Sometimes what doesn’t happen is as important as what does.
In the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, detective Sherlock Holmes correctly reasons that because the dog on watch did not bark during a robbery, the robber must have been someone the dog knew. Holmes uses the clue of what didn’t happen to determine what did.
Many have talked about what did happen after the release of my film American Circumcision. There has been a massive outpouring of attention on the film and this issue on social media. I’ve been on numerous podcasts discussing it, and many leaders in the Intactivist movement have used the opportunity for press and media of their own. The film trended on Netflix and has remained popular since it’s release on that platform.
But what didn’t happen after the American Circumcision documentary release?
The American Academy of Pediatrics Has Remained Silent
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has remained completely silent on the film and the issue.
This is more than just media silence. AAP policy statements expire after five years. The last AAP circumcision policy statement was in 2012, and was not reaffirmed. This means that technically the AAP has no circumcision policy statement. To my knowledge they have not formed a new task force to release a new one. It’s like they have dropped the issue and are pretending it does not exist.
There is no way someone releases a major documentary on Netflix prominently featuring your organization and you don’t watch it. Yet when asked for comment by MedPage Today, the AAP said, “we are not aware of any of our spokespeople who have watched this movie. This is at best a well-worded lie of omission – “we are not aware of any of our spokespeople who have watched this movie.” The leadership has definitely seen the film and is aware enough of me that members have recognized me from a single glance in person.
However, there have been no public attacks on me or the film, even through proxies or allied journalists. It would have been easy for them to reply “we disagree with some speakers in the film, and refer you to our previous circumcision policy statement,” but they didn’t even do that. “No comment” is a comment.
Compare that to their response to anti-vaccination documentaries. The AAP has tried to lump both the movement against vaccination and circumcision together (even though they are not the same), but their actions reveal a different perspective. The AAP has released a public statement calling on major social media companies and tech giants to censor anti-vaccine information. Member of the AAP have also retweeted and celebrated the de-platforming of anti-vaccination documentaries from Amazon.
Compare the two reactions – anti-vaccine documentaries get press releases and de-platforming, but when it comes to my documentary, they can’t even get someone to say “he’s wrong.”
I’d like to think that this is because my documentary is more scientifically accurate than those other documentaries. Every scientific study we reference in the film is shown on-screen. We include experts from both sides including the AAP. However, many of our interview subjects are highly critical of the AAP. If there was any way of debunking those criticism, or any inaccuracy in what they said, don’t you think the AAP and other pro-circumcision groups would be all over it?
You can tell that @circmovie is entirely accurate by the fact that no large pro-circumcision organization has issued any meaningful response to it.
— Brendon Marotta (@bdmarotta) January 25, 2019
There hasn’t even been a “de-bunking” article written by smaller pro-circumcision groups, doctors trying to make a name for themselves, or AAP-allied media. No one has taken a meaningful shot at this film. That’s how you can tell the documentary is pure unassailable truth.
This isn’t to say that there won’t be an attack later. However if that happens, you will know I’m being attacked for political reasons, not because anything I said was not true. If someone goes through my back-catalogue looking for statements they can misinterpret, it will be because they had to respond, because silence was no longer an option. In fact, they may have to respond because I’m speaking truth, rather than the opposite.
Pro-Circumcision Jewish Groups Have Remained Silent
Major pro-circumcision Jewish groups have not commented on or attacked the film.
When activists attempted to age-restrict circumcision in the city of San Francisco in 2012, groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jewish Community Relations Council, and their allied media came out in full force against the Intactivist movement, attempting the brand any criticism of circumcision as anti-semitic.
Since the film American Circumcision covers those events, I was prepared for a similar over-reaction. However, the film treats Jewish people with great respect. Many of the strongest voices against circumcision in the film are Jewish, and there is a clear distinction made between criticism of circumcision – which is legitimate – and personally attacking someone for their race or religion – which no one in our film does.
As a consequence, no major Jewish group has made any criticism of the film. Jewish groups are clearly aware of this issue. During our release, major political parties in Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden have all discussed a circumcision ban, and were met with intense political pressure from groups like the ADL, which issued a public statement on the Iceland ban.
While you might think our film is “too small” to be noticed by them, keep in mind the ADL keeps lists of people they consider anti-semites who have only a handful of followers. A major documentary released on Netflix mentioning their work is certainly something they are aware of. Yet, there has also been no response from them or allied Jewish organizations.
There have been two smaller incidents where Jewish people who had not seen the film tried attack it under the argument that ALL criticism of circumcision is anti-semitic, but this has mostly resulted in their humiliation. When, a local Jewish group in Oxford threatened to protest a screening of the film there, I gave this quote:
“Those criticising our film have clearly never seen it, because we interview multiple Jewish men on both sides of the debate. Those against circumcision say they feel harmed by the practice, and that it was done without their consent.
“Anyone protesting our film should be considered an anti-human rights activist trying to silence Jewish men.”
I was told by local organizers that after this article, no one showed up to protest the film, and local opposition went silent.
Likewise, US Senate candidate and Jewish doctor Cathleen London also attacked the film without seeing it. By the end of her meltdown, she deleted all her social media, ended her Senate campaign, and gave a bizarre interview that revealed just how mis-informed she was on this topic. (On the upside, I can now say the a US Senate candidate has issued a comment on my penis, albeit mid-meltdown.)
These are minor incidents, that wouldn’t even be worth talking about, except that there hasn’t been anything else to talk about. The only Jewish groups that have criticized that film are those that haven’t seen it.
I know for a fact Jewish groups have seen the film, because during our Kickstarter, a major Jewish film festival reached out us to submit the film. I told them it wasn’t done, but would submit when it was. They reached out multiple times during our post-production asking us to submit. When I submitted, I got a standard rejection letter.
This is strange, since we certainly fit their niche and standard of quality. I now wonder if the festival wasn’t running opposition research for allied Jewish groups who wanted to see an early copy of the film. If this was the case, I can only assume upon watching the film they realized there was nothing offensive here, and decided to move on.
Again, this isn’t to say attacks may not come later. People make false accusations for political gain on controversial issues all the time. But if those accusations come, you will know it isn’t because of the content of the film or anything I’ve said thus far, but because someone was threatened by the truth of my work.
What Does The Silence Mean?
Going into the release of the film I was prepared for major opposition. I was prepared for people to misinterpret my work or say things about me that were not true. I’d seen the same happen to films tackling less controversial topics. But it simply hasn’t happened. Why?
One of my mentors likes to say that “the sages say what no one argue with,” meaning that if you only say what is obviously true, no one can disagree. When making the film, I chose to remain on the ground of obvious truth. Everything said in the film is about a specific scientific study, personal story, or clearly the person on-screen sharing their opinion or perspective. We include multiple opinions and perspectives, so it’s clear these perspectives are not analogous to mine, because many directly contradict one another. The film is a summation of the current circumcision debate, that never stretches into arguments or territory that we couldn’t defend.
When I speak on the film, I try to do something similar. I make it clear when I’m referencing a specific study or policy statement, or sharing my personal opinion. I believe this strategy has paid off, in that it has left critics with little to argue with. The one hit piece we’ve received required the reporter fabricate much of our conversation, which was easily exposed when the full recording was published.
There may be greater conflict in the future, however our current release has left those with an interest in silencing this debate without a clear angle to attack. Were there any inaccuracies in the film, you can be sure they would have jumped all over them and used them to attack the film. However, the silence of our critics is evidence of the truth of the film.