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The stigma of TV’s redheads

By Mark Humphrey

April 2, 2006 9:00 p.m.

I’ve watched an exorbitant amount of television in my 21
years. Of course, we all have. For a lot of us, TV was the ultimate
baby sitter. One of the TVs in my house permanently has the number
“31” (the number assigned to Nickelodeon in my youth)
burned into the lower left-hand corner.

So I guess it comes as little surprise that over spring break, I
found myself once again parked in front of the television. Since my
mom has DirecTV, she gets 500 or so more channels than I get at
school. This leads to me watching heaps of programming both new and
old, spread across hundreds of channels.

You always hear about people pushing for more diversity in
programming. You know what I mean ““ in the past, minorities
have gotten angry about not being depicted in shows, being
typecast, or being shown in a negative light.

A recent example was when people of Middle Eastern descent
became upset by their portrayal in the terrorism drama
“24” and got Fox to air a public service announcement
saying what all rational people (hopefully) know: Not all Muslims
are terrorists.

But you know which minority has consistently been portrayed in a
negative light for years, yet has never spoken out?

Redheaded males.

Think back to when you were a kid watching TV. Think of shows
like “Salute Your Shorts,” “Doug” or
“Clarissa Explains It All.”

All of these contained either a redheaded male antagonist or a
redheaded male being portrayed as misbehaved.

“Salute Your Shorts” had the gloriously mulleted
Bobby Budnick and his corpulent sidekick Donkeylips (not a redhead,
just fat ““ though Donkeylips could be credited with breaking
down the stereotype of fat people as jolly), who tormented the
other campers with the dubious humiliation of the “awful
waffle” and constantly made life miserable for wimpy Michael,
who thankfully got “chicken pox” between seasons and
was replaced by Pinsky, a real man’s man. Pinsky confidently
caught a football and sang along perfectly in the opening credits,
unlike Michael, who simply sat and mumbled.

Sorry, I could write a book about “Salute Your
Shorts.” Anyway, “Doug” had bully Roger, a
flaming redhead who ran the gamut of lowlife thug to spoiled, rich
a-hole in only a few seasons.

In “Clarissa Explains it All,” Clarissa’s
brother Ferguson was the token problem redhead. Anyone who gets a
kitten, puts a mini-necktie on him and names him “William F.
Buckley,” the way Ferguson did deserves to be pushed out of
Clarissa’s bedroom window.

I was even randomly flipping through channels last week and came
across an episode of “Baywatch” in which a child is
trying to surf, but is constantly tormented by a redheaded bully.
This bully then nearly drowns and has to be saved by David
Hasselhoff from stock footage of 20-foot waves.

The stereotype extends to movies as well. Holiday classic
“A Christmas Story” gave doe-eyed Ralphie a redheaded
adversary named Scut Farkus, whose maniacal laugh and yellow teeth
and eyes remain etched in my mind. “Problem Child” and
its sequel had a redhead in the title role. And lest we forget,
Chucky from the “Child’s Play” series has a wild
mane of red hair.

What gives?

After researching the history of redheads in various cultures, I
came up with interesting findings. According to John Dyson, a
professor at Indiana University, many cultures have viewed people
with red hair as less desirable (as red hair is less common and
stands out more). Over time, retellings of the trial and
crucifixion of Christ have evolved to describe the traitorous Judas
as a redhead; ancient cultures were known to sacrifice redheads;
and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rides a red horse.
Many cultures see red hair as a sign of aggressive behavior, since
red is associated with blood, rage and war.

In the 21st century, where pop culture seems to have usurped
mysticism as the main compass of rational thought, it would seem
that placing redheaded males in villainous or difficult roles is
only a continuation of a long-held superstition that people with
red hair are to be feared.

Of course, then I remembered Nickelodeon’s “The
Adventures of Pete & Pete,” in which the two main
characters have red hair. One, Big Pete, was a passive, thoughtful
individual; the precise opposite of how redheaded males often are

Then again, this show is often presented as an absurdist
fantasy, like Edward Albee for pre-teens. The “Artie, the
Strongest Man in the World” character was decidedly …
postmodern, for lack of a better term. In that sense, this could be
interpreted to suggest that well-behaved redheaded boys are a
fantastical assumption.

On second thought, red is the color of USC. Hmm … if both USC
and red equal the root of all evil …

Never mind, pop culture gods. Keep it up.

If you didn’t know what an “awful waffle”
was until recently, e-mail Humphrey at
[email protected]

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Mark Humphrey
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