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.
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.
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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