The 24 Hour Rule
Look, I hate to steal from Bill Maher- but my 'rule' isn't supposed to be a bit, it's supposed to be for real:
If any given controversy consumes your social media platforms at any given time, wait twenty-four to forty-eight hours before exploring it further- because what everyone is mad at when you first see it will bear absolutely no resemblance to the truth
This week is a prime example of that. For a whole day, my socials were awash with outrage because they were taking away Mr. Potato Head's gender. He was just going to be POTATO HEAD from now and OH THE OUTRAGE. The battlements of American culture were being bombarded once again by the pernicious forces of cancel culture.
On the face of it, this was insane. It's a plastic fucking potato. Who gives a shit? (By the way: I also learned super cool fun facts like, Mr. Potato Head used to be for real potatoes- only the spikiness necessary to jab various body parts into a real potato became an obvious safety hazard. Twenty-four hours later and guess what? This Tweet surfaced:
Hold that Tot – your main spud, MR. POTATO HEAD isn’t going anywhere! While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD pic.twitter.com/6I84KrxOLQ— Hasbro (@Hasbro) February 25, 2021
Oh, so all of that fucking bullshit about Mr. Potato Head was a complete waste of everybody's time? IT SURE SEEMS LIKE IT WAS. Something that people should not have in any way, shape or form, given a flying fuck about turns out to be even stupider than it was to begin with. Congratulations, everybody. Super cool job. Well done.
Exhibit number two is Dr. Seuss. I will admit that at first, I was a little annoyed. (My issues with the whole 'Disrupt Texts' thing is an entirely different and much lengthier post.) I mean, Dr. Seuss? We gotta go there? Have we really come to this as a country?
I didn't say anything though- because you know what, I was still exhausted by the Mr. Potato Head thing at that point, it was just easier to shake my head and mutter "For fuck's sake" under my breath than it was to actually comment on it. But wait- there's a PLOT TWIST!
As it turns out, six Dr. Seuss books that I certainly had never heard of were no longer going to be published by his estate. Oh, so you mean, the people in charge of protecting Dr. Seuss's works, copyrights and estate made the decision not to have very dated and (I'm guessing) sketchy books published anymore? You mean, The Lorax is safe? The Cat In The Hat isn't canceled? We can still eat Green and Eggs and Ham?
Turns out we can.
Once I learned this, the majority of my problems with this decision disappeared. I mean, just look at Tintin- I grew up with those books, I still have those books and there's one particular Tintin book that you won't find in your local bookstore: Tintin In The Congo-- now why, you ask, is there a 'missing' Tintin book? Well, Tintin was Belgian and he was going to... The Congo. And if you even have a passing familiarity with the bloody and sordid history of the European colonization of Africa, Belgians in the Congo were not a particularly fun chapter of that part of history. (Not that there's was much fun involved in the colonization and subjugation of a whole continent by white people- but there's imperialism and then there's imperialism and this was the uber-shitty kind.)
Needless to say, portrayals of the native Congolese in that book are... not good. Like, should not appear on a modern bookshelf good. (Big-game hunting in the book- which I've never read- is also widely criticized.)
I am okay with this. If I am okay with this, how can I not be okay with the Estate of Dr. Seuss deciding not to publish particularly dated books he wrote? That's fine. That's more than fine... if we are really to claim that we're progressing as a civilization, we have to acknowledge that some books were written when social mores/portrayals of other races/racial attitudes were radically different than today. And if the estate of Dr. Seuss is agreeing with that notion? Who the hell am I to argue about it?
Another good example that springs to mind is Star Trek. It's a franchise that's been around since the 60s- and while there are some examples in The Original Series that proved to be 'ahead of their time'-- Nichelle Nichols famously was ready to quit- but was persuaded otherwise by Martin Luther King Jr. There's also the little matter of the first interracial kiss in American television history*. But then there are episodes where the misogyny and outright sexism are shocking. Like, would end somebody's career if it aired today levels of shocking. (I'm thinking of the way Captain Kirk treats Yeoman Rand, especially... ick.)
But do I condemn Star Trek for that? No, because by the time the movies began in the early 80s, attitudes about what's acceptable had changed.
(It's worth noting: until Deep Space Nine, I don't think Star Trek had ever really known what to do with its female characters**. Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi got the short end of the writing stick for the early seasons of TNG- and to me, Troi's standout episode came in 'Nepenthe' which was an episode of Picard. In that one episode, Troi got more impactful character moments than multiple seasons of TNG. Though 'Face of the Enemy' is one of my all-time favorites.)
The world turns, shit changes and if that means we put certain things on the shelf and leave them there, that's fine. Even more so, when it's the author's estate doing it. (I will say this though: the fact that I can no longer buy "If I Ran The Zoo" by Dr. Seuss on Amazon, but I can by Mein Kampf is pretty fucked up. I mean, I know it's the estate that pulled the Dr. Seuss books, but still...)
In short: if your socials are consumed by some controversy- ask yourself if it's really worth your time giving a shit about and if it's not, wait a day or so and you'll find out, most of the time, that's it's really much ado about nothing.
(And yes, I recognize the irony of writing a whole-ass blog post about this.)
*The episode aired November 22nd, 1968, the Loving v. Virginia decision was announced June 12th, 1967. So, this was barely a year after laws banning interracial marriage were struck down.
**I'm on a Babylon 5 kick at the moment and if you do a little digging on the series you'll find this nugget: "Delenn was originally conceived as being a male character (eventually destined to change into a female one) but played by a female actor, in order to give the character feminine mannerisms and therefore make him more "alien."" If you watch the pilot episode./movie, The Gathering, you'll see what might have been-- but imagine if they would have gone ahead with that in 1993. The series was groundbreaking enough as it is- but that would have taken it to another level entirely.