Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Reds Have It: Idolatry and Gingerism

Redheadday 2007

Well, I'm sure I don't need to tell any of you that Redheadday 2009 is happening in Breda (Netherlands) this weekend. But I've flipped through the site and it seems that Redheadday is just an excuse for some dudes to get a bunch of chicks naked so they can capture the enigmatic redheads on canvas. I could not find one photo documenting a dude's participation in the festivities. So much for my Netherlandian adventure next year. I tried to find another redhead festival, but Google only seemed to come up with Blonde Redhead set lists. Hmmm...

There are many facts and figured floating around the Interweb about us carrot tops, who make up about 2-4% of the world's population. Redheads are the stuff of legends. The Greeks thought reds turned into vampires when they died. Egyptians would bury redheaded men alive as a tribute to the gods. Red hair has been considered a signifier of everything from witchcraft and devilry to good luck, but the latter is a an exception among a list of bad bad mojo.

We account for about 2% of the US population, though honestly I don't recall checking the "redhead" box in the 2000 census so I'm not sure how that figure is tabulated. I mean, it's not like it's on my State ID. But, I'm sure they have a super scientific method of determining how many of us there are, even amidst the thousands upon thousands of fakers. You know who you are...and so do we.

A lock of Emily Dickinson's hair.

Germany had their Salem-style shit go down from the late 1400's to the late 1700's and during that time it's estimated that 45,000 women, most red haired and/or freckled, were burned at the stake or drown as it was believed they carried the devils marks. When I was younger the term, "I'm gonna beat you like a redheaded stepchild!" was thrown around. Being an actual redheaded stepchild and a watcher of Different Strokes, I just thought it was all in good fun. It wasn't until later that I realized these stepchildren were the offspring of slave and master. Judas and Cain are usually depicted with red hair, as is the serpent woman offering Eve a treat in work of Michaelangelo.

It is also said that we, results of a mutation on the MC1R gene, are dying out. "They" found that after about 100 years, real redheads could be history. The funny thing is the 2005 study, performed by The Oxford Hair Foundation, was funded by Proctor and Gamble - the makers of hair dye. Of the 60% of Americans that dye their hair at home, 30% of them go red. 'Nuff said and it's also not true about blondes dying out, by the way. Some researcher think redheads showed up about 40,000 years ago, but some think the red hair and pale skin may have actually come from our Neanderthal cousins who lived 400,000-28,000 years ago, dating reds back to 100,000. This means that before Neanderthals died out, more modern humans totally got it on with their slower but probably no less sweet neighbors. Look, it was Northern Europe, there wasn't a whole lot going on, they had to make their own fun.

But something changed, for redheaded women at least. We stopped being burned at the stake and started gracing urns and paintings and not just as a female embodiment of the devil. Maybe artists got bored with topping their creations with blonde or brunette. At some point redheads were eroticized with the rest of womankind and spared some of the ridicule our male counterparts continue to endure simply because we, in the end, have boobs and stuff.

Vargas' Diana.

The boobs and stuff angle combined with our uniqueness might explain why there continue to be disproportionate amount redheads in movies, TV and especially commercials lately. 2 Volkswagen commercials (the ones with the buyers from 11 seconds in the future) feature a redheaded wife character and another lady of the red in one of those lame PC commercials declaring that she is "not cool enough for a Mac." (A side note about that PC commercial -check out the dude in the black jacket in the shot as she almost walks into the Mac store. He's in almost the exact place when she "walks out" of the store, meaning she totally didn't even go in.) Anyhoo, there's also that insurance commercial that shows a redhead from infancy to old age in a series of doctor's office shots and some Palm/Blackberry commercial that has a strawberry-blonde in a pale dress with zero eyebrows standing on a rock playing with her phone. Interestingly the only redheaded man in a national commercial I can think of is the crazy bearded chubby and desperate Comcast guy in all those lame Verizon commercials.

While lady reds get some benefits along with the childhood of ridicule, our red brothers are getting seriously screwed. In the UK Gingerism is a serious issue and all over the world redheads are often considered the one of the few groups we're still allowed to openly ridicule - well, redheads, white trash and Republicans, obviously. Yes, racism is clearly wrong, but nothing wrong with picking a fight that orange haired freak at the end of the bar. Check out this piece by a fellow redhead, Rich, over at Penn State. Rich dares to address the ultimate question, posed to every redhead at least a dozen times in their know what I'm talking's that inquiry about pube color.

As my man, Rich writes, it boils down to the majority simply picking on a minority. There is no explanation except your standard fear, jealousy and ignorance excuse. Women escape a lot of the ridicule because we have that automatic objectification thing before our hair color is even addressed, and I'm sure not all red haired men are teased. I have a whole set of male redheaded cousins, all brothers in fact. And I don't think anyone messes with them, mostly because you notice that they could kick your ass before the eye falls on their mass of freckles and flame red hair.

Unlike Lucille Ball, Conan didn't have to dye his hair so people would take his comedy seriously.

So, just because somebody has an accumulation of phaeomelanin in their pigment cells and no eumelanin doesn't mean they're a freak - it just means we all share a pretty specific physical trait that makes us all look like closely related. It seems that for the past 25 years or so, every kid is told that they are special and unique, but you know what? The redhead kids pretty much are by default. So suck it everyone else! We totally rule!

But, if you prick us...