The School of Life
He's your Boogieman! How "Dr." Keith Ablow and Fox News threaten your kids'chances to be smart and healthy
Remember that old school SNL “Weekend Update” bit where Emily Litella (played by the late Gilda Radner) would start rambling on about some topic that was in the news, but she always got it wrong? She would start with a question like, “What’s all this fuss about violins on TV?” and then go on and on about how she thought violins on TV were lovely until Chevy Chase stopped her. “It’s violence, not violins,” he would tell her. “Oh! Never mind!” she’d say.
I thought I was having an Emily Litella moment of my own last month when I got wind that folks over at Fox News were all up in arms about Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars. “What will we tell the kids?” was the question everyone was asking while attempting to costume their intolerance as concern.
“Dr.” Keith Ablow led the charge, even going so far as to “advise” parents not to let their children watch the episodes that featured Chaz Bono. In “Dr.” Ablow’s view, watching Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars might give impressionable kids the message that going through transgender treatment is a viable solution for whatever issues they might be wrestling with, ranging from the death of a parent to getting picked on at school. In “Dr.” Ablow’s opinion, a person who undergoes transgender treatment or surgery is not much different than “a woman who believes she will be happier without arms” and wants to have them surgically removed; or someone who believes he was born the wrong species and asks a plastic surgeon to “build him a tail of flesh harvested from his abdomen.”
This had to be a joke—an SNL skit or an Onion article satirizing Faux News by exaggerating its already ridiculous positions to the point of hilarity. Or maybe there really was something bizarre about Chaz’s appearance that I wasn’t aware of. Either way, I was sure I had to be missing something.
So, I checked into it and, to bastardize a line from another TV show, turns out it wasn’t me, it was them.
After giving it some thought, I think all of this fuss does raise a valid point. It’s good for parents to question what sorts of messages our children get from what they see and hear, including the messages they get from us. It also makes sense to anticipate their questions and think through our answers. But for this exercise to be meaningful it helps to start with the right questions. And frankly, I think the folks at Fox News are asking all the wrong questions.
The most obvious question a parent worried about Chaz Bono’s stint on Dancing with the Stars should answer is this: Why are you letting your kids watch a crappy show like Dancing with the Stars? And don’t say that as far as TV shows go, Dancing with the Stars is one of the more appropriate ones for kids. That’s like saying you bought your kids Chicken Strips with a side of Ched’R’Peppers from Sonic because that was the least terrible choice on the menu. Your kids don’t have to eat at Sonic. And they don’t have to watch Dancing with the Stars, either—even if it is the least sucky show in its time slot.
But if you’re dead set on having them watch that show, I have some more questions for you. I’ve watched video of Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars, and frankly, he looks like an overweight man. Nothing more, nothing less. Tom DeLay’s appearance on that same show was another story all together.
At the time, Tom DeLay was in the middle of all kinds of legal trouble that ultimately resulted in him being convicted of money laundering and sentenced to three years in the pen. So, if your worried about your kids watching Chaz Bono now, but you didn’t wring your hands with phoney concern about them watching Tom DeLay then, you need to have someone take a look at your moral issue detector because, like Fox News’, it seems to be badly broken. It's giving false positives when there's nothing to worry about; and it's flatlining when there is a real issue shaking its groove thing right in front of it.
Even though your kids won't have questions simply by seeing him on Dancing with the Stars, there are two ways they could come up with questions about Chaz Bono. First, they could hear someone on Fox News harping on it, which prompts the following question: Why are you letting your kids watch Fox News? Studies show that kids in the US are falling farther behind in their critical thinking skills. Programming of the type and quality that Fox News serves up is part of the problem. You can actually harm your kids' intelligence if you expose them to Fox News for any purpose other than (1) comedic relief, (2) a quick popular chemistry tutorial on the various shades of blond that are attainable through the use of artificial hair coloring products, or (3) an opportunity to observe shrewish she-jackal Gretchen Carlson in her natural habitat.
The second way your kids could have questions about Chaz Bono is if they heard about him from you. In that case a good question to ask yourself is why are you talking to your kids about Chaz Bono’s gender identity struggle if you are so worried about them knowing about it?
As parents, we size up and quantify risks to our kids all the time. We try to protect our kids from dangers that threaten their chances of growing up to be healthy adults. But we also need to be able to discern between real risks and fauxney risks. In my view, a real risk is that intolerance, insensitivity or bigotry modeled by parents could sentence kids to a life of suffering from the same crippling limitations. A fauxney risk, on the other hand, is that watching a Dancing with the Stars episode with Chaz Bono will make them want to have transgender surgery, or that watching Tom DeLay on that same show will make them want to dress like a flamboyant flag waver and launder a bunch of money.
And as for the risk that watching Chaz Bono might make kids want have their arms amputated or have tails fashioned out of flesh from their abdomens, I have one last question—and this one’s for “Dr.” Ablow: As Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler might ask, “Really?” Thanks for the warning, “Doc,” but I’m pretty confident I won’t need any fancy footwork to dance around that “danger.”
Maybe we should have an intervention for “Dr.” Ablow. Then, with the right people and a carefully thought-out treatment plan, we could try to find a tiny spark of compassion and a trace of common sense and nurture them into a adult-size portions of empathy and reason. On second thought, this is the guy who thinks transgender surgery is like having your arms amputated. As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind.”