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TED TALLEY: Virtual stupidity

The language of social media is nonsense by Ted Talley | March 11, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The pandemic has inured most of us to tragic circumstances. I say most, because certainly family and friends of those 500,000-plus Americans who have died of covid-19 will not soon forget their dear departed.

A half-million citizens gone, as if all of Northwest Arkansas were suddenly returned to territorial days when only bears, bobcats and even the original razorback hogs roamed the Ozarks. Vanished, as in some formulaic sci-fi movie.

These are serious times, arguably as grave as the World War II era politically and last century's influenza and polio epidemics medically.

So what are we doing as the dark days of the pandemic might become illuminated by twinkling lights at the end of the tunnel?

Are we girding our loins, strapping on our masks and staring death down while encouraging one another in that in "carry on" spirit? No. At least not if one goes by social media content.

We're quibbling -- dashing about from one inconsequential news item or social media tidbit to another. Like mynah birds and magpies, we're attracted to the next shiny item.

And we are stupider for it. We've haven't learned -- though research has proven -- that arguing politics, religion or societal standards on social media platforms rarely sways anyone's opinion. No minds are changed while we collectively lose them.

I've thought about departing Facebook because of the nonsense. But then I'd miss out on the whole purpose of the platform, which we know full well is to share photos of grandkids' milestones, bistro food orders, airport departure gates and cute puppies.

Rather than leave, I've become vigilant. Suspect social media posts have markers of irritation. One is "They," that amorphous collective dictating social mores. "They are taking away" -- fill in the blank with the screed topic of the day. Last June "They" were cancelling Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. Never was there such ado over cartoon-like characters departing retail shelves.

In the 1950s at our south Louisiana family feed store, I grew up learning customer service and public relations. We sold "Old Black Joe" brand fertilizer made by the food conglomerate Armour. It was an industry hallmark. Sometime around 1960, old Uncle Tom-type Joe and his banjo (I am not kidding) on the fertilizer bag were removed. "They" replaced him with "Big Crop 5-10-5" simply referencing the product's assay. No one made a fuss, especially not our Black customers who owned wholesale nurseries with garden center clients ranging from Mobile to Houston. Progressive farmers moved on.

So who in their right minds really think pancake mix, pumped from silos the size of NASA booster rockets, and instant rice-for-dummies have anything really to do with real home cookin' and old Deep South family retainers? Poor Mrs. Butterworth even got looped into the frenzy. Trapped in a syrup bottle, the white matron is more Granny of Tweety cartoondom than a person of color, if you recall old TV ads. Well, on second glance she does appear a bit Creole encased like a fossil in amber glass. Race aside, she should be ditched on creepiness alone.

More recently, two other cartoon-types became the brouhaha. Dr. Seuss books were "banned" and a plastic potato had become androgynous.

Offended ones posted that all Dr. Seuss books were banned; the Democrats were to blame. Anyone taking two minutes to investigate would learn Dr. Seuss Enterprises chose to discontinue publication of obscure titles that contain outdated, racially-insensitive graphics. The vocal right-wing conservatives losing their minds over six books they never heard of should applaud the Seussites instead since they scrubbed low volume, problematic stock-keeping-units to focus on brand value and volume sellers. Hurray for free-market capitalism!

Mr. Potato Head was gone, and then returned, but not before social media lit up with conspiracy theories. Manufacturer Hasbro clarified things and we were assuaged. We should have known better. Most kids given a choice choose toys that are sexed. Barbie and G.I. Joe outfits were never interchangeable, you know. For my part, I've disliked all plastic toys with tiny body pieces ever since 1958 when I toppled our "Cootie" game off the arm of Mama Brink's Morris chair into her floor furnace.

More than any, posts guaranteed to provoke an immediate "hide" click from me have nothing to do with syrup, books or toys. They're those sophomoric challenges, as in so forth and so on, followed by "I dare you to share." And "Can I have an amen?" Or my most abhorred, "Let's make this go viral!"

For heaven's sake, get your shots. Pay attention to the real virus. To hell with the virtual.

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