Friday, October 23, 2009

Doctoring the Retardis

Great little piece in today's Open Salon from Dr. Amy Tuteur. She's an OB-GYN and a former instructor at Harvard Med who, needless to say, is less than pleased with the recent trend of relentlessly dumb C-list actresses casting themselves as experts on women's health issues.

My favorite quote from it:

"Ricki Lake has actually given birth to two children. Jenny McCarthy has a child she believed was afflicted with autism. And, Suzanne Somers actually had cancer. If that’s not enough to make you a medical authority, I don’t know what is.

It’s hardly surprising that celebrity has gone to the heads of these women and made them think they are medical experts (look at Kate Gosselin if you want to see what celebrity can do), but what is the matter with the millions of people who appear to believe the drivel fabricated and spouted by these women? What has happened to us, America?"

And oh the number of people who don't simply put unyielding faith in women like "Chrissy from Three's Company" but vehemently defend them and the celebrity pseudoscience behind their inane beliefs. Just take a look at the comment section following Dr. Tuteur's column if you need proof.

Open Salon: When Did B Movie Starlets Become Medical Experts?/10.21.09

Back in May, I broached the subject of "Jenny McCarthy, M.D." It was a pretty scathing piece and drew quite a bit of good reaction here. A little behind-the-scenes info: It also stands as the only thing I've submitted to the Huffington Post that's been rejected by them. I'm obviously not biting the hand that publicizes me on this one, but a quick scan of HuffPo's all-important stable of celebrity bloggers, which includes McCarthy and boyfriend Jim Carrey, leaves little doubt as to why.

This morning, though, I'm resurrecting that piece here. And for the record, I still think Jenny McCarthy's a narcissistic kook who has no idea what the hell she's talking about.

"Autism Speaks (and Speaks, and Speaks)" (Originally Published, 5.6.09)

Good news for people who think that posing nude in Playboy and hosting a crappy MTV game show automatically comes with its own PhD in neuroscience: Jenny McCarthy will soon have a daily platform from which to berate the medical community for not taking her advice on treating autism.

Unless you're lucky enough to have mercifully been born deaf, you're probably well aware of Jenny's delightful one-dingbat crusade to find someone or something to blame for her 5-year-old son's autism. For the past couple of years, she's jumped in front of pretty much every television camera and microphone in the continental United States to stir up unnecessary controversy over certain childhood vaccinations by proclaiming her belief that there's a link between them and autism and shouting down anyone who has the gall to doubt her credentials (or, in the case of Denis Leary, to doubt the veracity of the abundance of recent autism diagnoses in this country in the first place). Because, really -- why trust those doctors and their medical degrees when you can listen to Jim Carrey's girlfriend?

There's little as obnoxious in the pop cultural sphere as the celebrity who declares him or herself the all-knowing, unrelenting voice of experience on a particular subject simply because it happened to have touched his or her life in some way. For every one Michael J. Fox, who's fought Parkinson's with staggering humility and a dignified focus that's truly benefited others, there are ten Jenny McCarthys -- who write books on how gross it is that white stuff sometimes comes out of your vagina during pregnancy.

Actually I take it back; there is one thing more obnoxious: someone who enables that person.

In this case, the one foisting Jenny's show on an innocent public -- the one whose personal largess pretty much guarantees that Jenny McCarthy will be the next big thing in daytime television -- is none other than the event horizon of all human experience: Oprah. No one absorbs, assimilates, then repackages under her own mantle the breadth of existence that Oprah does; if something hasn't happened to her -- it just hasn't happened. Who the hell knows, maybe Oprah assumes that being tangentially associated with someone whose child is autistic will qualify her as an expert on yet another subject currently capturing the public's imagination. She had to have some way to stick her greedy little fingers in the autism pie, seeing as how she won't be getting her own kid, autistic or otherwise, at any point short of chloroforming one at her school in South Africa and sneaking him or her through customs in a giant box marked "make-up."

The real problem is that celebrities of the Oprah and Jenny McCarthy stripe are so used to being deferred to on just about every issue by a sycophantic media that they really have come to arrogantly believe that they're qualified to offer an informed opinion on anything they've Googled once or twice or read an article on while sitting in First Class. When we're talking about, say, Oprah's favorite funnel cake recipe or Jenny's thoughts on the feel of silicone versus saline breast implants -- no harm, no foul. But when they begin playing doctor -- when Oprah hypes the latest trendy Hollywood colon cleanse or Jenny recommends that parents not inoculate their children or touts Scientology-esque "cures" for complex diseases -- that's when things get dangerous.

Nothing Jenny McCarthy has suggested about the link between vaccinations and autism has been proven -- far from it. But Jenny isn't letting that stop her campaign of ignorance. She has her convictions as a mother and her moral certitude as a celebrity.

And soon, she'll have a bigger audience than she's ever had before.


DXM: Return of the Attack of the Creeping Surrealism/9.20.06


Suzy said...

now that's what i call evidence based-bullshit!

Mozglubov said...

The Huffington Post is absolutely terrible when it comes to science and medicine... I tend to like their political pieces, but their utter lack of standards when it comes to promoting pseudoscience makes me wary of the entire organization.

toastie said...

Open Salon commenter:
It would take volumes to record testimonials from people that fired their doctor and lived to tell about. Your profession is pathetic. I place mainstream doctors in the same category and politicians and pedophiles, but not necessarily in that order.

Jesus Christ. This is like citing all of the hundreds of people whose prayers were miraculously answered (and subsequently documented on some Pax TV show or The 700 Club) but ignoring the hundreds of thousands of faithful who are wiped out by tsunamis, cholera, and drunk NFL players.

Chez said...

You know, you're right -- and I really do hate to tie this to my favorite personal pariah, religion. But I can't help but think that if you're willing, in one facet of your life, to believe unyieldingly in something for which there's zero actual evidence -- casting aside all proof to the contrary -- then doubting other scientifically proven facts in favor of nonsense can only follow. It's like we're still living in the dark ages.

Anonymous said...

i strongly disagree and think you got causality confused with probability:

i concede that people who are willing to believe in a faith are probably more likely to follow those crackpot pseudo-health-professionals. but saying that this is necessarily the case is flat out wrong.

having said that, i feel the need to clarify that i wholeheartedly agree with you on the ridiculousness of these actresses' self-ascribed expertise. and i'd like to throw tom cruise's dismissal of postpartum depression in the mix.

Chez said...

Cruise is an entire story unto himself, and I've beat him up on more than one occasion. Scientology is one giant celebrity fueled, ego-driven endeavor -- run by people who by their own admission believe that they know more than you, me, professionals, everybody.

As for religion, my point was that if you're willing to suspend the need for evidence to back up your claims in one area of your life, it becomes a lot easier to do it in others.

Chez said...

Adding: Seriously, just think about what people believe these days -- the shameless, nonsensical conspiracy theories being offered and circulated as fact. Now think of the people who typically subscribe to this kind of ridiculousness -- what their core beliefs are when it comes to God, staunch faith, etc.

Aconite said...

Oh dear, the poor author was actually trying to navigate the festering sludge pile of comments and replying to the drivel spouted by the trolls and voluntary craniectomy subjects. I couldn't bear to watch!

Someone please tell her it's a lost cause and point her here instead, where the smart people are.

DragonIV said...

Chez is on the money here. If you can believe any one thing sans evidence, you can believe anything if the story is good enough.

KimQuiltz said...

I heart a good rant! Thank you for your voice.

Vermillion said...

I get what you're saying about the gullibility, Chez. My thing is, nine times out of ten, those people are actually putting their faith in some other guy's opinion (much like they do with celebs like McCarthy), instead of exploring on their own. They willingly give up any claim to critical thinking in order to make their lives simpler. And what could be easier than someone pointing a finger at some pseudo-boogeyman and saying "all your problems are HIS FAULT"?

Quite frankly, I would rather trust a person who struggles with their faith constantly than any 100%-sure die-hard fundamentalist any day. At least with the questioners, you know they do engage their brains every once in a while. Plus, you don't have to believe in a 6000-year-old Earth or dinosaur bone conspiracies in order to believe in God.

But that isn't the topic at hand. You were dead right to compare these wackjobs to Michael J Fox. He does what celebs are supposed to do for their causes: he brings awareness without trying to outshine the subject with his own ego. Both he and Christopher Reeve could teach these ladies a thing or two.

B8ovin said...

Now do a piece on Bill Mahr!

Tania said...

As an aside - love the title for this piece, Chez!
Now I'm mentally doing the 'Doctoring the Tardis' convention dance. Yup, I'm a huge geek...