2009-05-18 06:50:33 UTC
That might, at first glance, seem like an unnecessary order. I might
as well be telling you, “Do not, under any circumstances, masturbate
to Kurt Loder.” Right? Well, maybe a few years ago. But all of that is
about to change. Here’s why:
Recently, the former Playboy model/Actress(?) inked a deal with the
power hurricane that is Oprah Winfrey. I view Oprah as the rest of you
do, which is to say, with a delicate mixture of inspired awe and
paralyzing terror. I know she’s changed a lot of lives for the better
and brought a lot of attention to worthy issues, but I also know that
if she deemed a particular bowel movement of hers noteworthy, then
that poop would have its own six-figure book deal before you can say A
Million Little Feces. That’s how powerful Oprah Winfrey is. She made
Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray into household names, and now, like the sweet
Momma Bird that she is, she’s lovingly regurgitating a soft, warm,
chunky career down the gaping throat of a hungry Jenny McCarthy.
And maybe you don’t think this should worry me. After all, I’m neither
a troubled, rebellious teen nor a bucket of tasty, tasty chicken, so I
have nothing to fear from Dr. Phil, and the only danger I face when
watching Rachel Ray is in deciding whether she or her food is
responsible for my boner. Take this picture for example:
What is that, a Rice Krispie treat covered in chili? My dick is hungry
and my stomach wants to have sex with her, nothing’s making any sense.
But I digress. We were talking about how Oprah’s mentorship of Jenny
McCarthy should mean nothing to me because I don’t watch daytime
television and Oprah is not yet Supreme Emperor of Earth. But here’s
my worry. For years now, Jenny McCarthy has been an outspoken advocate
for autism research, which in and of itself isn’t troubling and is, in
fact, very admirable. But there are a few problems.
Informed Activist vs. Wide-eyed Crusader
The problem is that she’s turned herself into a fear mongering, anti-
vaccination spokeswoman. She’s not just promoting autism awareness,
she’s aligning herself with this “we’re giving our children too many
vaccines and it’s giving them autism” agenda.
Granted, Jenny McCarthy isn’t coming out against all vaccinations, and
she’s even gone on record to say that many vaccinations are incredibly
useful. But every time she says “I’m not anti-vaccination,” she almost
invariably follows it up with some anti-vaccination rhetoric and
thinks she’s in the clear. It’s like people who say “no offense” and
then assume they can say whatever they want, free from blame. Like,
“I’m not racist, but I think Puerto Ricans should be kept in cages.
What? I said I’m not racist.”
So, even though Jenny will occasionally say vaccinations are useful,
her loudest and most passionate cries are the ones about the dangers
of vaccines, and the evil conspiracy that fuels them, and those are
the cries that are going to register. She and her boyfriend, Jim
Carrey, are so passionate, that sometimes it seems like vaccinations
are the only things they talk about.
If Jenny McCarthy was just an advocate for autism research, or even
just an advocate for vaccination investigation, I wouldn’t have a
issue. Vaccinations are not without their risks–though the risks are
extremely, extremely rare–and educating people is a good thing. We
have 26 more vaccinations than we had a couple of decades ago, and
that’s a subject that’s worth discussing. Wanting to talk about the
potential problems with vaccinations is useful, but going on a some
shitty doctor talk show with your team just to scream in the faces of
a couple of doctors, is not. If you can’t watch the video, I’ll give
you a run down:
1) A doctor explains that, though we have more vaccines today than we
used to, we also have a lot less kids dying from meningitis and polio
than we used to.
2) The doctor explains that, if parents suddenly stopped getting
vaccinations for their kids, more children will die.
3) Jenny McCarthy terrifies the doctors into silence by making a face
that is precisely a cross between Catwoman, snakes that can hypnotize
you and all of my childhood fears:
4) Jenny and her antagonistic friend spend a few minutes finger-
pointing and screaming at the doctors.
5) The stupid doctor with the sideburns almost cries.
Opening a dialogue and doing research is useful, but how is that
useful? How is it helping anyone when you jab your finger at a doctor,
and accost him like he’s the root of autism while you prompt the
audience for applause? [Sidebar: If you can get past what a
ridiculous, overdramatic display that clip is, it's worth it to see
the whiney sideburns doctor in the scrubs flip out. He never says it,
but you can still totally tell that he's begging to scream "I'M A
FUCKING DOCTOR! I FUCKING SAVE LIVES! NO ONE CAN BE MEAN TO ME!"]
That subheading is right. Headlines do stick. Most people don’t get
past the headline, in fact, so even though Jenny’s thesis might be
“Vaccinations might be dangerous,” the headline is “VACCINES ARE
AUTISM ROOOAAAARRR.” Headlines stick, and then they snowball, because
that’s how it works. When someone gets on stage and shrieks that
“vaccines contributed to autism,” they’re not raising awareness of
autism or opening up dialogues about it; they’re fostering a
generation of alarmist supermoms who will say “No” to every single
vaccination all too quickly, because the headline is still lodged in
their brain, regardless of what comes after.
Think I’m wrong? Do you remember what happened the first time an idiot
publicly ran his mouth about measles mumps and rubella vaccinations
leading to autism? Rates of MMR inoculation dropped by over 10 percent
almost immediately. But don’t worry, not everything went down. One
statistic went skyrocketing from 56 all the way up to 1,348. Do you
know what that statistic was? The number of confirmed diagnoses of
fucking measles. Oh, and by the way, the doctor who published that
initial study, the one that planted the seed of doubt by initially
claiming that vaccinations cause autism? He faked his results, and the
headline of his fake study still infects society today.
Now, Jenny McCarthy, I’m not saying that autism isn’t heartbreaking,
and I’m sure you want someone to blame, and more importantly you want
to do something to prevent autism for the future. Also, you want to be
mad, like everyone else in your position.
I know this.
But I also know that, in general, people like to listen to the nice,
good-looking people that talk on their televisions. And you’re one of
those people, Jenny McCarthy, so you can’t just get mad like everyone
else. You are an Oprah-certified celebrity on a daytime talk show;
People are going to eat up what you say. This is a celebrity culture,
so for better or worse, there is a large chunk of the population that
is going to listen to and often follow the example of its prettiest
celebrities. People donate to Darfur relief when George Clooney smiles
at them, they buy fuel efficient cars when Leonardo DiCaprio furrows
his brow and I once took formal karate lessons for a year because I
thought it might make the Pink Power Ranger love me.
One day, Kimberly. One Day.
Sure, there are doctors to ask, and the research is out there but,
unfortunately, the things that celebrities say resonate more with the
public than the things that doctors say. It’s awful, but it’s true.
According to Science, we do this because “evolutionary pressures
acting on a tribal group of protohumans instilled in us an instinctive
need to listen to authority figures.” So doing what an authority
figure tells us is wired into our brains. The problem, Science argues,
is that we’ve confused “famous” with “authority,” and that’s what
makes us turn a skeptical eye on our doctors while at the same time
spouting off half-remembered, misleading statistics we heard from that
pretty lady on Oprah’s show. Why do you think politicians go nuts for
celebrity endorsements? They know that their speeches, policies and
experience mean nothing if their opponent can get their picture taken
with Will Smith.
“Get jiggy with alternate sources of fuel!”
Talking Out of Your Ass
All I’m really asking, Jenny McCarthy, is that you understand the
influence you have as a pretty, Oprah-anointed TV star and you be
careful with it. A typical McCarthy justification for believing a
relationship between vaccines and autism is that she “just knows” or
she “can just feel it,” based on her own personal observations as a
parent, and her movement gains momentum by other parents that feel it
or “know it to be true.” In one video, I heard her say “Contrary to
scientific belief, autism is not genetic and I truly believe it is a
genetic vulnerability.” You know why science never says it “truly
believes” anything? Because it’s fucking science. Which isn’t to say
that science is infallible, just that I respect that science won’t say
that a vaccine is good for you because it “believes” in it. Doctors do
research and perform exhaustive and expensive studies (in fact,
because the vaccine issue was so high profile, they spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars and several years studying and restudying
vaccinations so much, that, as a result, they couldn’t examine any
other potential causes of autism). If you’re going to be a
spokeswoman, you need to know what you’re talking about and do actual
research, not just quoting articles that bend to your beliefs.
Take me for example. I’m no expert on medicine. All I did was sort of
study it for a while and read every available piece of literature on
the subject of vaccinations in preparation for this column. But I’m
also kind of an idiot. So, as I do with most matters I don’t fully
understand, I decided to turn to a trusted, educated source to get a
second opinion. I called my mom, who has been a for-real working nurse
for many years and also makes this one pasta dish that’ll knock your
goddamned socks off.
DOB: Hey, Mommy, it’s Daniel. Is there any link between vaccination
MOM: A lot of people think there is, and they want to believe there
is, but there just isn’t enough evidence to support it. There have
been countless, extensive studies into the matter, and there’s no
link. The case was just brought before Congress, where it was ruled
that there was no causation.
DOB: So why do people think there’s a link?
MOM: Well, we do have more vaccinations today, and autism is on the
rise, which may be too cozy a coincidence for some people. And another
problem is that autism by its nature will manifest in infancy, between
18 months and three or four years, and that’s also when babies are
receiving their vaccinations, which is probably why people assume the
correlation. Now, we still don’t know what’s causing the current rise
in autism, but as of now there is no link.
DOB: One more question. Give me the recipe for that pasta that you
make that I love.
While I can’t say the call ended exactly the way I wanted it to
(what’s that spice? It’s thyme, isn’t it? Is it thyme? IS IT THYME?!),
I can say that there’s more to this issue than saying “I believe
there’s a link to autism.” I also believe that there’s a chance I’m
wrong. And maybe 10 years down the line, somehow, a link will be
discovered, and it’ll turn out that Jenny McCarthy was some kind of
But just in case Congress, my mom and me and science are right, don’t
listen to Jenny McCarthy.