndrome gone berserk. Must have taken years of therapy to divert his manic parental FBS blame into classic Antisemitic imagery.</span>

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I wouldn't argue these points, Jams!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Interestingly, there isn't much information about this character on the interwebs. Aside, of course, his member's history.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

FBS... I like it.

Oh, and why doesn't he sue his parents? After all, it's so Californian...

GideonSwort said...

Do we know that he didn't?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Uh... god question that.

Debbie Right Truth said...

I'm doubting that the physician told him his loss of sensitivity was because he had been circumcised.  The doctor would tell him that his chances of infections and disease is much less if he is circumcised. 

Right Truth

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I think you are right on this.

joshstrike said...

Man... this reminds me so much of a book I read recently. It's hysterically funny and insanely offensive, but it's almost as if it predicted Hess's strain of "Jew-loving" anti-semitism (focus on the circumcision aspect) in reverse. It's called "The Jewish Messiah", by a Dutch-Jewish author, can't remember the name, and it's about a young German boy growing up with an ex-Nazi mom who doesn't talk about it, and who desperately tries to get himself circumcised and become a "friend to the Jews", to "ease their suffering"...mostly out of a confused sexual orientation and some deeply tucked-away emotions his mother's put in him about the Fuhrer...

Anyway, it's always weird to see life imitate art, but this is a classic case. Hess needs to read "The Jewish Messiah" and realize he's a cartoon of himself.

Dreamer said...

I realize that this is old. However:

Foreskin Man is about the routine practice of male circumcision. While you may or may not be aware of it, in spite of the AAP new stance (which is still neutral but pushes more the benefits), there is documentation of men hurt for life by their infant circumcision, whether it was done by a Mohel or a Doctor. This includes: full amputation of the penis, partial amputation of the glans, denudation of all the skin of the penis, or leaving so little skin that any erection will be painful and may cause bleeding. The AAP keeps a deaf ear to those issues. However, medical associations of other countries (i.e. Finland, Netherlands, Australia, England, Tasmania) in general discourage or even move to ban circumcision of infants because of the risks, damages, and the violation of the individual rights of the children.

You should also be aware that a recent ruling in Cologne declared circumcision to be contrary to the best interest of the children and potentially body harm. The German government is currently struggling to present a law that can justify circumcisions in spite of this being against their Basic Law.

Because this comic is about the routine practice of infant circumcision, all that you need to know about Matt with regards to this is his position as an intactivist. There are many of us intactivists, whether circumcised or uncircumcised males, mothers who regret circumcising their sons or mothers who would never circumcise their sons. We are not religiously motivated, there are intactivists of all faiths. We are motivated by what we perceive as a violation of human rights, similar to female genital mutilation, if not in severity, similar in how both are imposed amputations and alterations of the genitals (often called 'private parts' because they should be private) of non-consenting individuals, whether a male baby in the U.S., a male teen in Africa, a male pre-puber boy in the Middle East, a female baby in Malaysia or a female teenager in Africa.

Some of us are indeed using devices or other means to perform foreskin restoration. Foreskin restoration is also documented in the Bible, and was also done by Hellenistic Jews in the early years of our current calendar, when Israel was under the ruling of Rome, to better blend in the Hellenistic society. So it's not that it "supposedly" can grow a foreskin. Foreskin restoration indeed causes tissue expansion to grow new cells and recover some of the benefits of having a foreskin. Thousands of men are doing it right now.

You may not have bothered to think of the human rights aspect of infant circumcision, but you are probably aware of the human right issue of female genital mutilation. Please note that FGM is for a large Muslim population part of their religion, just like Male Circumcision is part of Islam and Judaism.

Believe me, as intactivist, I would be glad if we didn't have to step in the toes of religion. But the way we see it, religious freedom has a limit, it has to stop before it hurts the body of other person. And there's no denying that circumcision causes an injury: it causes bleeding, a scar, a missing body part, and it can cause long term damage and complications. This happens regardless of whether it's done as part of a religious ritual or a medical procedure.

You might also be aware of the orthodox Jewish Mohels in NYC protesting a new law that requires them to get signed parental consent before performing metzitzah b'peh (the oral suction of the circumcised penis), law that was enacted in the face of several infections of Herpes by a Mohel which caused at least 2 deaths. Unfortunately, when we see the denial and the unwillingness to comply with the law, the fiction of a Monster Mohel in a comic seems tame compared to the reality of parents losing babies due to a man infected with Herpes sucking blood out of the penis of circumcised babies in a religious ritual.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thank you for your attention and extensive answer.

I guess, Dreamer, arguing with you will be akin to trying to squeeze a jellyfish into a bottle. No matter what I say, you will return a volley of position statement. I solemnly proclaim that everything you have written is already known to me.

What is missing from your comment is the answers to the questions put in that post you commented on. You know, these short statements with question marks at the end.

And re what I need and what I don't need to know about Matt, let me be the sole judge of that. Suffice to say that I am of age when I don't need supervision on an issue like that.

So if you want a detailed reply, try to break the envelope and answer the questions.

Dreamer said...

Oh I missed your mention of cervical cancer on female partner...

Well, the big risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV, and HPV can be prevented with a vaccine both in boys and girls. So again, not a reason to amputate.

I just felt I should add something: I was recently analyzing the different interpretations of circumcision. You mentioned two: a religious ritual and a preventive tool for humanity. Circumcision also happens to be a cultural / social / aesthetic procedure for Americans. It also happens to be a really medical operation to threat a few and not so common conditions (which should be the legitimate use for it).

Honestly, if it could be considered as prevention of HIV (which I already mentioned some of my objections to the studies that arrived to that conclusion), I still think that it's something that should be elected by the owner of the organ, not by the parents. Not every man lives a dissolute life. So why assume that he will and amputate a part of his body?

In fact, perhaps the reason a protective effect has been seen in some places and not in others, is not so much the circumcision status, but the cultural and social values of those communities. Perhaps it's really the behavior of people, not the presence of skin, that which eases the contagion of the virus.

So, do you live in Israel?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Apparently, Dreamer, we can use different statistics for cross-purpose indefinitely. When I read the ones that say circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection by 70%, it seems a matter of hard cold statistics. Apparently not, from what you are saying. But this is normal in medical statistic gathering, no surprise for me here, so we should just wait some more, I guess.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Perhaps it's really the behavior of people, not the presence of skin, that which eases the contagion of the virus."

Definitely, I believe I mentioned the different hygiene levels in different places. In some, circumcision helps to avoid part of these.

Re letting the person choose - yes, possibly, but the downside is that circumcision in a baby is much less risky than in a grown person.

Yes, I do leave in Israel.