Not so much the Ha-Ha

I’d planned to avoid discussing the mess that is Mel Gibson, but I’m sick of reading this story in all its self-congratulatory incarnations around the blogosphere and want to point out the obvious.

Another talk show host, Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View,” had a more extreme proposal for the actor, whose anti-Jewish tirade during a drunk driving arrest has been a source of incessant talk for a week. “He needs to be welcomed into the Jewish community,” Behar said to whoops of audience laughter, “by a public circumcision.”

Behar, who jokingly suggested the circumcision, said in a phone interview later that it’s not just Jews who should be expected to speak. “Any bigoted remarks should be addressed by right-thinking people of all kinds,” she said.

I don’t know the status of Mel Gibson’s foreskin, nor do I care. What’s telling is that circumcision is being used as a sign exclusive to Jews, and it’s clearly intended as punishment for Gibson within the context of the joke. And people are laughing. That somehow makes Ms. Behar’s joke “right-thinking”?

Here’s the obvious. Unless 85% of the American population is Jewish, it’s a tad absurd to equate circumcision with Judaism in America. Jewish? Circumcised. Not Jewish? Intact. It hasn’t worked that way here for more than a century. On that basis alone, Ms. Behar’s joke was stupid. [disclaimer] Yes, I know Gibson grew up in Australia, and his father is an anti-Semite. Both are likely important factors in Gibson’s foreskin status. Again, I don’t think it’s relevant, nor do I care. Ms. Behar wasn’t speaking to Australia. And, yes, I doubt she believes circumcision in America is exclusive to Jews. [/disclaimer]

Seen with the intent of circumcision as punishment, it shows a cruel streak that has no place in this discourse, given the superiority of Ms. Behar’s position with respect to Gibson’s bigotry. Are we to believe that circumcision as punishment has a place in society? I don’t accept that. Of course, I’m biased against the circumcision of non-consenting persons, which I believe fairly explains the basis of the joke’s “humor”. Would people who deem parental choice sufficient to permit routine infant circumcision find circumcision as punishment an acceptable practice? I hope not.

If so, what offenses would constitute sufficient justification? Ignorant speech clearly falls within Ms. Behar’s realm of acceptability, but I wonder what else she (and the people who laughed) would allow. As punishment for masturbation, for example? That’s not far-fetched, given the origins of routine circumcision of infants in America as a preventive protection against the ill-effects of masturbation. So where does it stop? I imagine there’s a line, but I can’t find one that’s civilized in this joke.

Note: I admit that I’m over-analyzing this. It was a joke, said on The View. I get that. But some of those women (and men) watching at home will have kids in the future. Kids will include boys, whose foreskins will be at risk due to irrational adult behavior. Many of those future parents already believe surgical amputation is a valid pre-emptive response to the fear of treatable conditions. We shouldn’t further degrade the public debate with nonsensical jokes that pretend circumcision is funny, or that circumcision as punishment is an intelligent response to bigotry.