OK, wise guy, how would YOU illustrate a circumcision?

OK, wise guy, how would YOU illustrate a circumcision?

So there’s an old joke about a guy who’s looking to get his watch fixed. He passes a little shop with clocks and watches in the window, and goes inside.

“Can I help you?” asks the man behind the counter.

“I want this watch repaired,” says David.

“I’m sorry. I don’t repair watches.”

“Well, how much for a new one then?” asks David.

“I don’t sell watches.”

“You don’t sell watches?”

“No, I don’t sell watches.”

“Clocks, you sell clocks then? How much for a clock?”

“I don’t sell clocks.”

“You don’t sell watches, you don’t sell clocks?”

“No, I’m a mohel,” replies the man. “I perform circumcisions.”

“Then why do you have all those clocks and watches in the window?”

“If you were a mohel, tell me, what would you put in your window?”

That joke came to mind when I saw an illustration for an article in the New York Times, “Should you circumcise your child?” The answer, according to physician and columnist Aaron E. Carroll, is … it’s up to you: The medical evidence “fails to make a compelling case in either direction.”

But that illustration! It features a pencil and pencil sharpener (so far, so obvious), but instead of pencil shavings (which would be gross, right?) what emerges out of the sharpener are the petals and florets of a pink flower. I’d try to interpret the image for you, but frankly I am stumped. (The illustrator, Alvaro Dominguez, did not respond to my request for a comment.) Does it mean that out of the sterile procedure of a circumcision there emerges a beautiful blossom?

Flattering, maybe, but not like any bris I’ve ever attended.

To be fair to Dominguez, it isn’t easy to come up with a fresh idea for illustrating an article about circumcision. It all seems to have been done before.

There’s the vulnerable baby. There are the tools the mohel uses. New York Magazine went with a partially peeled banana. And it was only a few months back that the New York Times ran an essay, “To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise: A New Father’s Question,” featuring an evocative drawing of a father and a baby approaching a pincer-like subway turnstile:

A few takeaways based on my research. News sites love a good circumcision pun. Opponents of circumcision (so-called intactivists) may be small in number but they are incredibly active on the web.

And do not, under any circumstances, Google “circumcision” looking for images unless you have a strong stomach.


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