On this episode of the IU Press podcast, Patrick Brantlinger talks about his new book States of Emergency. Using a mixture of journalism, satire, and theory, Brantlinger addresses many of the most pressing issues of our time, including neoliberal economists, the Tea Party movement, gun culture, immigration, the war on terror, and more.
The rumor mill had been buzzing for days. Then last week, as many of us were at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, it was confirmed: former Playboy Playmate, has-been actor, and anti-vaxx leader Jenny McCarthy will join the cast of The View this fall. A number of Amazing Meeting speakers commented on it. The media were full of statements of shock and anger, not only from the prominent skeptics and bloggers like Phil Plait and Sharon Hill, but even from the mainstream media, who uniformly saw this as a bad move. The ABC network released a lame statement from The View founder Barbara Walters, "Jenny brings us intelligence as well as warmth and humor. She can be serious and outrageous. She has connected with our audience and offers a fresh point of view."
I've seen McCarthy's previous TV and movie appearances, and the best that can be said for them was they were outrageous. Whether her past efforts demonstrate "intelligence," "humor," and "seriousness" is debatable. Most people found her humor (especially in her disastrous movie Dirty Love, often ranked as one of the worst movies ever made) stupid, lowbrow and gross. None of her TV efforts showed she was any more intelligent than any other Hollywood celeb who is promoted for their good looks. Over the last 8 years, she has been the principal spokesperson for the anti-vaxxer movement, lending her celebrity (and that of her once-boyfriend, Jim Carrey) to spread and legitimize her deadly ideas. She is such a symbol of the movement that one of the leading sites criticizing her is called JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com and keeps a constant tally of the number of unnecessary deaths and illnesses caused by the anti-vaxxers.
This is not to say that I have any illusions that most TV is anything other than a vast wasteland, driven by advertising to put on pure garbage that appeals to the lowest common denominator of viewers who don't discriminate, and can be lured to watch anything that goes on the air. We've all seen the pseudoscience constantly broadcast on some of the major cable channels, from UFOs to Bigfoot to ghosts to mermaids, all promoted as real and scientifically supported. Oprah had an even bigger audience than The View, yet she routinely programmed all sorts of woo, especially "New Age" healing and quack medicine, as well as con men like Deepak Chopra—and Jenny McCarthy, promoting anti-vaxxer ideas. Thankfully, Oprah's show is off the air, and her eponymous network has nowhere the same reach as her network show once did.
Nor is The View itself a paragon of reason and critical thinking and intelligence. It currently has 3.1 million viewers daily, the highest ratings on daytime TV, but the numbers have been sliding since 2009. There have been relatively well informed, well educated, intelligent members of the cast before, such as previously departed Meredith Vieira and Lisa Ling, and now-departing Joy Behar (whom McCarthy is replacing). But they also featured the embarrassingly ignorant Sherri Shepard, who wasn't sure that the world is round, believed in creationism, and thought Christianity preceded the Greeks and Romans. Or there was the now-departed Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who supported creationism and climate denial nonsense. She is now headed for a much more congenial setting: Fox News.
As I detailed in my new book Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future, the anti-vaxx movement began with a fraudulent 1998 study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield. He faked data to allege a connection between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) in order to promote his own vaccine. He was also paid by a lawyer secretly working with him to generate lawsuits against the MMR vaccine. This study that has since been repudiated by its coauthors, withdrawn by the journal that published it, and led to Wakefield being barred from practicing medicine in the UK. Nevertheless, it caused widespread and unnecessary fear and panic about vaccines, both in the UK and in the US. Large numbers of parents, frightened of vaccines because of the false claim that they triggered ASD, left their kids unvaccinated. The reason for the panic (besides the fraudulent Wakefield claim) is that the symptoms of ASD begin to show up at about the same age when the MMR vaccine is given. Given the emotional devastation that an ASD diagnosis can do to a family, and fed lies by the internet, parents were quick to believe this false correlation between two events that just happen to coincide in time. The medical community did hundreds of studies, using thousands of patients, investigating the claim. All have consistently shown that there is no connection between vaccination (or any ingredient in the vaccines, such as thimerosal) and ASD—but real data and facts don't easily overcome emotional overreactions by distraught parents. Although there are many possible causes, the latest research shows that ASD disorders are largely genetic in origin (especially common in male children of older fathers), so nothing the parents could have done (shots, any other environmental factors) made any difference—it was probably in their genetic makeup and unaffected by what happened after the child was born.
The results of the scare have been horrendous: herd immunity has dropped so low in many places that there is a significant pool of unvaccinated kids, and diseases can spread. In fact, in many areas the once-rare diseases are now rampant. These infections that we vaccinate against are not just inconvenient, but deadly. The irony is that few of these anti-vaxx parents are old enough to remember the horrendous days when polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and whooping cough routinely sickened large number of kids and killed a significant percentage of the infected population. But my generation, and especially my parents' generation, remembers them well. I was deathly ill with the mumps, measles and chicken pox as a child, and my own mother was stricken by polio and barely survived. These diseases now spread rapidly in this age of air travel, when a virus from the underdeveloped world can jump across the world in hours, and infect a population in the developed world in a few days.
The biggest problem is not just the kids of anti-vaxx parents, who through their parents' ignorance and false beliefs are at risk by remaining unvaccinated. Even greater is the risk to babies and toddlers too young for their first shots, with their immature developing immune systems. If exposed to an older child with a deadly virus, they have a much higher risk of getting very sick and dying. Anti-vaxx parents assert that they have the right to determine their own child's health care—but when they infect other kids too young for shots, then they are a public health menace. They have no right to expose other people's kids to deadly viruses—any more that someone has the right (under free speech) to shout "Fire" in a crowded movie theater.
As Time magazine said:
ABC might argue that hiring McCarthy does not mean endorsing her vaccine beliefs. Maybe not—in a way, it may be more dangerous, muddying a vital question of public health by framing it as a “controversy” that you can hash out in a roundtable before interviewing Bruce Willis about Red 2. Maybe ABC sees McCarthy as a lateral swap for Hasselbeck—another outspoken, blonde woman around the same age. But medical science is not a matter of “views” and “opinion.” It’s not like believing that capital gains taxes should be lowered or gay marriage permitted. Things cause disease or they don’t. Even if The View never airs McCarthy’s beliefs about vaccines—or, conversely, if every other panelist argues against them every day—by giving her implicit credibility the show has already suggested that her scaremongering is up for debate. She says one thing, Whoopi says something else—hey, you decide! People are talking! We must be doing something right! And there’s the bigger problem. To say that you can simply shrug off differences about medical fact as “outrageousness” or “controversy” is to feed the belief that science in general, be it vaccines or climate change or evolution, is simply subjective: you have your truth and I have mine. But we don’t. The Earth didn’t revolve around the sun only for Galileo. The problem with treating factual matters of science like opinion debates is that as soon as you do that, anti-science has already won. Let The View on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand as many hot-button social issues it wants. A virus doesn’t have two hands.
McCarthy's anti-vaxx career started in 2005, when she claimed that her son Evan showed signs of ASD (although most medical experts doubt this diagnosis, and say he has Landau-Kleffner syndrome). She immediately latched on to the growing anti-vaxx movement, and became its leading celebrity spokesperson. She claimed to have "cured" her son of ASD through all sorts of quack medicines, including a gluten-free diet and risky "chelation therapy" (using toxic copper compounds in the body). In reality there is still no "cure" for ASD, since it a complex of disorders, probably with multiple causes. If it is a largely genetic disorder, there is little likelihood that it will ever be a single, simple cure. Don't get me wrong: I feel her pain. I was probably an Asperger's child (years before it was ever defined or diagnosed) and two of my own children have Asperger's syndrome. But I'm not adopting quack medicine treatments or preaching discredited ideas from the internet, but following the best science-based medicine to treat them and help make their lives better. I don't blame vaccines or anything else, because I probably passed the gene on to my sons as an older father with ASD and a member of a high-risk category.
As journalist Michael Specter (author of Denialism) wrote in The New Yorker:
Jenny McCarthy, who will join The View in September, will be the show’s first co-host whose dangerous views on childhood vaccination may—if only indirectly—have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world. McCarthy, who is savvy, telegenic, and pulchritudinous, is also the person most visibly associated with the deadly and authoritatively discredited anti-vaccine movement in the United States. She is not subtle: McCarthy once essentially threatened the actress Amanda Peet, who has often spoken out about the obvious benefits of childhood vaccinations, by warning Peet that she had an angry mob on her side. When people disagree with her views on television, McCarthy has been known to refute scientific data by shouting “bullshit.”
McCarthy's false ideas are more than just another idiot talking head blathering on about stuff they don't understand on TV. As the leading celebrity spokesperson for the anti-vaxx movement, she is a symbol of this form of virulent anti-science, and everything she says (even if she never speaks a word about it on the show) is colored by that perception. It is akin to hiring any other leading figure of an anti-science movement to such a prominent platform on TV. Take, for example, Dr. Peter Duesberg, who more than anyone gave legitimacy to the false notion that HIV does not cause AIDS. He doomed at least 300,000 people when the South African Mbeki regime rejected modern medicine, treated AIDS with witch-doctor remedies like beetroot, and refused to tell their people to take precautions against HIV. Or instead of McCarthy or Duesberg, they could have hired Ken Ham, the leading creationist in the US (except he and most evangelists have an even larger audience on their religious networks). Or how about the clownish climate-denier, "Lord" Christopher Monckton?
For all its faults, TV is the most powerful medium in the popular culture. People really do believe what they see and hear on TV, whether it be a faked show about mermaids, or bad medical advice on Oprah. TV executives may only care what their advertisers think, but they are also using public airwaves to spout dangerous nonsense that kills innocent children. We can't censor most of what TV broadcasts—but we shouldn't be encouraging deadly pseudoscience by giving Jenny McCarthy a platform on the highest-rated show on daytime TV, either. The lives of the babies and toddlers who died needlessly because of the anti-vaxxers demand no less.
The Shelby County decision is definitely a major set-back
for proponents of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), but it is important to keep it
in perspective. The Court did not
invalidate the Voting Rights Act itself. Section 2, which prohibits the denial
or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race or color, is still
operative. Section 203, which provides
for language assistance in elections, is still valid. Indeed, the justices did not even invalidate
Section 5—only the coverage criteria set out in Section 4.
The Shelby County case effectively
pushed the fate of Section 5 back into the political arena. There will be no federal preclearance until Congress
passes new legislation, which is highly unlikely given that Congress is so
bitterly polarized it probably could not agree on whether there is ham in a ham
sandwich. So, Section 4 awaits a more
moderate Congress. When and if that time
comes, a new coverage formula would be the result of extensive negotiations and
would look quite different from the old formula. In some ways, that could be a positive
development for proponents of the VRA. Many recent allegations concerning unfair election practices involve
Hispanics and American Indians outside the Old South. A revised Section 4
criteria could expand coverage, especially in the West. A possible alternative
approach to a new coverage formula is to base it, not on geography, but on the
occurrence of successful Section 2 cases, i.e. a jurisdiction that is successfully
sued on a Section 2 claim would then be subjected to federal preclearance for a
specified period of time. This connects
coverage directly with current discriminatory actions rather than geography or
of a new Section 4 passing Congress will depend in part on the fallout from the
sudden absence of Section 5 pre-clearance scrutiny. The opponents of Section 5 point out that the
South has changed in dramatic ways—that it has abandoned its racist Jim Crow
past—and there will be no dramatic increase in efforts to abridge the voting
rights of minorities. Their opponents argue that the covered jurisdictions
improved their behavior only because they were under the scrutiny of Section 5,
and will now revert to unbridled efforts to whittle away at the ability of
people of color to elect candidates of their choice. We now have an opportunity to find out which
argument is valid.
The next act in this drama belongs
to the researchers. If there is dramatic evidence of renewed efforts to limit
minority voting, and there is a clear difference between formerly covered
jurisdictions and non-covered jurisdictions, it will create a powerful impetus
for legislative action. If not, it is
difficult to see how a successful congressional majority could be put together for
passage of a revised Section 4 based on geography.
meantime, victims of voting discrimination still have a potent weapon in
Section 2. If questionable changes to
election law do indeed follow the removal of federal scrutiny, we will see a
dramatic increase in Section 2 cases, which, as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in
her dissent, are enormously complicated and expensive. In effect, the implementation of the VRA just
got a lot more expensive.
During the 1990s, the major authorized presentations
of Anne's life and work were revamped: the Anne Frank-Fonds issued a new
version of the diary for the general reader, known as the Definitive Edition (first published in Dutch in 1991), and
authorized a revision of the diary's official dramatization (which premiered on
Broadway in 1997). In the mid-1990s, the Anne Frank House underwent an
extensive renovation that reconfigured visitors' encounter with the building.
These changes both reassert the authority of these officially sanctioned works
and institutions and respond, if tacitly, to new public attention to the
diary's regulation, including news reports of pages of the diary that had been
suppressed due to their sensitive content and major studies of Meyer Levin's
feud with Otto Frank over the dramatic rights to the diary.
the passage of time and the passing of the last living links to Anne has come a
new sense of urgency to keep her story alive. In 2010 Miep Gies—who, after
Otto Frank, was the most widely known living witness to Anne's years in
hiding—died at the age of 100. That same year saw the demise of the chestnut
tree that grew behind the Annex, which had become a powerful emblem of Anne's
remembrance, the subject of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's contribution to
this collection. At the same time that the official keepers of Anne Frank's
legacy continue to promote remembering her life and writing in new ways, there
has been a proliferation of works that have tested, evaded, or flouted the
proprietary rights and expectations of propriety that surround Anne and her
diary. These works include, on the one hand, a more liberal licensed use of the
diary text (e.g., its citation, with permission of the Anne Frank-Fonds, in Anne B. Real, a 2003 feature film about
a young female rapper living in East Harlem who is inspired by Anne's diary)
and, on the other hand, works that tell Anne's story without quoting directly
from the diary, thereby circumventing the issue of securing permissions (e.g., Melissa Müller's 1998 biography of Anne Frank and its 2001
dramatization for television).
Highly personal takes on Anne and the diary find their place in blog postings
and tribute videos, which, unlike print, film, or broadcasting, resist
traditional regulation. Digital media offer ripe opportunities for
mashups that copy, rework, and combine texts, images, and sound or video
recordings and that can go viral through social media. Within this culture of
open sharing of information and creative work, which has its own social
practices and its own ethics, Anne Frank and her diary are truly unbound, and
the very ethos ascribed to her life and work is rethought.
The ongoing debates
over how to engage Anne Frank “properly” take place in response to we call the
“Anne Frank phenomenon”—that is, the many different ways that people have
engaged with her life and work. The
essays in Anne Frank Unbound examine
this phenomenon as a subject in its own right, including thsee debates over the
many responses to Anne’s diary and life story:
This impulse to restrict or regulate
engagement with such a widely read text, though rooted in worthy concerns for
historical accuracy and moral rigor, discounts the significance of this
engagement by millions of readers. The fact that it takes many different forms,
is inconsistent in its sense of purpose, varies considerably in quality of
execution, and not infrequently proves to be disturbing for one reason or
another does not diminish its value. Rather, what makes the Anne Frank
phenomenon compelling is precisely its vast sprawl. Indeed, notwithstanding its
global character and use of a wide range of media, from works of fine art to
MP3 files, the Anne Frank phenomenon can be considered a kind of folk practice,
as it is largely the work of individuals or grassroots communities, inspired by
this widely available text to forge their own attachment to Anne's life and
Jeffrey Shandler is Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. He is author of Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture and While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust, editor of Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust, and editor (with Hasia R. Diner and Beth S. Wenger) ofRemembering the Lower East Side (IUP, 2000).
For more information about Anne Frank Unbound, read an excerpt from the book, or listen to an IU Press podcast with Jeffrey Shandler:
A judging panel consisting of 60 librarians and booksellers will determine the winners of Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards, along with Editor’s Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction. The winners will be announced Friday, June 28 at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Chicago, IL at the PopTop Stage. The two Editor’s Choice Prizes will be awarded $1,500 each. ForeWord’s Independent Publisher of the Year will also be announced.
Painted as an evil and ruthless tyrant, Richard III has been much maligned by Shakespeare and popular culture. In a somewhat anticlimatic end to the mystery of his grave's location, University of Leicester researchers recently announced with scientific certainty that they had discovered Richard III's remains—under a parking lot.
But who is the man behind the bones? Much of what we know comes from Thomas More's 16th-century book The History of King Richard the Third. With the help of Shakespeare, whose Richard the Thirdtook More’s work as its principal model, the History determined the historical reputation of an English king and spawned a seemingly endless controversy about the justness of that reputation. Editor George M. Logan has produced a scholarly yet accessible edition of the History, designed to make More’s exhilarating work fully accessible to 21st-century readers. Read more about this book on the IU Press website and decide for yourself if "history is written by the victors."
Millions have entered poverty as a result of the Great Recession's terrible toll of long-term unemployment. This month, we will release America’s Poor and the Great Recession which looks at recent trends in poverty and assesses the performance of America’s “safety net” programs. Written by IU SPEA Dean John D. Graham and Kristin S. Seefeldt (a former professor at SPEA Bloomington), the authors consider likely scenarios for future developments and conclude that the well-being of low-income Americans, particularly the working poor, the near poor, and the new poor, is at substantial risk despite economic recovery. The book includes a foreword by national talk show host and SPEA alumnus Tavis Smiley.
On January 15, Graham and Smiley will join the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) for a panel discussion on the new face of poverty. The event will be held in conjunction with the release of the book, officially available January 29. Panelists will discuss the effects of poverty in Indiana and offer possible solutions.
In a separate event, in which Dean Graham will also participate, Smiley will moderate a nationally televised discussion, “Vision for a New America: A Future Without Poverty,” on January 17 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Taking place just days before the presidential inauguration, the event is free and open to the public, and will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. Other panelists include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and political and civil rights activist Cornel West. The discussion will be re-broadcast on Smiley’s shows on public radio and television. More information can be found at www.afuturewithoutpoverty.com.
“Until now, it has been possible for the few who still have means to collectively deny, disregard, and disparage their fifty million fellow citizens who are struggling to break out of poverty,” writes Smiley. “As more and more people who thought they were safe fall backward into insolvency, however, poverty becomes a middle class problem. To move forward, we need strategies that are rooted in fact, robust in their impact, and ready for implementation. This is precisely the roadmap offered in America’s Poor and the Great Recession.”
About the authors:
John D. Graham is Dean of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and author of Bush on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks(IUP, 2010). From 2001 to 2006 he served as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, White House Office of Management and Budget.