“This is the end of freedom,” declared the definitive talking potato head himself, Glenn Beck. He was speaking about Hasbro’s decision to drop the “Mister” pronoun from their “Potato Head” toy. In fact, there will still be Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters respectively. The company just decided to remove the male descriptor “Mister” as the primary name of the brand. The same week, Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to drop six books from the popular franchise due to their obviously racist portrayals of Asian and Black people. And on the conservative end of the internet, all hell broke loose.
The machine of manufactured outrage at both decisions went into high gear. There were headlines. Talking heads gnashing teeth. Memes generated in a nanosecond. Apparently, civilization itself was crumbling before our eyes. Never mind the fact that actual potato plants are self pollinators and possess both male and female flowers. Never mind that gender is essentially fluid and conditioned on multiple factors. Never mind that the outrage was over a plastic toy. In regard to Seuss, never mind that thousands of Japanese Americans were thrown into concentration camps not long after the publication of his infamous cartoons, which came at the height of anti-Japanese sentiment in the US.
One must wonder what goes through the heads of people who become enraged over decisions that are crafted to be more sensitive toward people who have been historically dispossessed and marginalized. One must wonder at a society that is more concerned about the physical characteristics of a plastic toy than the fact that this plastic toy will likely persist as refuse for thousands of years to come. Or that a few books from a beloved writer, arguably his worst, will no longer be promoted on the same level as his other works. In the minds of many on the far right or conservatives, this is emblematic of “cancel culture” run amok.
But it is important to keep in mind that the loudest voices decrying “censorship” and “cancel culture” in this instance didn’t seem to have that problem with canceling Colin Kaepernick for taking the knee as a silent protest against racist police violence. And there is a reason for this. This crowd does not mind it when the voices of those who are different, or non-traditional, or non-conforming are silenced. Those who have been historically held under the knee of the dominant society. But they do mind it a great deal when their reactionary values and mores are challenged. They don’t mind it when voices that criticize murderous US militarism or unbridled capitalism or feckless nationalism are stifled. But they do mind it a great deal when those who dissent from these things are given a platform to voice their positions.
I loathe censorship. It is vile when governments do it. But I especially hate it when corporations do it because, outside of their shareholders, they are unaccountable for their decisions. And if anyone is familiar with the latter, it would be me. I was “de-platformed” last month thanks to a draconian algorithmic Facebook purge following the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6th, and it was all based on the use of a politically charged term. I have since gained back my “platform” thanks to help from a friend of a friend who works for the company, however the experience has made me especially sensitive to anything that smacks of censorship.
As far as Hasbro and Seuss are concerned, nothing has been canceled. No toys were buried. No books were burned. In truth, none of this is about censorship. It is about a cynical media machine that has been in the business of manufacturing outrage in order to distract the public from more pressing or dire concerns, atrocities, or the malfeasance of its ruling class for decades. After all, Yemen is still being decimated and starved by a murderous medieval kingdom supported by the West. Racist police state violence and the carceral state continues to ruin lives and cause immeasurable misery. Billions are still languishing under imposed poverty. Thousands of people are still dying from the pandemic, all as the biosphere continues to be polluted and burned for profit. But don’t pay attention to any of that.
FYI, if anyone wants to purchase those six racist books they still can. And they can read them while they build the most hyper-masculine, patriarchal, plastic potato head of their wildest dreams. So apparently all this hype was just that: hype.
Kenn Orphan March 2021
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