On Immunity: Metaphor, Illness, Community, Logic of the Herd and Heard

This classic, iconic photograph is an image perhaps somehow suspect by a whole new demographic of Knucklehead Americans, a term I just now coined, thank you. It's Jonas Salk, a scientist-hero and humanitarian. Old joke: If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? I offer the humor toward establishing a deceptive tone of amused and generous goodwill and tolerance toward people who don't deserve it but might be tickled into submitting to reason, the way you tickle a small child, that is until you overdo it and the kid begins to kick and scream and cry. Tough. No, I never know where to start with people, or restart, as in this morning's blog, if helpful to be reminded of that rhetorical problem as I am reading essayist and public intellectual Eula Biss's newest book and heard host Larry Mantle over at KPCC address the recent finding that, no, it's not among so-called uneducated lower economic class Americans that researchers find an increase in both vaccination skepticism and higher rates of non-participation in this essential and wildly successful public health protocol but among so-called "educated," white, upper middle class parents, no shit.

Sorry for the long intro.  Here's a graphic which is itself worth my thousand words, from the OC Register article by my pal Marla Jo Fisher, which has even more words, and numbers, and science and public health policy. But read my rant, below, anyway. 

On Immunity: Metaphor, Illness, Community, Logic of the Herd and Heard


Yes, it's surely complicated trying to understand why people "think" and "believe" what they say (!) they think and believe, and how they act, if fascinating. Re education, I spent only a few seconds replicating what I heard a couple of experts and callers say about the "research" so very, very available to you and me and the skeptics and no-nothings and purposeful innocents, who we are meant to assume are otherwise good, reasonable people and loving parents. The verdict may be out on that one but, meanwhile, I typed in a key concept, "herd immunity" into Google and it automatically added the word "myth." Yikes. But, okay, sure, I was game. I hit "Enter." This is the, by the way, the kind of thing my freshman "Argument and Research" students in beginning Composition at UCI confront, though I warn them and we practice vetting sources, assessing sites, considering expertise. But, okay, it's their parents (or somebody's) who are apparently edumakatin' themselves about herd immunity, so let's go experiential, I thought. And, yup, the first two hits, no kidding, were of an outfit called the International Medical Council on Vaccination and GreenMedInfo.com where "Education Equal Empowerment," you bet. The latter is obviously and unshyly a commercial outfit offering all kinds of bug-nutty health remedies and scams --- for sale! --- or maybe not obviously. Again, where do you even start? The IMCV's "article" is titled, helpfully, "The Deadly Impossibility Of Herd Immunity Through Vaccination," written by a Dr. Russell Blaylock. Deadly, indeed! Friends, you might be forgiven, or pitied, or congratulated if, like me, you did not who Dr. B. is. But if you pause here for a moment on a Sunday morning, enjoy a second cup of coffee, organic French roast, and just sit back and make it and him all up --- his CV, his politics, his theories, his religion --- well, you probably won't be far from right, and mean far-right. Naturally, he's a piece of work. Do by all means check out his website, and Wiki page and be amazed, delighted, even perhaps gratified. Or don't. Special prizes to the first three readers who can get there without even using the ole search engine, just using the recent history of Fox News and New Age and "alternative medicine" and solipsistic anti-social conspiracy narratives to get to the all-too predictable story.  Go Team Bib! I know you can do it, but here are some further clues: Radio personality/conspiracy- monger Alex Jones, chem trails, the laughably reactionary Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
 


Meanwhile, back in reality, National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Eula Biss, herself a new mother who found she also was encountering all of the above, investigates the nature and history and metaphor of immunization and immunity and more, but by way of the idea of community, responsibility, overprotective parents, invoking Achilles, Dracula, eco-heroine Rachel Carson and Susan Sontag (her obvious literary forbear) toward making some sense of all of this as both symbol and science.  For this reader, the best of the book, so far, is its Susan Jacoby meets Barry Glassner angle.  I'm a regular re-reader of Jacoby, whose excellent big take-apart of the United States of Stupid, called The Age of American Unreason is still urgently indispensable, as is Glassner's now-classic The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage & So Much More. I know, the title itself seems like it might be the whole book, but the contents, in the form of his analysis inside easily lends itself to the preciously paranoid and solipsistic anti-vaccine crowd's self-manufactured worries, of which there are so many, especially for people who have it so good, so easy, and yet seem not to be able to share an even modestly cooperative model of civic life with the rest of us. It's about sharing, and empathy and caring, finally, also about other people's children, too.  No kidding.  Oh, and can somebody out there please do the real math for me? If herd immunity is compromised by way of the above regional demographic percentages, what is it within the self-selecting smaller community of resisters? My advice: don't take kiddie to see grandma and grandpa, not until everybody's gotten their shots.



Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! One reliable and fun way to immunize oneself, as it were, to be reminded of the glory that is the best of our civilization, which Shakespeare pointed out, and to return to, revisit and, as has the excellent South Coast Repertory, reinvent and revise and reinvigorate is through drama, a real shot in the arm. They say a person needs to hear something three times, so consider me that third person, whether or not you have heard it yet before, arguing here that SCR's production of "The Tempest" is a must-see production. With a kind of cabaret magic-show set and tone, a stand-out in-house musical combo, actual magic choreographed by Teller, songs by Tom Waits, wildly imaginative acting and a Caliban whose performance is itself a dance and movement concert all its own...well, if I have not persuaded you then ask two other people who have seen this amazing show, including my twelve year old son, who sat rapt, delighted, engaged, impressed, along with his two old folks and, friends, be compelled to visit the SCR website for tickets, and quick, as this show is wildly popular.
Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!
One reliable and fun way to immunize oneself, as it were, to be reminded of the glory that is the best of our civilization, which Shakespeare pointed out, and to return to, revisit and, as has the excellent South Coast Repertory, reinvent and revise and reinvigorate is through drama, a real shot in the arm. They say a person needs to hear something three times, so consider me that third person, whether or not you have heard it yet before, arguing here that SCR's production of "The Tempest" is a must-see production. With a kind of cabaret magic-show set and tone, a stand-out in-house musical combo, actual magic choreographed by Teller, songs by Tom Waits, wildly imaginative acting and a Caliban whose performance is itself a dance and movement concert all its own...well, if I have not persuaded you then ask two other people who have seen this amazing show, including my twelve year old son, who sat rapt, delighted, engaged, impressed, along with his two old folks and, friends, be compelled to visit the SCR website for tickets, and quick, as this show is wildly popular.
huellarchivedownload.jpg


I'm personally agnostic on the subject of the late Huell Howser but not immune to his folksy charms, a little shot of which went a long way.  Immune, get it?  Still, I don't need to rain on anybody else's parade. His work reintroducing people to their own state seems to have given so many of them smart things to talk about, or at least better than talking about their stupid cell phones, and adoption of his series by schools is just fine by me, though I wish somebody would also talk about Ralph Story (what a great made-up name for a journalist and storyteller), whose shtick H.H. so elegantly stole.  Remember that show, late-Sixties, "Ralph Story's Los Angeles"?  It was great, and clearly the model for Howser's boy-howdy civic boosterist travelogue programs, which certainly went some "amazing" places indeed. The nice folks at Chapman University, now home of Howser's papers, announce a second back-by-popular-demand evening event remembering Huell.  For tickets and more information on the two scheduled showings (10:30 and 1:30) on Saturday, September 20, of the documentary about him, "A Golden State of Mind: The Storytelling Genius of Huell Howser," in Memorial Hall Auditorium, visit the Huell Howser Archives


On Immunity:  An Inoculation, Eula Biss, Graywolf, 216 pgs., $24.00

Notes from No Man's Land, Eula Biss, Graywolf, 208 pgs. $15.00

Andrew Tonkovich  edits the West Coast literary journal Santa Monica Review, and returns in spring 2015 to hosting the weekly books show Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California. 

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