Discover more from Small Potatoes
This and That (2)
Enter the Polkaroo
Thanks for reading Small Potatoes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
In these first couple of months of Small Potatoes, I wrote something about how to be a good teacher and then something about how to give a good talk. What about how to be a good writer? I might take a shot at this at some point, but until then, I strongly recommend three excellent guides/discussions, all for non-fiction writing:
Scott Alexander: Non-fiction writing advice
Steven Pinker: Why academics stink at writing
Most people think they are above average—better than average friends, better than average drivers, smarter than average, funnier than average, and so on. Some psychological effects are subtle; this one isn’t. Here’s a memorable example from a Twitter poll.
Related to the above-average effect, it’s hard for many of us to appreciate that the social forces that make others think and do terrible things would likely have the same effect on us. If we were in a society where most people hate gay people, we would likely hate gay people. If incentives lead most people to commit atrocities; we would likely commit atrocities. But it doesn’t feel that way. There’s a tendency to think that we would be the righteous exceptions. Here is another Twitter poll that nicely illustrates this:
Canadians of a certain age might remember Polkaroo, the breakout star from Polka Dot Door—a Canadian children's television series produced by TVOntario from 1971 to 1993. From Wikipedia:
On "Imagination Day", the character Polkaroo (sometimes referred to as "the Polkaroo") appeared. … In its mended, yellow and multi-coloured polka-dot muumuu, the creature spoke using various repeated exclamations of its own name accompanied by elaborate gestures. This was usually followed by a song whose lyrics began "Imagine, imagine, you can imagine Polkaroo...". In the first two seasons, Polkaroo would appear to one of the hosts while the other host was absent for some reason. The co-host would return upon Polkaroo's departure, habitually exclaiming, "The Polkaroo was here?!? And I missed him again?!?" Both hosts took turns as the Polkaroo. Starting in the third season, only the male host donned the Polkaroo costume.
In discussing Polkaroo with my wife, an issue came up. How are we to think of the double role of the hosts? She only remembers the third season, and she thought that the male host continually missing Polkaroo was meant as a running joke—he missed Polkaroo because he was Polkaroo! But it later occurred to her that this sameness of identity might not have been an “in-world” event, just a money-saving decision by a cash-strapped network. Maybe the children weren’t supposed to notice. (If you remember the show and have thoughts about this, please respond in the comments.)
Wikipedia also notes the drug-related scandal many years after the show ended:
In 2018, a rally in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park to celebrate the legalization of cannabis in Canada saw the appearance of "Tokaroo", a marijuana-smoking parody of Polkaroo. Tokaroo was created by Mark Scott, an actor who had once been directly employed by TVOntario to play Polkaroo in live promotional appearances, and the network threatened him with legal action.