Potatoes & Perspective

There are some advantages to war, famine and to illness. Limited though they are, they generally, at the very least, force us to consider what is and what is not important. Without much need for discussion, we tend to focus on the basics. Like survival. Then on the welfare of family and those we care about. Our tolerance for “noise” is diminished as we respond to a very real threat around us.

This is why, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, celebrities were largely ignored. Very few wanted to hear shallow words of encouragement or support from Hollywood royalty who might have been cocooned in their vast homes, while others were locked into small and crowded spaces. For a short while no one cared about carbon emissions and without question, no one cared if Mr. Potato Head was male, female or vegetable neutral.

News headlines over the last week are an indication that the COVID pandemic is over. No matter what the concerns of a 3rd wave in South Africa might be, the fact that the makers of Doom Insect repellant were forced to defend the use of a black actor in an advert in country with a majority black population should be indication enough. Worse, the fact that the manufactures are now forced to indicate on their packaging that one shouldn’t spray Doom on food, and more specifically pizza. Because apparently, we didn’t know that. If ever there was proof that not only is the threat of death from COVID now in the past, but further that we have learned nothing from the whole experience. Just like that we seem to have forgotten that more than 50 thousand South Africans have died from the virus, and that a matter of weeks ago there were days when more than 20 thousand new cases were confirmed each day. Now we report on a ruling to conclude, after some investigation, that in South Africa, it is not racist to use a black actor in an advert for Doom.

And now we consider it worthy to talk about the gender of a potato.

According to Business Insider, “Toymaker Hasbro announced on Thursday that it’s dropping the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” from its Potato Head toys beginning this fall.  The decision was based on the way toddlers play with the toys: Young children often make families with the Potato Heads, and not all families look the same.

“Culture has evolved,” says Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice president and general manager at Hasbro. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists – with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ – is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

Without intending to be obtuse. All I have every really considered in terms of potatoes is if they should be fried or roasted. And whether paprika adds flavour or just colour. Whether it is a Mr or Mrs or Miss or Ms, genuinely hadn’t occurred to me. And I am pretty sure that it shouldn’t not. Unless of course everything is so perfect in the world that we are finally at the point that we can focus on ironing out some of the final creases.

The Oprah interview of Harry and Meghan is another case in point. It is hard to imagine a less interesting couple with a less compelling story and yet the anticipated whining about the tragedy of their lives and their choice to leave the royal family has made news headlines around the world. The fact that they continue to lead a life of privilege doesn’t stop us from shedding a tear at the sadness of it all. Clearly there is very little else to worry about.

Of course we need distractions. That’s how we are build. It is not possible or even aspirational to have perspective all the time. Human nature is such that after attend a sad funeral, we rush home to hug our children closely. We consider what it would be like if they were absent or if we were.  Only to lose our minds at them 20 minutes later because they failed to clear the table to our satisfaction. Perspective is exhausting and unnatural. And it seldom lasts.

But it would really cool if were to at least learn something from the experience that has altered the world. It would be wonderful if instead of us nodding in time to a woke drum beat, we would stop to consider if this is a rhythm that makes sense. And that instead of affirming gender choice in vegetable that someone with courage would tell the potatoes to get a grip. And instead of complaining about so called racism in a Doom advert, we would see that there are real issues in the country. And that someone would actually tell the ex-royals that they should just be quiet. Because we don’t care.

News over the last week is an indication that the pandemic is over. We know of course that it is not. And that a third wave is likely to assault the country. We hope and pray that it won’t arrive. But if it does, and if we are once again confined to our homes wishing we had stocked up on Flying Fish, I challenge you then to consider the gender of a root vegetable.

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