UNBALANCED HUMOURS

Bill Burr is a very funny man and he has a great bit about white sportscasters who try to comment on the disproportional racial composition of most of the popular American team sports (football, baseball, basketball, etc). Every single person who does so ends up getting fired – something of an exaggeration, but within comedic license – despite having good intentions and attempting to talk about the subject matter-of-factly. They bring up things like the higher density of quick-twitch muscle fiber in the average African-American, then something about slavery, then something about selective reproduction…and all the while the other announcers are slowly inching away from their self-immolating colleague. Quick cut to the next scene, a tearful white guy behind a podium apologizing and collecting his final paycheck.

The underlying truth that makes it funny is the compulsion some of these broadcasters feel to editorialize on a subject about which their knowledge is limited to bits and pieces of pseudoscience. Hell, it would take the collective knowledge of five or six different fields – sociology, biology, economics, etc. – to come close to a half-decent answer to a question like this. What you are going to get from a football announcer is the kind of appeal to common sense analysis that you'd find in a 200-word magazine sidebar on the topic. The bottom line, of course, is that if these guys were smart they would just keep their mouths shut. They don't know anything about the subject, their statements are likely to offend someone, and we don't tune in to a basketball game to hear a lively discussion of racial eugenics anyway.

As hard as it is to believe of a group of people who are supposed to be among the nation's elite leaders, I'm starting to think that Republican elected officials should adopt the same "Better silent than sorry" policy about anything having to do with reproduction, or perhaps the whole human body in general. For a group of highly educated people who in many cases are also quite wealthy and successful in non-political endeavors, I am not entirely confident that they'd do well as a group on a high school standardized test in science.

By now we've all heard Rep. Akin's explanation of how women cannot get pregnant if they are "legitimately" raped (The body determines whether it is being raped by looking at your clothing; if you are dressed like a whore you obviously had it coming and kinda wanted it) and my mind cannot shake the experience of listening to Rush Limbaugh explain how birth control pills work (apparently you have to take one every time you have sex).

This is about more than social conservatism, pro-life rhetoric, social stigmatizing, or misogyny – the more basic issue is that I really don't think that these two people understand how the female body works. I think people like Akin and Limbaugh lack the kind of 6th Grade Health Class understanding of the female reproductive system that no one should be able to leave adolescence without. I fear that for many of the ancient white guys attempting to legislate about abortion, birth control, and other similar topics, their explanations of the reproductive process would contain one or more major factual errors. Do we have any way to prove that? Of course not. But look at Newt Gingrich and tell me that you see a man who honestly knows what happens after he gets too drunk to pull out.

My guess is that any test of knowledge about reproduction in Congress, irrespective of party and possibly even of gender, would produce a series of responses ranging from "Hey, that's actually pretty good" to some downright medieval medical science. The most likely source of an answer including humours, bile, leeches, and a map of the human brain would be 89 year old Texas Republican Ralph Hall, although I'd pay just about any amount for the privilege of hearing John McCain's response.

The point is that an alarming percentage of these people appear to lack a junior high understanding of science or human physiology once we exclude Bible-based theories. So, you know, maybe shut the fuck up about it.

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32 Responses to “UNBALANCED HUMOURS”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    There's a great MR. SHOW sketch (a redundant adjective thrown in there) that contains the line, said with slow conviction, "You don't know what words mean, do you?"

    I recall our recent discussion of purity balls, and I return to the conviction that the reaction of "old fashioned" men towards women, their bodies, how they work and suchlike matters is a bigoted dismissal barely concealing a roiling mass of terror. They do not know how it works. At all. *At all*. They know…stuff they've heard before coughing loudly to drown out the noise and fleeing the room.

    Mostly they know what they don't know. They don't know anything about menstruation, because it requires maturity to regard it as something other than "icky." (Though I daresay many of them also know of it as the thing that told them they hadn't knocked up that hussy from the Piggly Wiggly.)

    They don't know about ovulation. They don't know what a pap smear is, nor why any woman would subject herself voluntarily to any procedure involving a speculum and stirrups. (They also do not know what a speculum looks like, nor why, no matter what is done to prep it, it is always cold.) They think women must enjoy breast exams, because hey, titties! They do not know what the clitoris is, much less where it is. They do not know about orgasms that can be had by anything other than vaginal pounding. (And they do not know how female orgasms work, but they nurse the secret shame that they have never provided one for their partners, and in this, if in nothing else, they are right.) They do not know about ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, or anything to do with the timing with which all these things interact.

    In short, they do not know about those parts of the body that God and Good Old Fashioned American Values tell them Are Not To Be Thought Of, Much Less Spoken Of, So Sayeth The Lord In The Version Of The Holy Book That Exists Only In Their Heads, Something Something Ronald Reagan's America.

    And that which they do not know, they fear. Which would be kind of adorably contemptible, really, but for the fact that they're legislators who get to decide if women get money for letting perverts with medical degrees get all slimy up in there, like, twice a year or something. Ew, gross.

    Ignorance is the basis of all evil, Plato tells us, and I agree. Ignorance sends us back behind our walls of narcissistic comfort, assured that everyone else who's just like us is is safe, and everyone who isn't is stupidly perverse at best, the enemy at worst. And these guys are *profoundly* ignorant when it comes to women. Which means, when they legislate, they legislate from a place of meanness, of cruel disregard, of judgment that, at its core, angrily blames women for not being men.

    It's sickening to think that as a result of such men, and their stupid fear of what they do not know about–and thus have no control over–can prevent vaccines that prevent cancer, screenings that do the same, and contraception that spares everyone the agony of the choices presented in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. (And yeah, I know, they're really good about solving that issue by removing the choice.)

    Yet they are. And, given the voting power of women, they shouldn't be. I'm not going to blame the victims of such men, so much as I am going to inform them (and really, they already know this), that, like the injured party in a case of malpractice–and if this isn't legislative malpractice, what is?–they have rights, and they should exercise them, and get the justice they so richly deserve.

    Mind you, when the revolution comes, I will likely be up against the wall. But, eh, I'll probably have it coming, if only because back in my sophomoric years, I thought Andrew Dice Clay was really really funny. (I don't anymore, but some sins just don't wash clean.)

  2. Zoe Says:

    I'd have to disagree with encouraging them to stay silent. Up here in America's hat, our Conservative majority was a direct result of every Conservative candidate being directed by party headquarters to not attend debates or, in some cases, to not leave the house at all during the campaign. As a result, 38% of people in Canada were able to pretend to themselves that their candidates were not, in fact, blithering idiots or malicious religionists, and — to the frustration of those of us who knew better through informing ourselves about their policies — went on to be honestly surprised when the jack-asses started doing truly terrible things to the legislature, the public service, and even the democratic process itself. I'm not saying they still wouldn't have gotten elected — oh, they probably would have — but at least those voters could be forced to own their disgrace for letting it happen.

  3. Matthew Says:

    I thought this was going to be about Skip Bayless!

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    The point is well taken. We are talking about a group of people who are solidly footed around the ideas of the middle ages. They are totally ignorant not only of basic anatomy but arithmetics evolution and human modern needs. For instance Ryan does understand that tax cuts increase the deficit. That's 17th century arithmetic; it is way ahead of his time.

  5. Both Sides Do It Says:

    "some downright medieval medical science"

    The earliest surviving legal text from the UK, dating from the 1200s, includes the provision that a pregnancy disproves a rape occurred because pregnancy cannot result when a woman doesn't consent.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-h-word/2012/aug/20/legitimate-rape-medieval-medical-concept?fb=optOut

    Yikes. But necessary as your advice is in this case, I think most GOP members already follow it. That's why they do bullshit like the personhood amendment, which both Romney and Ryan support, which would sweep away abortions in the case of rape as a consequence, and which can be couched in more focus group friendly religious and moral language. This also lets the Romney campaign say Akin's positions on rape and abortion are extreme and do not represent Romney's, even though they are functionally equivalent. It's so transparently manipulative. They're lucky most of the people tasked with calling them on it are grown children.

    Love the frame of the post though. Outside of Louis CK Bill Burr is the best of that generation of comics that came out of Boston. And this whole thing reminds me of Dave Foley, who has a Good Attitude Toward Menstruation:

  6. Alex SL Says:

    - As hard as it is to believe of a group of people who are supposed to be among the nation's elite leaders, I'm starting to think that Republican elected officials should adopt the same "Better silent than sorry" policy about anything having to do with reproduction, or perhaps the whole human body in general.

    That makes it sound as if these people actually get censured for their publicly expressed ignorance. In reality, they never seem to suffer the consequences that you described for the sports commentators, although they probably should.

  7. buckyblue Says:

    "That makes it sound as if these people actually get censured for their publicly expressed ignorance. In reality, they never seem to suffer the consequences that you described for the sports commentators, although they probably should"

    Exactly Alex. In fact, I'm half expecting Akin to get elected. Lets see how fast Karl Rove and the RNC race back to MO when the next poll comes out and Akin is only down by two. If it means a Senate majority, they'll be back in the game. Those assholes didn't pull-out (hehe hehe) because of some ethical issue with what Akin said, hell, they'd all said the same shit for years, but because they think he's down ten and they're not going to waste their money on it. That and you can tie every repub to Akin.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    It's been kind of, for lack of a better word, funny, to watch the Republicans try to get Akin to "pull out" of the race.

    And it's been interesting to watch them all stand around and try to deny that most, if not all, of their politicians are just as stupid, ignorant, and unempathetic as this evil assclown, when it comes to women's rights – or anyone else's, for that matter, except white Conservatice males.

    The only one who I didn't see sweat, was Mitt Romney.
    And why should he?
    He looked perfectly comfortable, because whatever stance his party wanted to take on abortion in this case, he's already had that opinion several times.
    Hell, no matter what the subject, Mitt has taken every stance possible. When running in MA, he was a flaming Liberal. Now that the needs the Republican base, he's 'a TRUE Conservative."

    I think I finally understand how p*rn star Jenna Jameson could support someone like Mitt Romney:
    I think she admires a man who's taken more positions than she has.

  9. doug Says:

    From his US House website:
    "Todd serves on three committees: Armed Services, Science and Technology and Budget. "

    Yes, the dumb fuck served on the Science and Technology committee, so he has to speak up.

  10. anotherbozo Says:

    IT'S A GOOD THING I JUST HAD BREAKFAST, BECAUSE THE DRY HEAVES CAN BE REALLY PAINFUL DEPT.:

    "…look at Newt Gingrich and tell me that you see a man who honestly knows what happens after he gets too drunk to pull out."

    I didn't need to start the day with that image in my head -

  11. Major Kong Says:

    "The point is that an alarming percentage of these people appear to lack a junior high understanding of science or human physiology once we exclude Bible-based theories. "

    It's not a bug, it's a feature. That fancy book-lernin' is just for elitists anyhow.

  12. skyskier Says:

    I'm afraid it's yet another example of "whatever I choose to believe is actually how the world works". Who cares about actual science and knowledge and reality? It's what passes off as intellectualism for wingers.

  13. Sarah Says:

    "The point is that an alarming percentage of these people appear to lack a junior high understanding of science or human physiology once we exclude Bible-based theories. "

    It's not a bug, it's a feature. That fancy book-lernin' is just for elitists anyhow.

    Exactly. Don't forget that these are the same people who think that ignorance will lead to abstinence. Apparently it never occurs to them that if you don't tell young people the truth about sex (beyond, you know, just don't do it, because we say so), they'll make up their own facts. So now there are fourteen and fifteen year old kids who think that oral sex doesn't transmit STDs.

  14. Nick Says:

    I think the idea of fear may be slightly off here. They're terrified of vaginas and all the devil magic that goes along with them, yes, but more than that they simply don't see why it could matter. To them, a woman is there to convert their seed into babies. How it happens, what the woman thinks about it, whether the baby is born in wedlock, whether the sex was consensual–all that is irrelevant. Being concerned about a woman's views on reproduction is, to them, more or less akin to being concerned with how a mare feels about a stud horse. They are property and they exist for breeding, so why worry about anything beyond that?

  15. mothra Says:

    Agree with Nick. But sadly, it's not just the ancient white men. It's all the fundies out there, men and women combined. Young and old. They just make up any old shit to justify their medieval views.

    The thing that kills me? These are the same folk afraid of the Mooslems and the Sharia law. When what they believe in is near about exactly the same as the most extremist Islamic imam you could find. It's crazy.

  16. Major Kong Says:

    Their only concern about Sharia law is that it would be the wrong brand of theocracy.

  17. Andrew Laurence Says:

    @mothra. Well said. I've often said that the main difference between Michele Bachmann and Mullah Omar was the beard.

  18. acer Says:

    If most political leaders aren't expected to have a basic knowledge of human function, imagine some of the things the voters believe.

    I think Akin knows he doesn't like abortion at all, and doesn't really want to hear about any situation in which he might have to reconsider his beliefs.

    Any debate about abortion "exceptions" is going to lead to this sort of hair-splitting and intellectual dishonesty. Either you support full reproductive rights or you don't. Seeking compromise with anti-abortion zealots will always lead to this sort of weaseling.

  19. ladiesbane Says:

    Let's also mention that the right-wing Christocrats are against the FBI's move to redefine rape by broadening the definition. They simply don't believe it's rape unless it's forcible; unless the woman bears signs of physical abuse; unless the man bears signs that the victim fought back. There also should be signs of a break-in or abduction.

    The last guy I fought on this believed that women were never drugged, never threatened, and were always responsible for their own rape to some degree (such as by daring to drink at a frat party, daring to dress provocatively, daring to date a man and refuse him sex at the end.) He did not believe date rape was possible.

    This guy was a college graduate who prided himself on his gallantry and respect for women, by the way, but he felt that women who accused men of rape outside his narrow definition were simply ashamed women who regretted their promiscuous acts, and were willing to send their partners to jail as a way of denying that they had ever consented. Seriously.

    He would also quote factually incorrect BS such as this: http://www.christianliferesources.com/article/rape-pregnancies-are-rare-461

    But for me, the real problem is that the right wants to deprive people of enough education to call them on their bullshit. No science for you, and certainly no reproductive biology! Just an old wives tale, from a poster boy for the Texas GOP plank for schools, and a populace too ignorant to know better.

  20. Elle Says:

    Akin's intentional ignorance about women's bodies and women's lives will, I suppose, buttress his hateful politics for as long as he can hang on in there. Being anti-choice and indifferent to rape is part of the whole cloth of mentally subordinating women's physical autonomy to your own values and vaulting ambition.

    I do wonder about the personal lives of this phalanx of professional misogynists, and the cycle of ignorance and authoritarianism this creates. I can imagine a lot of scurrying around arranging secret abortions on the part of their wives, girlfriends, and daughters. I know two families in which all of the women know that their daughter/sister/niece/cousin was raped or molested, but none of the men do. I imagine those are the types of secrets you have to keep in Akin's family, lest his misunderstanding that rape is perpetrated by strangers in alleyways be disturbed by reality.

    @J. Dryden: Sidenote, but I don't really understand why American women go the gynecologist with such regularity. It doesn't appear to be clinically desirable, and, in some cases, is completely nonsensical.

  21. mel in oregon Says:

    oh come on. highly educated & highly successful outside the field of politics? an ivey league education? they're clubs for the wealthy. & the millions they make is always by legal shysterism, they don't "earn" it. that's why they are so damn stupid. hell, half the PHDs in america in the social sciences & humanities don't know shit about science, & will admit it. at least they're honest. the tea party shitheads by contrast base so much of their thinking on religious superstition & faith. that's why romney thinks we should trust him about his taxes. he's more full of shit than a christmas goose. akin is typical of the tea party, no fuckin sense.

  22. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Elle: Instinctively (which is to say, probably wrongly), I want to say that the culture as a whole portrays the Lady Parts as weird and icky and trouble-waiting-to-happen, so women are encouraged to keep that area under close observation, lest it, I dunno, grow teeth or something. There's also the "preventive medicine is always good" element to it–Americans are very weird about medicine and suchlike–we either ignore something completely, or we go *way* overboard in prevention (antibacterial soaps, antibiotics, etc.) We're a very clean people–few other cultures would embrace so unironically the Puritanical ethos of "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." So parts of us that are messy–and again, our culture tells us that the Land Down Under is messy–are a source of Howard-Hughes-ish obsession.

    Or it's just a cabal of feminists and gynecologists determined to make it the focal point of every woman's self-esteem. You know, one of those. (And again, I'm going up against the wall when the bullets start to fly.)

  23. Chicagojon Says:

    One of the reasons that I staunchly want term limits for federal representatives (house, senate, & scotus) is because old people can't adequately represent their constituents given the rapid change in technology. There, I said it — commence the self immolation and get me a podium to apologize.

    Seriously, Ralph Hall from Texas is 89 years old and has served for 31 years. Do we really want him to have an impact on the Samsung/Apple patent disputes? Or budgetary considerations for the nations energy policy? Roscoe Bartlett from Maryland is 86 and has served for 19 years.

    When these gentlemen were 25 and eligible to run for the house it was freaking 1948 and 1951. In 1948 a gallon of gas was $0.16 and the average salary was $2950. South Pacific opened on broadway! About the only thing going on in the federal government of the late 40's that resonates today is that there was an overblown fear of cold war/terrorism/othering and the US military was mucking about overseas (Philippines, Puerto Rico, Korea).

    I don't understand the voters that keep putting these jackasses in or the acceptance of a system that allows individuals to run unopposed or with a 10x-100x spending advantage against their opposition as well as the inherent advantage to the incumbent in the system.

    All I can do is laugh. Laugh and drink. A lot.

  24. Matt Says:

    I suspect that in both cases (Akin and the sportscasters) the same mechanism is at work – a troglodyte forgets that he's in public, and all the sudden the sort of thing that he only talks about in private is out there on the airwaves.

  25. Bob Says:

    "I'm afraid it's yet another example of 'whatever I choose to believe is actually how the world works.' Who cares about actual science and knowledge and reality? It's what passes off as intellectualism for wingers."

    I have noticed this phenomenon as well. You see it in evangelical circles, you see it in some of the "health food" movement. I'm sure it exists elsewhere as well. All evidence and knowledge is anecdotal. There is no scientific, generalizable knowledge. It's a real concern.

  26. Bernard Says:

    just watch Akin get elected. amazing to no end. this country is so far down the rabbit hole, well, lol. it's past any reality for a long long time. just watch Rove rush to Akin's side when the polls show him winning.

    the worst drug induced mental confusion couldn't even compare with teh Republican party or the Americans who vote that way.

    to see any woman vote for teh Republican party is suicide, assisted suicide. if only Kevrokian were around to see his dream come true. only in America. Sharia law, Christian style.

  27. Xynzee Says:

    I think Limpbaugh's comments nailed my cynicism abt the GOPs motivation for Akin to stand aside. There's obviously no sense that this is both wrong and stupid. He's merely repeated what is said in the Party Room on air. Therefore by tipping the Party's hand he's now become a liability.

    I'm starting to wonder if the GOP is actually just trying to play their electorate and us rather than govern. The challenge seems to be in finding out who can say and/or do the most crazy, unhinged shit and **STILL** get elected. All the while laughing hysterically at us when they do.
    You can seem them:
    "Hey Ron!"
    "Yeah Todd?"
    "$10k says my platform this year can be: 'Vote for me, and I promise to let the KKK burn crosses and lynch n#####s again!'"
    "Seriously?! You're on!"
    November comes:
    "Holy Shit Todd! That worked! Here's the $10k."

  28. Linda Says:

    "I'm starting to think that Republican elected officials should adopt the same "Better silent than sorry" policy about anything having to do with reproduction, or perhaps the whole human body in general."

    If you removed the word "reproduction," and put in "taxes," "medicare," or "health care," you would have the present Romney/Ryan campaign strategy.

  29. Caron Munding Says:

    Thank you Michelle. This is a great quote and very true. I always ask people who listen to people discouraging them about this industry to decide if they are listening to people who are successful. Chances are, they are listening to people who are not doing very well or may retire broke. It is an instinct that many people fail to break. Thanks again.

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