Chapter

Circumcision and Human Rights

pp 239-250

“THAT THING”

Portrayal of the Foreskin and Circumcision in Popular Media
  • Hugh YoungAffiliated withUniversity of Cantebury

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Abstract

Popular television has a subtle but significant role in promoting circumcision in the United States. It seems almost obligatory to devote at least part of an episode of every sitcom and soap opera to the topic. The foreskin is commonly denigrated. Contradictory messages are given — for example, that only Jews circumcise babies but all men are circumcised. Pain and harm are minimized or treated as comic. Wherever circumcision is treated as controversial, it is also treated as trivial and inevitable. Talk shows find it good fodder for noisy controversy.

Circumcision occupies a peculiar place in United States culture, being simultaneously ubiquitous, controversial, and a taboo topic of conversation. Thus, to refer to it on television can be simultaneously mundane and daring, a contradiction to which much television programming aspires. It is hardly surprising that references to circumcision maintain a high level of ambiguity: while people may argue about it, the outcome is almost invariably to promote it.