A reader writes:
I feel weird telling you this, but your blog and its ongoing coverage of circumcision culminated around the fourth or fifth month of my wife’s pregnancy with our first child. She and I decided to not have him circumcised. Your blog had much to do with this decision.
What struck me about it in the hospital is how ingrained the process is across other aspects of post-natal care. Many nurses told us not to worry about the pain of the blood samples because it’s “so much less painful than circumcision”. The same goes for the surgery my son had on his frenulum to aid in breastfeeding. Everyone has a standard response: “The pain might be severe, but it’s nothing compared to his circumcision”. I don’t know if that means anything or not, but we corrected them when they gave that assurance, and I could tell that it was the first time they had stopped to think about it in a while.
Even if you believe that circumcision should be ended – something I’m by no means convinced of – I question whether this documentary is the proper vehicle towards that dubious end. For one, I question the applicability of the title “documentary” to what is clearly an advocacy piece.
Though we’ve become accustomed to biased documentaries, from “Obama 2016” to “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Farenheit 9/11,” it’s long-past time to make a distinction between a nonfiction film that informs and tells a story, like “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” and a nonfiction film that argues and selectively presents facts, like any of the above.
“American Secret” falls clearly into the advocacy category, and though coasting on the “documentary” label, it makes damn sure you know it. The Kickstarter’s tagline – “One Nation Under the Knife” – is off-puttingly alarmist. Based on the film’s web presence, it also intends to use outdated, 19th century justifications for circumcision to argue against the modern practice, a rhetorical fallacy you see more often in anti-abortion extremists and creationists.
The film’s website also seems to imply that doctors continue routine circumcision because of the profit involved. That converts an argument that could be about education – doctors just don’t know that circumcision is bad, so they should be taught – into the serious accusation that doctors knowingly mangle children for money. There’s no easier way to alienate the middle, and kill a growing movement, than to impugn the intentions of those you’re trying to convince.
Beyond that, the film also charges that doctors could (and should) face civil litigation for circumcising a newborn child without the child’s consent. I have found no authority for this “wrongful circumcision” claim. Though there is litigation over botched circumcision, and doctors have faced discipline for circumcising over the parents’ direct objection, those are very different matters.
Though I don’t believe now that circumcision should be ended, I would be willing to be shown otherwise. I bet much of the public feels similarly. A film that lectures the audience, and histrionically converts a public-education cause into a fight against some massive conspiracy, with your family doctor as the principal villain, is not the vehicle to perform that task.
The presentation of difficult issues is what the Dish does best. So, I urge you to take a second look at this issue.
I think it’s a little unfair to judge a documentary that hasn’t been made yet, although I sure hope, for the sake of the argument, that they don’t go in the histrionic MSNBC/FNC direction my reader suspects. The one point I’d make against my reader’s worries is that noting the financial incentives for circumcision for doctors and hospitals need not degenerate into name-calling. It’s just one small part of the fee-for-service bloat the ACA is trying to reduce. The producers would be better served by simply laying out the facts and arguments as clearly as possible. Like the case for marriage equality, why add lots of heat when you will win by simply adding light?