- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 3/7/21
REST IN PEACE, MR. AND MRS. POTATO HEAD
Welcome, “Potato Head” (not Mr. or Mrs.). The makers of the iconic Mr. Potato Head (voiced by the politically incorrect Don Rickles in the Toy Story movies) and Mrs. Potato Head have decided to de-gender the toys. It seems every reasonable idea (to wit, trying to acknowledge that there are those who gender-identify differently than the two genders generally associated with sexual organs) “jumps the shark” and goes too far. That said, Hasbro is a company that has the right to make decisions about the names of its toys.
What next? Barbie and Ken extend their range? Does Iron Man become “Iron Person” or, in a tip of the hat to anthropomorphism, perhaps “Iron Being.” Then again, does that discriminate against the inorganic?
I guess what I’m suggesting is that the decision about Mr. Potato Head is silly. But the blowback from the right-wing media is even sillier.
Then there’s Dr. Seuss. In that instance, his estate—the owners of his books—decided to remove from publication a few of his books that had insensitive portrayals and offensive stereotypes. It seems it is their prerogative. But why are so many people up in arms? It’s not as if his entire oeuvre is off the shelves of American libraries and bookstores. Most of his work is readily available. As for the now out-of-print books, well I suppose Western civilization can survive without If I Ran the Zoo.
SMALL IDEAS BOTH DROWN OUT BIG IDEAS AND INCREASE ANXIETY
What these two instances offer are mere sideshows. There is no censorship; the very owners of the works are making decisions of their own. Both of these “cancelations” seem like a tempest in a teapot. But I also think the brouhaha associated with these sideshows are akin to “bad facts making bad law.” These are silly examples. But there are some more serious ones. There are those who believe that Huckleberry Finn should be removed from libraries. There are those who suggest Lolita should be thrown into the fires. I suppose my point is that there are overly sensitive people on both sides of this debate. I see little literary justification for the parody of an entire race in Dr. Seuss. But I see much to be commended in Huck Finn, particularly in the nuanced (for its time) depiction of a Black hero.
The battle to exile Huck Finn and the need to defend a children’s picture book are examples of reductio ad absurdum on both sides. On each side of the debate is a reasonable position but these examples are prosecution of a good idea in an extreme manner that becomes a parody of the reasonable proposition.
It is laudable, actually necessary, that we create a society that is inclusive and non-judgmental of those who may be different from the “norm” (not to claim it is “abnormal,” but merely “non-mainstream” or “minority of cases””). It is a better world in which we live when we can acknowledge differences among us, even when those differences may be expressed in tiny numbers and/or might seem difficult for some people to comprehend. Finding a way to accept these variations from the majority ought not result in the derogation of the norm. And the desire to acknowledge the majority view cannot exclude the minority. It seems simple to me.
CAN’T WE GET TO COMPROMISE?
The current preoccupation with re-gendering (or non-gendering) everything is indicative of a larger problem—namely, that we seem to require that we get everything right, all the time. We increasingly are living in an “all or nothing” world, where to believe in a reasonable change requires a complete acceptance of the most extreme incarnation of an idea. Why can’t we have it both ways? As wrong as it is to not recognize that gender choice and gender fluidity exist, is it not as wrong to not acknowledge that there is a “majority condition”? And why is it so hard for the right to accept that private property rights allow the owners of the Seuss and Potato Head properties to make their own choices?
I feel like focusing on peripheral issues, rather than the core idea, ends up detracting for adoption of the core idea and provides fodder to those who find the core idea disagreeable or even laughable. Why try to adopt each and every possible change, knowing that it will infuriate some and possibly derail the broader objective? Must every battle be joined and be won? And what if battles start being lost and the tide turns against what was, at its core, a noble idea?
The failure of the Equal Rights Amendment seems to me a good example of a good idea, with minimal downside and little to find offensive, that became derailed during the process. I still believe the Equal Rights Amendment would have been adopted had the focus remained on gender pay gap and limitations on opportunities, rather than a focus on adoption of gender-neutral pronouns. Only now have we seen more meaningful traction to resolving the gender pay gap. Had the ERA been adopted—had it been the primary focus of the move toward gender equality—I think we might have gotten further faster. Sometimes, the perfect stands in the way of the good in getting society to move on good ideas that may at first seem unpalatable to some and might even take some time to adopt. In the present circumstance, it would seem more beneficial to focus on alleviating discrimination in the workplace and schools than on the gender of toys.
HOW COULD I FORGET DIE HARD SEQUELS?
Both Jesse Sharf and Jake Sonnenberg admonished me for failing to include Die Hard and Die Harder. How could I forget, driving by Nakatomi Plaza as often as I do? Even the Library of Congress agrees. The other sequels are not nearly as good…
Finally, Armistice Day became Veterans Day (not Memorial Day). Thanks, Howard Kroll and Mark DiMaria. You’re hired as copy editors…
Have a great Sunday,