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O'Donnell's Joke Wasn't So Funny to Some

January 28, 2002|CHRISTINA A. CHAPLIN

Rosie was only joking, but the Epilepsy Foundation, the General Creation toy company and many viewers didn't think it was very funny.

The occasion was an episode of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" last month. The program was giving away General Creation's Baby Go Boom doll, and the host was demonstrating what the toy does, which is to fall down while learning to walk and say "Baby go boom." It also shakes and giggles after being tickled.

Rosie remarked that the doll was "also known as Baby Having a Seizure."

There was more laughter from her band than there was from the audience. She then compounded the insult by inviting her dog onstage to attack the doll. "Cloudy! Cloudy, look!" she called. "It's Baby Go Boom! Look! Look! Get the doll! Get the baby having a seizure! Come on!" She told the audience, "He normally attacks the Baby Go Boom doll. It's so funny. And he bites the head."

Thanks, Rosie.

A representative for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" later said, "The word 'seizure' was used in comedic banter and there was certainly no intention to offend anyone."

Los Angeles Times Saturday February 2, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Pencil threat--The Counterpunch article in the Jan. 28 Calendar, regarding comments made on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" about seizures, implied that a person can get lead poisoning from a pencil. In fact, pencils today are made of graphite, so such poisoning would not be possible.

She may not have meant to offend, but she certainly scared one little boy. On the Epilepsy Foundation's Web site forum called Parents Helping Parents, one parent wrote, "My child is now afraid of having a seizure and afraid that a dog is going to kill him. I thanked them ["The Rosie O'Donnell Show"] profusely for instilling those thoughts in my child's head."

But there was more. Later in the show, Rosie continued to talk about the doll with her guest Tim Allen. He suggested that the doll should have come with a pencil that could be placed in its mouth "when it does that thing." Rosie just laughed.

I'm sure you have heard the old myth that if you see someone having a seizure, you should put a pencil or something in the person's mouth to keep them from biting their tongue. It's a bad idea. What if the person bites the pencil in half while they are in seizure? That can cause lead poisoning. What if the broken pencil falls down and lodges in the person's throat? They could choke to death.

I had someone do that to me one time, and they never tried to do it again. I made sure of that.

Yes. I have epilepsy. I'm not a parent, but I know how it feels to grow up having kids call you a weirdo, a freak, and other names I'd rather not recall, just because of something I couldn't control. Kids can be cruel to other children who are different. I had seizures on the playground if another kid accidentally bumped me or startled me. I had seizures in the classroom or sometimes in the halls.

The Epilepsy Foundation shares my ire. "The incident was especially hurtful coming from such a popular and respected personality," said foundation President Eric Hargis. "Rosie probably never intended her words to have the impact that they did. We doubt very much she would have made similar comments about other health problems; she obviously did not realize how serious seizures can be. But seizures are serious.... We have to make people more aware of what a seizure involves and how extremely painful jokes about seizures are to affected families."

The manufacturer of the Baby Go Boom doll didn't think it was funny either. General Creation officials were insulted that their product would be mocked that way after they'd made a $20,000 donation in cash and product to O'Donnell's charity. The corporate office issued a statement calling the incident unfortunate and expressing "regret for the sake of all parties that it occurred."

Until recently, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" aired in late afternoon, when many children were home from school. I worry about the ones who saw the program that day. A child will remember that Rosie joked about the doll that fell down and shook, just like the little girl or boy down the street who falls down and shakes. If it's OK for Rosie to mock that behavior, why shouldn't they? A child may remember that Allen said to stick a pencil in the mouth of someone having a seizure. I guess anything goes in comedy, even if it is insensitive to a large population and misinformed.

As someone on the Parents for Parents forum observed, "The only thing we can do now is thank her [Rosie] for showing so many people that it is OK to laugh at a seizure, and encouraging the population that watches her show that it is OK to continue to discriminate against epileptics."

Thanks, Rosie.


Christina A. Chaplin is a member of the board of directors of the Epilepsy Foundation of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. She also is an employee of The Times.

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