Chelsea Handler, a brilliant comedian, plays off her identity as a Jewish woman by embracing sex and alcohol. But in embracing no-nothing anti-scientifc positions on autism with Jenny McCarthy, she goes too far.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 12, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Chelsea Handler - This Is Your Judaism Calling
Chelsea Handler is - all of the sudden (the 32-year-old has been a stand-up comic and would-be-actress for ten years since arriving in Hollywood) - everywhere. Her third book (Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang) debuted at #1 on the New York Times best-seller list, she has a successful late-night talk show on the E! network ("Chelsea Lately") and her live comedy act is now a must-see nationally.
Although her success has taken some time, Handler's biting, quick, unconventional intelligence has been apparent from the start. Her previous two books, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands and Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, play off several stereotypes.
One is that women are passive sexually. Handler acts like a kind of Woody Allen, frustrated sexual huntress in her humorous versions of her life. A second stereotype she rejects is the "all booze is bad, girls don't brag about drinking" idea. Handler talks about drinking, and drinks.
This last stereotype-busting is related to a more subtle one - that Jews are lousy, disinterested drinkers. Like most stereotypes, it has a basis in reality. Surveys repeatedly find Jews to have substantially lower rates of alcoholism and drinking problems (please, no "When I was in Betty Ford the woman down the hall had a Jewish stepmother" comments).
And, if we're speaking frankly here, Jewish women are caricatured as being - not sexual prudes - but sexually finicky and high maintenance. There, I've said it. Handler makes money by playing against that type.
Although Handler may seem like an exotic bird, she grew up in a Jewish suburb (Livingston, New Jersey) a town or two over from where I am writing this. Her mother was Mormon, making her not quite the typical Livingstonian. But she was raised in a Jewish family. (I can't say much about half Mormon-half Jews, although Warren Zevon - a man who almost single-handedly destroyed the idea that people with Jewish heritage couldn't be alcoholics - had a Mormon mother and Jewish father.)
Which brings us back to Handler's Judaic soul. I see her refusal to toe to stereotypes as itself being Jewish - Jews are traditional outsiders who don't necessarily buy the party line. They are independent and free thinking - and often highly rationalistic and unsuperstitious. As we will see, superstition doesn't play to the benefit of Jews.
So, Chelsea, why are you appearing on Larry King Live with that lovable nut, Jenny McCarthy, blaming her child's autism on the CDC? McCarthy is a leader of the movement claiming thimerosal, a mercury-tinged chemical medium, which was formerly used in vaccines, caused the remarkable surge in autism in the United States over the last quarter century.
In her crazed campaign, McCarthy faces the opposition of research mavens at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (a government body), the Institute of Medicine (a private organization of distinguished physician-researchers), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (an association of physicians and do-gooders on behalf of children). All of these organizations, and all others concerned wth childhood health, say, as nicely as possible, the thimerosal-autism link is nonsense. And dangerous nonsense, since several potentially lethal childhood illnesses which were all but erradicated are now reappearing as more parents become afraid to have their children innoculated against them.
Oh, thimerosal has been removed from children's vaccines, and autism rates have continued to climb.
You see, Chelsea, blaming a scary, mysterious force for an epidemic is reminiscent of nothing so much as peasants in the Middle Ages routing Jews from their homes and burning them for causing the Black Plague. And anti-scientism, along with anti-Semitism, is not an attractive trait in Jews. (McCarthy and others of her ilk claim researchers have been bought out by big pharma - you know, a lot of those doctors are Jews, and you know how greedy they are!).
So get off it, Chelsea, you're embarrassing yourself and your Jewish forebears.
P.S. (April 13, 2010):
Michael Specter's new book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, dives into a worrisome strain of modern life -- a vocal anti-science bias that may prevent us from making the right choices for our future. Specter studies how the active movements against vaccines, genetically engineered food, science-based medicine and biotechnological solutions to climate change may actually put the world at risk. (For instance, anti-vaccination activists could soon trigger the US return of polio, not to mention the continuing rise of measles.) More insidiously, the chilling effect caused by the new denialism may prevent useful science from being accomplished. (From HuffPo , where leading anti-vaccine figures roam freely and - see comments on this piece - reactions will be violent.)