Monday, November 5, 2012

RICKI LAKE: Obligatory Circumcision Segment Disappoints

After a long hiatus, American television talk show host Ricki Lake has made a comeback to the television screen, tackling hot-topic issues that stir debate. She's not unique in this endeavor, as there are other shows on TV she has to compete with, which aim to captivate audiences using the same tactic.

It seems, nowadays, that no mainstream television talk show is complete without a segment on infant circumcision, which is always sure to draw ratings, as it is already a charged topic in this country. Dr. Phil did his own circumcision apology piece (transcript available here), as has Dr. Oz (even though he is a cardiologist and has little or nothing to do with pediatrics or even urology?). Very recently, "The Doctors" did an episode on it. (See a critique video of it here.) (All sources last accessed 11/5/2012.)

But what would Ricki do differently than other talk shows and TV programs which always try to sell viewers on the "Great Controversy" trope?

Not very much, apparently.

High Expectations from Intactivists
Being involved in the making of the film documentary "The Business of Being Born," intactivists believed they had found a champion in natural birth and parenting. There have also been rumors that her own boys were left to have their normal intact genitals, so when we heard that she was dedicating a segment of her show to address the issue of circumcision, we thought maybe she was going to actually give the issue the attention it deserves.

Instead, the segment turns out to be another mainstream circumcision apologetic piece that sells the classic "Great Controversy" trope to gullible audiences.

The "Great Controversy" Trope: How it works
In order to encourage the belief that male circumcision is a surgery that is carried out for medical reasons, media outlets present male circumcision as a controversial and ongoing debate between altruistic "expert" medical authorities, who are attempting to vouch for male infant circumcision as "disease prevention," and the resistance of extremist "special interest" groups. However, this portrayal of reality is not at all consistent with the view of male infant circumcision given in the position statements of world medical authorities.

While the media presents male circumcision as an "ongoing debate" happening between medical "experts" and angry activists, the trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world recommends circumcision for infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West.

While the latest AAP statement dances around so-called "medical benefits," and even puts emphasis on the "benefits outweigh the risks" soundbite, they still say, as they did in their last statement, that the "benefits are not enough to recommend infant circumcision." (Even so, parents should consider them, doctors are obliged to act on a "decision" based on the consideration of said "benefits" [which professionals at the AAP could not use to endorse the practice?], and the state should pay, apparently...)

It is thus, still true, that there isn't a single medical organization in the industrialized world that recommends the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals. 

On with the show...
So for her circumcision segment, Ricki invited a couple who were fighting about whether or not to circumcise junior, two doctors (one for, one against circumcision) who were going to set them straight (at least in theory), and, perhaps for a twist, one man who got circumcised as an adult (age 37), and attests that "there is no difference."

The setup is already rather skewed. Of the two doctors, only one, Dr. Jay Gordon, is actually qualified to talk about the issue, as he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The other, Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, is an Obstetrician, who specializes in the health and well-being of WOMEN, and whose only connection to children is that she profits from circumcisions she performs on them at the request of her FEMALE clients.

Additionally, only a man who is satisfied with his circumcision as an adult is invited to talk, as if he represented all males. Hugo Schwyzer claims to have been circumcised at the age of 37, and that, for him, sex is the same, if not better than he was circumcised. His schtick is that, as someone who was circumcised as an adult, he has "lived both sides," and can therefore vouch, from his own experience, that "there is no difference," if not that circumcision has "improved" his sex life.

Hugo Schwyzer on Ricki Lake

As her predecessors before her, Ricki presents to her viewers a "controversy" that doesn't actually exist. The "experts" on her show may say this or that, but the fact is that the AAP still does not endorse infant circumcision. Despite all the hullabaloo the AAP tries to raise about so-called "medical benefits" in their last position statement, it still says that they are "not enough to recommend circumcision."

So why is it doctors are even presenting them to parents for "consideration?"

What "decision" is there to make, where there is no medical condition present that necessitates surgery?

Without medical or clinical indication, how is it doctors are performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting minors, let alone be eliciting any kind of "decision" from parents?

And why is an obstetrician profiting from performing surgery on individuals that are outside of her purview?

Why invite only a man who was satisfied with having been circumcised as an adult?

Why not invite a man who WASN'T satisfied?

Why not also invite a man who is 37 and is quite content with his intact genitals?

Ricki's segment turns out to be one giant pro-circumcision infomercial, like all other talk show segments on circumcision, but would have probably been more balanced if the doctor testifying in favor of it would have actually been a pediatrician, urology, or someone who is actually qualified to talk about the issue, and, if she would have invited more men to talk about having been circumcised as adults, and maybe even intact men. Hugo Schwyzer is but one man with his own experience, and does not speak for all men who were circumcised as adults. (Nevermind the men who resent the fact they were circumcised as children.) 

Behind the scenes... Pre-determined outcome?
Ricki Lake might be forgiven if she actually thought she was giving a fair and balanced view. However, judging from commentary on Facebook, it doesn't sound like that's what she nor her team wanted for the show.

Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, was interviewed to go on Ricki's show and had this to say:

"They pre-interviewed me for the show, along with several other intactivists, and rejected all of us. They did not want anybody on the show who was uncompromising on the issue of children's rights to an intact body. I was appalled by the producer's tone; she said things to me like, "What makes you think that you know more than doctors?"

And it doesn't sound like they're actually interested in balance. It sounds like the tone and outcome of the show was pre-determined.

What a dissappointment."

Maybe this is why we didn't get to see other men besides Hugo Schwyzer?

After Ricki: Strawman Attack Fest
The shameless circumcision plugging did not stop at the day-time talkshow segment on circumcision, but continued at the end of the day on "After Ricki" part of the show. They trotted out their circumcision champion, Hugo Schwyzer, and had an all-out strawman attack fest against those who oppose the forced genital mutilation of minors. They are lucky there weren't any intactivists there to stand up for themselves.

According to Hugo, infant circumcision is not a human rights issue but a "medical" one (Because children are born with penile problems?) and a "religious" one (Since when do doctors perform religious blood rituals?), one that parents make like vaccination (Because if your son is circumcised, he is immunized against ...?), and that *he's* the best human in the world to talk about it because *he's* seen both sides, and *he* finds no difference in his sexual experience. (Adult men that differ with him be damned...)

According to the people in the After Ricki segment, they "spoke with intactivists" but they "didn't have the facts to backup their claims," that "it was difficult to grasp what they were trying to state," and that "they responded to claims of health benefits with human rights arguments" and "claimed that the HIV and HPV studies were flawed but they wouldn't offer facts to back that up." They tried to minimize the fact that nerve endings are severed as "irrelevant to sexual experience." Then they talked about how the obstetrician on the show "carries babies gently and doesn't strap them like frogs in a lab," (Right, because THAT'S the issue intactivists have with circumcision), and they dismissed the surgical risks.

Had they actually allowed intactivists on the show, viewers would have known that we are actually quite able to substantiate our claims, and refute theirs with facts. Our message isn't exactly "difficult to grasp," as we question the clear ethical dilemma of cutting off parts of healthy children's genitals. We are actually quite able to refute the so-called HIV/HPV "research" and provide the evidence. Instead of actually bringing one of us on the show, they decide to make strawman attacks in our absence.

It's interesting how they tried to minimize the fact that the most sensitive part of the penis is amputated during circumcision, and tried to make the issue about "pain management," and how "gentle" the mutilator is. Everyone arguing is wrong, because Hugo Schwyzer "lived both sides," and he is the end-all be-all "authority" on the matter.

The Anti-Semite Card strikes again...
What circumcision plug piece is complete without whipping out the anti-Semite card? What didn't happen on the day-time segment of Ricki Lake ended up happening on "After Ricki."

Here's how it happened.

After Ricki Lake's poor handling of the circumcision issue on her show, I went on a posting rampage on the show's Facebook page, and I wasn't going to hold back.

I had seen this Hugo Schwyzer and his strange circumcision story somewhere else before, and even then, the story seemed rather wishy-washy, incoherent, disconnected and somehow, invented. He romanticises his circumcision, and his story reads much like one of those trashy circ-fic erotica you find on circumcision fetish sites like CircList.

I posted this on the Ricki Lake Facebook page:

Beware this Schwyzer guy. (The guy Ricki interviewed who loves his circumcision.) I have a feeling he might be a fake. I think you can still find his story on NYMag. If I remember correctly, he got cut as a way to offer a "new me" to his fiancee, after sleeping around like a dog. I remember him downplaying desensitization, actually claiming he felt "too much" before getting cut, and "just right" after. I hear now he's claiming he was cut because he tore his foreskin. Interestingly, he comes from a Jewish background. Keep your eye on this guy. Could be a plant, if not a mere circumfetishist out to romanticize circumcision. Ricki, it would have been nice if you could have included a guy who was NOT happy about getting circumcised. I know a few men who were cut as adults who are not as happy as Hugo Schwyzer.

Notice how my post focuses on the coherence of Hugo's story. I mention his Jewish background because it is a matter of irrefutable fact that circumcision is an important ritual for both practicing and non-practicing Jews, and Hugo may have deeper conditions for circumcision than a mere gesture of love for his girlfriend.

Instead of addressing my main points, they ignored them, and they took that little snippet on the After Ricki segment, and made it about how circumcision legislation is all being backed by anti-Semites.

Word got around to me that my post was taken and twisted out of context, so I went ahead and posted on the Facebook page for Ricki Lake's talkshow:

Before they write me off as "anti-Semitic," I'd like to hear them deny, first, that circumcision is a cherished tenet they've been fighting tooth and nail for since Greco-Roman rule. The fact is that being Jewish is a conflict of interest, because infant circumcision is first and foremost divine commandment, if not the most defended sacrament for Jews. This isn't "anti-Semic" it is simply matter of historical fact. Stop pretending like you can be Jewish and care about other things like "medical benefits" and "demonstrating love for a partner." Sorry, I don't buy Schwyzer's story; it contrasts with other stories of men who were circumcised as adults who note palpable desensitivity. Hugo Schwyzer does not represent all circumcised men. Ricki, please give balance to your show by inviting someone who dares to differ with this man. Thank you.

The fact is that circumcision has been defended by Jews since Greco-Roman rule. It is an important "mitzvot" for them, quite possibly the most important one. Even for non-practicing Jews, this is often seen as their last connection with their Jewish heritage. This is a conflict of interest in presenting "evidence" in favor of circumcision.

Hugo Schwyzer, and any other Jewish pro-circumcision nut, is gravely mistaken if they think invoking the anti-Semite card is going to keep me from pointing these facts out.

Accusations of "Anti-Semitism" would only be true if:

1) Circumcision was exclusively Jewish.
2) Circumcision were universal among Jews.
3) Intactivists focused purely on stopping Jewish circumcision.

The fact is, circumcision is not exclusive to Jews; only 3% of all circumcisions in this country are Jewish brisim; the rest are secular, gentile circumcisions performed at hospitals. The fact is that some of our most outspoken voices happen to be Jewish. 1/3rd of Israelis oppose infant circumcision, according to recent polls. The fact is that intactivists oppose ALL forced genital cutting of minors regardless of race or creed.

It is pathetic the way Jewish advocates of circumcision try to act like they're being "singled out."

There are plenty notable Jews in our movement Ricki could have invited. Eliyahu Ungar Sargon, for one. Victor Schonfeld, Rebecca Wald, Dr. Dean Edell, Ron Goldman, Rosemary Romberg, just to name a few.

Plenty to choose from, but Ricki Lake chose not to invite any of them, quite possibly exclude them from her show. 

Who is Hugo Schwyzer?
Hugo Schwyzer is a self-appointed "feminist guru" who has a checkered past, and a history of lying and changing his stories. In his own words, "Not long after my 31st birthday came my last drink and drug, a suicide attempt, and a spiritual rebirth that led to a radical shift in my sexual ethics. Consciously, when I made the commitment to stop sleeping with my students."

Schwyzer is pretty much a pariah in feminist circles, although he still has this pop-culture reputation that he cultivated by selling his twisted story. You can see what other feminists are saying about him on the Facebook page Feminists Against Hugo Schwyzer.

Does Ricki Lake screen her guests? I wonder how this one got past her team...

This is a devastating blow to her show's credibility. 

Since I first read his story on NYMagazine, I thought it didn't make any sense. I've always thought Hugo Schwyzer was lying about this, because other stories I've heard from men who got cut as adults contrast with his; most men I've talked to say they absolutely regret it. Not to mention the research that shows that circumcision removes the most sensitive parts of the penis, and that it causes sexual problems for men. His story simply doesn't add up.

He claims both that he had problems with his foreskin, AND that he underwent circumcision as a way to offering a "new me" to his fiancee. He claims he felt "too much sensitivity," and after his circumcision it was "just right," but how would he know he was experiencing "too much" BEFORE getting circumcised? So which is true?

Did he get circumcised because he was experiencing problems? Because his feelings were "too intense?" Or as twisted gesture of "love" for his new wife after a life of promiscuity? (Or were his real reasons for getting circumcised a desire to connect with his cultural heritage?) This would be the first time I've heard of a guy experiencing feelings that were "too intense" from having a foreskin. Hugo romanticizes his circumcision a little too much, which is why I compare it to circumcision erotica one can find on circumfetish websites like CircList. 

Given his history of lying and changing his stories, it is my opinion that Schwyzer has actually always been circumcised from birth, coming from a Jewish background, and this entire schpiel was completely made up with the specific purpose of trying to take steam out of the intactivist movement.  
After all, circumcision advocates have always tried to argue that circumcision "makes no difference," and in recent times, that it actually "enhances" the sexual experience (compare these arguments to the original reasons it began in the West), and what better way to bolster this argument than by becoming "living proof?"

And who is actually going to check the facts? Who can argue with a subjective experience?

Sorry, I don't buy it. I for one want to see medical records, before and after pictures, the works.

Additionally, Schwyzer protests a little bit too much on the Jewish side of things.

I can already imagine him spinning my comments off as "anti-Semitism" as he did on the After Ricki segment. Yes I could just hear him saying that inquiring as to the history of his dick makes us comparable to Nazis pantsing Jews during the holocaust, when all we want is a fact check given his history.

Even giving Hugo the benefit of the doubt...
I'm nobody to dismiss anybody's subjective experience. It could be that Hugo Schwyzer's story is genuine and real.

But even so, Ricki could have done a better job of adding balance to her show by interviewing a man who resents having been circumcised as an adult. Even if Hugo's story is legit, he's not the only man out there who has lived quote/unquote "both sides if the debate." There are other men who were circumcised as adults who are not as happy as Schwyzer, and he does not represent them all. There are also plenty of men who are Hugo's age and are happy with their intact organs. It would have been nice to hear from those men too, not just one man's experience.

In recent times there has been a movement to have all men who emigrated to Israel circumcised. There are is a large number of Jewish diaspora from Russia, for example, who were not circumcised because circumstances did not allow. There are reports that many of these men, who are circumcised as adults, actually regret having undergone the procedure, having lived their whole lives with anatomically correct genitals.

I wonder why Ricki thought it was necessary to even bring an adult man who chose to get circumcised out of his own volition on her show, when what is being discussed is the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors. I'm sorry, but a Jewish man happily choosing to get cut as an adult is not the same. Ricki has, in effect, ignored the crux of the argument, which is the choice of the individual, something Hugo had (if his story is even true), but babies do not. 

Redeeming Quality
Despite all that went on on her show, Ricki Lake has one redeeming quality; at the very least, she is allowing comments of dissent on her talkshow's Facebook page, and apparently is even reading them on the air.

In addition to the comments already posted, I posted the following:
Ricki, assuming Hugo Schwyzer's story is true (I have my doubts), he is but one man with one experience and does not represent every circumcised male out there. You could offer a more balanced approach by interviewing men who are NOT happy having been circumcised as adults. Additionally, it is inappropriate to be interviewing an OB/GYN, seeing as male genitalia are outside of her purview as a specialist in WOMEN's health. Thank you for allowing dissent on your FB page.

In closing...
Ricki Lake's segment on circumcision leaves much to be desired. Intactivists were hoping she would put as much passion into this issue as she did in her Business of Being Born documentary. Instead, she disappoints by delivering more of the same circumcision apologetics as predecessors before her. I agree with Georganne Chapin that it doesn't sound like Ricki and her team were actually interested in any real, balanced "debate," rather, that the tone and outcome of the show was planned and pre-determined. She trots out the same old "Great Debate" trope, and pitting a physician who specializes in child care, against a physician whose expertise is supposed to be the health and well-being of women (whose only connection to infants is that she circumcises them for financial gain), and a man who got circumcised out of his own volition for personal, (possibly cultural and/or religious?) non-medical reasons, isn't exactly my idea of "balanced."

The views I express in this blog are my own individual opinion, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of all intactivists. I am but an individual with one opinion, and I do not pretend to speak for the intactivist movement as a whole, thank you.


  1. Thank you for your clear, logical, and irrefutable analysis of Ricki's episode. I too was very disappointed by the whole tune of the show.

  2. I am a little late to this party, but Ricki Lake is a fluff-show. I expect nothing better from the show. Expecting a well-balanced well-researched episode of Ricki Lake is expecting something one will never receive.

  3. Joseph, how can you give the benefit of the doubt to that Hugo Schwyzer #$%&?!

    It's very clear that the bastard has lied in the past. Before your posted this last entry, I saw the video of this dude talking bullshit and lies about his "own" benefits supposedly circumcision gave him, and from the first moment I saw him talking I noticed he was a goddamn liar...

    That son of a b...., should stick a hot iron up his ass for being such a liar. Everything he said seemed invented and overreacted. Moreover, I don't even think he got circumcised as an adult.

    Come on, Joseph! You know better. That show was pure and worthless crap just to hit stupid raitings for stupid people.