Ethics Quiz: Satirical Baby Hate

scary baby

I’m still getting hate comments about my verdict on the Bon Jovi DirecTV commercial that extols the virtue of erasing one’s children from existence, so this piece of New Yorker satire, by real parents about a real newborn child, gave me pause. Here is how  “An Honest Birth Announcement” starts…

Dear friends and family,

Jen and I are utterly horrified to announce the arrival of our son, Jasper Heusen-­Gravenstein, born May 21st at 4:56 A.M. For nine long months, we’ve wondered who this little creature would be. Well, now we know: he’s the living embodiment of our darkest imaginings, with a nefarious agenda and Grandpa Jim’s nose.

At seven pounds four ounces, Jasper may be small, but he’s large enough to have triggered our most primal fears. We’ve already been driven to the brink of madness with unanswerable questions such as: How can we sustain the life of a creature whose incessant, blood­curdling screams communicate nothing but blind rage and indeterminate need? What if he senses our fear and, like a wild hyena, is instinctively triggered to attack? Will we ever finish the most recent season of “House of Cards”?

It goes on in that tongue-in-cheek-but-you-know-we’re-half-serious-right-fellow-parent-vein…

But it names the child, who is, or course, helpless, blameless and defenseless, and creates a permanent record of parental faux-hate for Jasper to read…when he’s a parent, and old enough to get the joke, or when he’s 8, and a classmate sends it to him.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Even as obvious humor, would it be ethical for Rob and Jen Heusen-­Gravenstein to have this published?

Well, I wouldn’t do it.

I think the sentiment, even as a joke, is ugly, and as with the DirecTV ad, indicates a disturbing trend in the culture toward regarding children as nuisances and burdens. Thus I find the essay unfunny, even while I understand the theory behind the alleged humor by humorist Kira Garcia.

Ann Althouse, who is almost as good an ethics issued scout as Ethics Alarms scout Fred, flagged this essay, and her commenters had some sharp reactions, including speculation on the  animus suggested by naming a child “Jasper,” which, I  agree, is just slightly preferable to “Jo-Jo.” Here was my favorite comment, only slightly altering the text:

“Jen and I are utterly relieved to announce the abortion of our son, Jasper Heusen- Gravenstein, aborted May 21st at 4:56 a.m.”

“For nine long months, we’ve wondered what this little creature would be.

Well, now we know: he’s the deceased embodiment of our darkest imaginings, with a negated agenda and no chance of having Grandpa Jim’s unfortunate nose.

At seven pounds four ounces, Jasper may have been small, but he was large enough to have triggered our most primal fears….”

Dodging the bullet.

I’m not going to pronounce the gag unethical. All I can say is this. In my baby photo album, lovingly assembled by my parents to chronicle the birth and early infancy of their first child, there are items like my first diaper pin and the hospital’s “Baby Marshall” tag. There is also the note sent to my mother in recovery by my father, scrawled in his barely legible handwriting, after seeing Jack Jr. for the first time. It reads..


I first saw this when I was about five. Then, and now, that note reminds me how much my parents wanted and loved me from my first breath. I am very glad that, and not “an honest birth announcement,” informs me of my parents’ state of mind when I arrived.

9 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Satirical Baby Hate

  1. I’ll call it unethical. Showing the world how clever you are at your infant’s expense like this is short sighted and self centered. It is time to let the newborn be the center of the universe for awhile.

  2. Unethical.

    Funny though.

    But unethical.

    Sorry, you wanted the child right? Or else you wouldn’t have made him right?

    So you surely understand your duties right?

    No? You don’t? Too bad. Here they are…

    #1 don’t even hint that you didn’t want him.

  3. You expect a young couple living in NYC to pass up the opportunity to have their name attached to a piece they’ve had published in The New Yorker?

    The real culprit is social media. Your Dad wrote a nice note to your Mom. On a piece of paper. Which she saved in your baby book. Which you’ve saved. In your house.

    Today, thanks to facebook and all the other spawn of the devil, every aspect of peoples’ lives is immediately broadcast to the world. Do you have any photos of your mother’s bare, distended stomach when she was carrying you? I suspect not. Did she brag to everyone and anyone about her “baby bump?” No.

    In large part, I attribute this New Yorker piece to an understandable reaction to the over-absorption and self-adulation that has come to surround child-bearing and raising celebrity children (and their non-celebrity wannabees). Pregnancies and children are not consumer items. They are the beginning of a satisfying and important but difficult life-long undertaking.

  4. This is nothing new. I still remember the sick humor of now 60 years ago: What is all red, cries and sits in a corner? A baby playing with razor blades.

    Nice way for the parents to welcome their child. Yeech.

  5. Had you read the article carefully, you would have noticed that it is a work of fiction by the writer Kira Garcia. Rob, Jen, and Jasper Heusen-Gravenstein are fictional characters.

  6. I commend your restraint. Unwise but ethical. An attempt at satire is not a prima facia ethics violation.

    Had you declared this unethical, you would also need, for sake of consistency declare one of the great pieces of political satire of all time, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, to be unethical for advocacy of cannibalism targeting Irish children to end the famine.

    Satire, executed well, can save a society. The evidence here demonstrates parents who are not yet skilled in the art, but failure does begat improvement more frequently than inaction will.

    • Swift’s A Modest Proposal was much discussed here. I don’t think it applies in this case. This is flat out anti-parenthood stuff, presented as humor “it’s funny because it’s true!” Swift’s satire evinces no disrespect for life or children at all.

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