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

Andrew Silow-Carroll

The New York Times' confounding illustration of circumcision.

The New York Times’ confounding illustration of 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.”

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“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 Monday 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. (If the illustrator, Alvaro Dominguez, responds to my request for a comment, I’ll share it with you). 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 intended.

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:

A baby illustrating an article by the Atlantic magazine on circumcision. (Screenshot)

A baby illustrating an article by the Atlantic magazine on circumcision. (Screenshot)

This site went with the tools of circumcision:

An image of circumcision tools. (Screenshot from Parent Herald)

An image of circumcision tools. (Screenshot from Parent Herald)

Kveller, our sister site, took a culinary approach for an article on mohels:

A carrot saying it all. (Screenshot from Kveller)

A carrot saying it all. (Screenshot from Kveller)

Alternatively, there’s the peeled banana pun:

New York magazine going with a peeled banana in an article in defense of the bris. (Screenshot)

New York magazine going with a peeled banana in an article in defense of the bris. (Screenshot)

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:

Pincer

This one, shot from the baby’s point of view, shows a surgeon with a scalpel. It’s as ominous as the article’s title, “Should religious circumcision be banned?”

The Telegraph's frightening image for an article on whether brit milah should be banned. (Screenshot)

The Telegraph’s frightening image for an article on whether circumcision should be banned. (Screenshot)

Some publications turn to high art – this one is a reproduction of a 16th-century painting, “The Circumcision,” depicting one of history’s better-known brisses:

Haaretz's high-art portrayal of the sacred act. (Screenshot)

Haaretz’s high-art portrayal of the sacred act. (Screenshot)

And finally, the Huffington Post picked an illustration of a man protecting the organ at stake for an article titled, “Does Circumcision Reduce Penis Sensitivity? The Answer Is Not Clear Cut”:

The Huffington Post's photo illustration of circumcision. (Screenshot)

The Huffington Post’s photo illustration of circumcision. (Screenshot)

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 are incredibly active on the web.

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