Dr Laura’s boot to the heart

Gayness is a 'biological error,' blathers radio shock-shrink

“Every woman adores a Fascist,” wrote Sylvia Plath, “The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you.”

Well, scratch “woman.” Apparently everyone craves a little public humiliation, a verbal smack in the face, a boot to the heart. And thanks to the miracle of technology, they can get it, 24 hours a week on Talk 640 and, in varying doses, on the more than 450 other radio stations across North America where Dr Laura Schlessinger peddles her perverse brand of “radio therapy.”

A shock jock for the therapy set, Dr Laura berates, belittles and badgers her callers. If you came looking for sympathy, you’re in the wrong place. Dr Laura isn’t interested in feelings, only right and wrong – and only that intransigent and simplistic brand of morality beloved of the religious right.

Against divorce, premarital sex and working mothers (at least until their kids reach school age), Dr Laura is also fiercely anti-choice – regardless of the circumstances. When a pregnant woman with two kids told her she couldn’t afford to have a third and was considering abortion, Dr Laura told her to have the kid no matter what. “You’ll find a way” is her standard response in these matters, which is easy to say when you live in a gated community in the San Fernando Valley and you, your husband and your partner have just sold your talk show empire for US$71.5-million.

For her there’s always a simple answer and it can usually be found within seconds. “Got it,” is her favourite way of announcing she has all the necessary facts and it usually signals the end of the caller’s involvement. After that the caller’s pain plays second fiddle to Dr Laura’s prescription, which is invariably delivered with all the panache of a self-righteous harpy.

If a good therapist helps people to find their own answers, Schlessinger, who is a licensed family and marriage counsellor but neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist (the Dr refers to a degree in physiology), is spectacularly bad. Her advice is blunt, badgering, numb to nuance. But she delivers it with such certainty that she sounds right. She has to; the faintest twinge of doubt could deliver the fortress to the unwashed hordes.

Like most of the religious right (and she is very religious, having converted to orthodox Judaism in 1998), Dr Laura is afeared for the safety of the nuclear family. For her it’s a gated community (much like her own, one suspects) whose only chance of survival rests with a tough code of ethics and even tougher border controls. Relax even a little and the fornicators and feminists might breach the castle walls. A married man shouldn’t be carpooling alone with a woman not his wife, she told one caller. It’s “inappropriate.” Either stop it or put more bodies in the car.


In Schlessinger’s paranoid world, any activity that leads away from the patriarchal family or tries to escape its rigid bonds of duty, obligation and responsibility is a threat to the fragile family – and that includes homos.

Last year, Barnard College boasted that single-sex colleges turned out more wives and mothers than co-ed colleges. When lesbians objected to this blatant bit of breeder braggadocio, Dr Laura accused them of undermining heterosexuality. Kids grow best in a hetero family, says Dr Laura.

Gay men and lesbians shouldn’t have kids. Indeed, they shouldn’t have a life. A married man who came out during the course of his marriage was criticized for divorcing his wife. “This was very selfish of you,” she said. “You don’t leave [a marriage] just for sex.”

Gayness is merely a “biological error” that prevents homos from relating sexually to the opposite sex. It’s “an error in proper brain development,” she wrote in a 1997 newspaper column.

Such comments are tempting to mock. (If we’re an error, we’re a damn popular one, perhaps because, like all “mistakes,” we’re crucial to the continuing progress of evolution. The regularity with which homos have continued to pop up over the millennia suggests we enjoy a certain favour in the eyes of the Lord.)

But they shouldn’t be dismissed. As an apologist for the far right, Schlessinger is a far more effective communicator than any elected Republican. Her show is the most popular program on Talk 640 and her first book, Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives, was a New York Times best-seller for 26 weeks. The fact that 60,000 people call her show every day – and please note that’s callers, not listeners – suggests much fertile ground for populists and demagogues.

Dr Laura’s listeners are desperate for certainty, guidance and an end to pain. If they’ll endure her intrusive personal prescriptions, they’ll accept other authoritarian recipes, as well.

Dr Laura.

2-5 & 10-11pm. Mon to Fri.

9pm-1am. Sat.

Talk 640, 640AM.


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Health, Power, Politics, Toronto

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