The Editor's Mess

Hasbro recently announced at an investor’s meeting they were going to slightly deemphasize the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” in their popular line of vegetable toys, releasing both versions under a unified “Potato Head” branding.  Under ordinary circumstances I have to believe this wouldn’t even have been mentioned in anything other than obscure trade zines like “Strategic Corporate Branding Quarterly” or “Inside Marketing: The Zine.”  Industry folks would’ve read it and said, “Humph, look at that,” and immediately went on with their day trying to foist erection pills and absurdly titled heart medicines with more potentially lethal side-effects than benefits to a COVID-weary American public.

But these are no ordinary times.  RIckles just guffawed from the grave.

potatoheadHaving 24 hours of “news” to fill for a still largely captive audience means you have to substantially lower the bar on what you’re willing to categorize as “news,” and thus an erstwhile obscure branding decision – perhaps designed as an ever-so-slight nod to LGBTQ sensitivity – was instead thrust into Silly Manufactured Controversy territory.  In short, media folks were looking for stuff to write about.

Right-wing news went nuts, drawing a direct line between this toy branding decision and a “Democrat-led House of Representatives is taking up a vote on the Equality Act” according to Kylee Zempel in The Federalist, and prompting Fox News to mention a toy’s minor rebranding effort almost 40 times.  Apparently even a bald vegetarian icon can warrant Right-Wing Wrath in the post-T****ian newscycle, freshly emptied of his endless supply of self-promoting shenanigans.  I’m not typing his name anymore.  Not for ideological reasons just because I’m sick of it.

Why?  Asinine political overlays aside, do conservatives put so much more faith in minor rebranding efforts of toy manufacturers than their own abilities to parent their children that this is a tangible threat?  Aren’t they going to instill their values into their next generation regardless of whatever Hasbro branding gurus decide?

Of course they are, which is why this is more artificial silliness than a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s Facebook page.

Advocates on the Left spectrum also dove in, for similar reasons and because they could, reaching into botanical metaphors, like Alex Knapp at Forbes: “the science of potato reproduction, [is] far more complicated than male and female. And the toy company’s impulse towards a gender-neutral toy isn’t just more inclusive, it’s closer to the actual science of potatoes.”

The science of potatoes and the Equality Act?  All they did is take “Mr” or “Mrs” off the TOP OF THE BOX, it’s still there at the bottom.  It’s not science.  It’s not politics.  It’s no vast conspiracy or politically motivated ploy by Democratic sympathizers.  You’ve just got column inches and “breaking news” segments to fill and it’s silly. 

If your kids are learning about gender identity from the top of a toy box, parent better.

Photo: Hasbro

They say timing is everything.  The day after I wrote Coup d’Doh, making fun of all the ham-fisted attempts to overturn the election through wild lies and dozens of asinine court battles, the mob of “very special” insurrectionists breached the Capitol after a raucous Trump rally when he encouraged the crowd to “take back their country.”  At least five people were killed.  They used American flags to beat down police.  They used riot shields and fire extinguishers to smash through windows.  They erected some scaffolds on the Capitol lawns and went searching for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi.  They were “loved” by our current president who watched it all on T.V.

Destroying your country's capitol is "patriotic"?In the aftermath, the House voted to impeach Trump a second time.  None of this bothered senate Republicans who, once again, acquitted him, letting him get away without repercussions while simultaneously deriding Democrats as “bitterly partisan.”  George Orwell is smiling from his grave.

Do and say whatever you want while simultaneously deflecting attention away from your horrible behavior by screaming that someone else is doing exactly what you’re doing.  A lie in full view, don’t bother hiding it, just scream the loudest.  This is the level of bullshit we’ve come to folks: we’ve arrived at our horrible destination.   The post-Trump era is giving a lot of Republicans a lot more room to show off what they’ve learned by grinding what’s left of the country’s tattered democracy into a thick fluid of fascist populism.

This is traditionally the time to start the “a pox on both your houses” argument, where I show that Democrats are equally guilty of the same Orwellian doublespeak.  Believe me I tried.  But don’t worry: once it’s firmly established that just lying loudly is a vote winner, because voters either don’t care or aren’t really paying attention to anything but volume and repetition, others will pick up the newspeak rhetoric all on their own.  It’s a helluva lot easier than having principles you have to defend or an actual position on anything.  Why bother?

The most terrifying realization here is that this proclivity was lying dormant here all the time.  Bullshit and Orwellian tactics weren’t invented by the former president, and 74 million people from the Republican base didn’t just wake up one day ready to accept a steaming heap of conspicuously obvious lies.  They were ready all along.

At this point the question isn’t can we put this B.S. genie back in the bottle.  The question is whether it’s worth it.

Much has been written about the last four whirlwind years in American politics, mostly focusing on political division and a Pandora’s box of contradictory messaging, policies, anecdotes and leadership.  It was a boon for political, news and comedy writers.  You sure didn’t have to wait long to find something to write about.  In fact choosing which fetid piece of bizarre-itude out of the maelstrom of choices was the central problem.  It went something like this:

President: (says incoherent stuff for about 20 minutes until the entire press corp is numb from the onslaught of subject changes and then says he’d love to be a dictator)

Press: (rubbing neck from whiplash) Whew.  Ok… so do we write about:

  1. the actual content of this presser, the surprise corn surplus in Iowa,
  2. the fact that the president ignored everything about corn or Iowa,
  3. that point when he appeared to hit on his daughter,
  4. when he went on a five-minute rant over the water pressure of indoor plumbing,
  5. his hatred of grape juice,
  6. his love of orange juice,
  7. when he took credit for all professional sports teams who won last week,
  8. when he made fun of disabled people,
  9. when he took an unprovoked swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger,
  10. when he took an unprovoked swipe at Meryl Streep,
  11. when he took an unprovoked swipe at The New Yorker,
  12. the fact that millions of people apparently don’t see any problem with this, or
  13. the fact that he just wished himself to be dictator?

When faced with so many choices and limited column space, it’s a lose-lose situation.  No matter what you pick, you’re ignoring the fact that the man with the nuclear football is standing in front of modern-day professional journalists rambling like your great-grandpa Huck, who used to compulsively collect used toilet paper tubes and build likenesses of confederate generals out of them until he couldn't find the door to his house.  Even if you did write the “meta-story” fully half the readers would cheer him on, rather than stare at their phones in horror like they just watched a #covidiot tagged YouTube video of someone who did “The Clorox Challenge” recovering in the I.C.U.

This, as weird as it seems, created the context for nearly an entire nation all but ignoring an active coup attempt, while the rest of the world, presumably, laughs at our comeuppance.  Such bizarre behavior has been indulged for so long, that a sitting U.S. President can openly mount a coup attempt while everyone sloughs it off.  Generally trying to overthrow a lawfully elected government is taken somewhat seriously.  Jim Garrison in J.F.K. wasn’t howling with laughter in the courtroom, and Tommy Lee Jones only smiled when it was particularly sinister.

Then again, the omnipotent diabolical forces portrayed in J.F.K. were competent, organized, and secretive, whereas this latest coup attempt was seemingly put together on the back of a bar napkin written in “Just For Men” hair dye and televised each day on every news outlet.  Comical execution aside, we should probably take seriously someone trying their damnest to overthrow the government, even if “their damnest” sucks, particularly when that someone is the President of the United States and that government is the oldest democracy in the world.

Reality really is more bizarre than fiction.  Particularly if we’re talking coup d’états.

As we all hunker in our bunkers this year, scarfing down microwaved turkey dinners and staring into the middle distance to Dark Side of the Moon, I thought it would be interesting to look back at Thanksgivings past to get some perspective.  COVID has given us plenty of time for reflection, and that’s rarely a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving!I think we all have an idea of what Thanksgiving should be.  We don’t see it in reality, but it’s there in myths and legends, fed by advertising campaigns and old movies.  “Sure, my Thanksgiving is a dumpster fire,” we think, “but somewhere out there people are having a great time and eating noodle salad!” 

The fact that other people out there are normal is comforting.  It’s kinda like Bigfoot: you never see him yourself, but it feels good to know some grizzled prospector-type guy is out there with a flashlight and his phone looking for him. We want to believe.

Or so we thought.  I mean, what inhumanely torturous process turns cranberries into gelatinous slop anyway? Do we really know anything?

Turns out that the Thanksgivings shown in a lot of movies aren’t the romanticized versions from our advertising-addled cranium.  In fact, some have a downright horrible lesson, right there in front of us the whole time but we weren’t paying attention.

So crank that guitar rift, sit back and choke down that disgusting jellied cranberry sauce from 2018 as we explore some darker lessons Hollywood has secretly taught us about our favorite turkey day over the past 40 years.

It’s been a few weeks now and just about everything in America has shut down.  There’s no toilet paper, you can’t go out to eat or see a movie anymore, heck you can’t even hit the gym.  One by one states are being shuttered, the National Guard’s being activated, and any vaccine is at least 12 months away, according to people with actual medical degrees who know what they’re talking about.

But cheer up, grimly!  It’s always black before the dawn, provided the sun breaks quarantine, and sooner or later SOMEONE will realize that they can make a nice profit if they pump up the nation’s supply for toilet paper and cleaning products, and FINALLY make door-delivery of booze commonplace!

Until then, we’re all sheltered in place, realizing how truly unbearable most crap is on all those streaming services we somehow ended up subscribing to over the years but never watch.  Thanks to Jeff Bezos, we can also see the same unbearable crap that was in theaters (before they closed) from the comfort of our own couch, although that thing’s starting to smell a little ripe these days….  You may be isolated and unable to wipe yourself, but don’t forget to shower, folks.

Here are some helpful, random thoughts we’ve gathered to help you as you loaf around your quarantined domicile, isolated, bored, staring into the middle-distance while some Pink Floyd song echoes in your cranium.

  1. Liquor Store Online (

    They’ll deliver booze to your door at an enormous mark up and high shipping prices, but let’s face it, if this thing lasts months we’re gonna need it.
  1. If you can, download Drizly (Google Play, Apple Store)

    If you’re in their service area, this is a great way to get raise your spirits with some spirits.  Tried it in New York, and the service and selection was awesome.
  1. Don’t click on all those toilet paper or “cash now” social media ads.

    The Bad Guys know this is a pandemic too, and they’re still out to jam malware down your throat in any underhanded, sneaky way they can, including luring you with sexy pictures of huge, juicy, voluptuous rolls of sweet, squeezable toilet tissue.  Scams are rampant in light of the current scare, and all sorts of scumbags will crawl out of the woodwork to take advantage.  Don’t be one of them!
  1. Thanks to the Newport, Oregon police, try soaking all those old anchor lines you’ve got lying around in salt water and using that instead of Charmin.

    oregon policeOr using corn cobs, magazine pages, or a fistful of leaves works too.

  2. Your neighbors may still be assholes, but some need your help.

    Don’t let their paranoia, or bad tempered selfishness keep you from looking out for those in need.
  1. No, the COVID-19 virus is NOT a bioweapon, it probably started as a delicacy.

    I love a good conspiracy theory, but don’t like being pushed around by Russian or Iranian disinformation: I’ll come to my craziness all by myself, thank you very much.  Anyway genetic sequencing shows COVID-19’s natural evolutionary origin, probably starting in bats and ending up in pangolins, which are one of the weirdest creatures you’ve ever seen. 

    Pangolins are heavily trafficked, and were likely illegally sold in the Wuhan wet market, making it a prime suspect for how we got into this mess.   Despite tasting horrible, often leading to chronic diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, pangolin meat goes for upwards of $300/pound. 

    So about all we can conclude is that whoever bought this, he or she wasn’t strapped for cash.  Apparently eating this crap is a “status symbol” in Asian countries.
  1. Corona  beer has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

    This should be a no-brainer, but just because the name is similar doesn’t mean the beer contains anything else besides beery goodness.  Drink up.

    Let’s all heed Douglas Adam’s immortal mellow slogan of chill.
  1. Stop hoarding!

    We’re all in this together, so going out of your way to deprive others of being able to wipe their bottom isn’t cool, it’s just mean.
  1. The U.S. Federal Government is really pretty useless after all.

    Not that this is any revelation, all this really has shown us that when the chips are down, the one thing we can really count on is our national leaders looking to make themselves look good enough to get re-elected, while the rest of us wipe ourselves with our left hands.  Meanwhile, locally, people are behaving decently, and pitching in to help each other more than you’d think, without anybody telling them to.
Photos: Screenshot from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” screenshot of Trump’s March 22nd 2020 press conference, Matt Seymour/Erik McClean@Unsplash, Statue of Liberty by Scott Meadow.

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