A couple weeks ago, after the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, I found myself on my couch late one evening, half-working and half-watching a rerun of “The Daily Show.” The lead-off segment was about the PP bill, and Jon Stewart, with the help of Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal, proceeded to satirically skewer the House’s decision and its supporters.
How did they do this? By providing a biting yet cogent refutation of the bill’s argument? By looking soberly at both sides and presenting a humorous yet fair analysis?
No. They did it by being completely dismissive of the pro-life argument, acting as though it were not even worth considering a ludicrous ideology that clearly was born out of a desire to deny women access to “convenient’ health care. In fact, the title of the segment was “Motherf#@kers,” in reference to the imaginary motive of pro-lifers: harming women. They did not even come close to accurately representing the opposing argument.
“Among flippant people,” said C.S. Lewis, “the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.”
In this way, the Daily Show writers and comedians, like many others in the media and especially in comedy, dismissed the whole idea of denying federal funds for abortion without actually having to make an argument. All they had to do was act as though it were already obvious that it was a ridiculous idea, and the audience – many of them – nodded in agreement, enjoying that smug sense of self-satisfaction that comes with knowing they have the “right” idea, just like Jon Stewart, when in fact they don’t have any idea whatsoever.
Sure, “The Daily Show” is a comedy. It’s supposed to be entertaining. But it is also a major source of political commentary in our culture. Last year’s Rally to Restore Sanity, Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “moderate alternative” to the Tea Parties, was supposed to call for a return to centrism and reason and fairness and open dialogue. But there is nothing fair about the way the argument against Planned Parenthood was treated by Stewart and his show.
Flippancy is not the only tool the popular media uses to discredit pro-lifers by making us look like a deranged group of violent, zealous lunatics. For example, this past January the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of Dallas, in cooperation with many pro-life organizations, held its annual downtown Roe v. Wade memorial activities, including the March for Life. Of course, the big march every year is in D.C., but in Dallas we feel a special obligation to demonstrate on that day, considering the original suit leading to the Roe decision was filed in the courthouse to which we march every year.
There were several thousand people at the march and rally holding several thousand pro-life signs. I saw many that were religious, some that were challenging, a few that were a little weird, but only one did I find to be truly bizarre. Someone had fastened a baby doll to a piece of poster board, and words – no idea what they meant – were scrawled on the sign in Spanish.
The next day, the Dallas Morning News story on the march featured a giant photo of – you guessed it – the crucified baby doll, replete with a headline reading: “Hundreds March for Life Downtown.” Hundreds. Not thousands. Deliberately misleading? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.” And she knows a thing or two about bad press.
From dismissing us as nutcases to misrepresenting our motives – as in a recent blog by a Dallas Observer writer who claimed the pro-life cause is an elaborate excuse to engage in “slut-shaming” – we are continuously misrepresented and ridiculed by those who don’t even bother to learn what we’re about. I used to do it myself. I was what I call a “Sure Why Not?” pro-choicer. I thought it just kind of came with the territory of being a young, hip, intelligent woman. This is what G.K. Chesterton called “the degrading slavery of being a child of [ones] age.” I had no idea, as most people don’t, what an abortion was, what it did, or what was its miserable aftermath, but I nonetheless proclaimed loudly all the talking points about why “a woman’s right to choose” was as sacred as… actually I don’t think I believed in the sacred at the time. (That was my first problem.)
So how do we combat these injustices? Largely, by doing what we’re already doing: using the media to speak the truth whenever and wherever we can. If you’re not using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, and more, to disseminate the truth about abortion, you can start today for free. Do it with intelligence and class and humor and grace. Show them we’re not morons, lunatics, or mean-spirited woman-haters. Avoid flame wars and endless, counterproductive arguments with those who are inflammatory and hateful. Like Jonah Goldberg said, “Don’t wrestle in the mud with pigs. You get dirty and the pig likes it.”
But be unafraid. You have nothing to fear from the truth. So you may lose a few Facebook friends. You’ll give them something to think about before they click “Delete,” and you never know when that tiny seed you planted will grow and blossom into a converted soul, profound healing, or even a single, miraculous, human life.
As an actor and entertainer who works for a live music company, I often wonder if I have not damaged professional relationships. We don’t speak about politics or religion in the workplace, but I am anything but shy about voicing my opinion on Facebook. I’m sure I work with people who disagree with me, and it’s quite possible I have lost opportunities due to my beliefs. I may never know. But I will never stop. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” said Dr. King.
Keep talking about and acting on the things that matter. In the end, truth will prevail.