|Spokesdog Ladybug debunks the hygiene argument.|
Good news. I tracked down a copy of Ed Wallerstein's book, Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy. It's not easy to find. It's been out of print for years. In my next post, I'll get into how that book started changing American attitudes about circumcision when it first came out in 1980.
I guess it's just as well I didn't find it right away. I got a lot of positive feedback about my digression into the events surrounding Disco Demolition Night. And Steve Dahl figures into the What I'm Missing story in a pretty significant way, so it's only right that I should make some effort to explain his cultural significance.
Like I said Steve is the first public figure I can ever remember questioning routine infant circumcision. It happened back around 1982 or so. I don't remember what radio station Steve was working for at the time.
Steve moved around a few times while I was living in Chicago. I remember not long after Disco Demolition Night, the station he was working for fired him for violating "community standards."
Steve had a way of pushing the boundaries of good taste.
So Steve moved around, but I always listened to his show. If Steve switched stations, I switched stations. If Steve switched to the afternoon slot, I listened to the afternoon slot. Even if Steve was working for a station where I didn't care for the playlist, I'd listen to his show. If I had to sit through a Billy Joel song, it was a small price to pay.
I actually learned to like the Glass Houses album.
Now Steve used to take a lot of calls from listeners. He never did a full on call-in format like Rush Limbaugh or anything like that, but he'd start talking on the air about something, could be anything—local politics, dieting, nudist colonies, professional sports, Ann Landers' column—and listeners would call in, and he'd put them on the air.
Now, normally call-in segments on the radio drive me insane the same way that listening to someone talk on a cell phone on the bus will drive you insane. It just sounds like a lot of pointless chatter that doesn’t seem to progress anywhere, but Steve had a way of keeping the conversation lively and entertaining. Kind of like Merv Griffin, I guess. He just had a gift for that sort of thing.
So one day I turned on the radio, and Steve was in the middle of a phone call with a listener who'd recently given birth to a baby boy. Steve and the lady were both talking about how they felt that infant circumcision was a pointless, outdated custom. If I remember correctly, the woman said that her obstetrician hadn't circumcised the baby, and her pediatrician was opposed to circumcision on ethical grounds.
Steve said something to her like "Well, that settles it, right? No circumcision for your kid then?"
And the woman said "No, my husband wanted to have it done, so he took him to a surgeon."
Then Steve did something you're never supposed to do on the radio. He let the air go dead. Silent, in other words. And that silence gave me a moment to reflect on how sad that was, how absurd that was, that American parents-- people my age—still felt a cultural pressure to have their boys' genitals altered at birth.
We knew it was pointless. We knew it didn't prevent disease or facilitate hygiene, but we still did it. We just did it because we did it.
And maybe because nobody wanted to admit that it was a mistake.