Requiem for the Redhead
The next great extinction—Carrot Tops
- By Patricia McNamee Rosenberg
- Smithsonian magazine, February 2009, Subscribe
Not long ago, newspapers and magazines reported that, by the end of the century, redheads, of whom I am one, will be extinct. Gone. Kaput. Since then, other scientists have raised doubts about the great redhead extinction theory, especially since the research was conducted by the Oxford Hair Foundation—which is funded by Procter & Gamble, which manufactures hair dye. Still, who can say for sure who is right? I'm sure that, back in their day, the dinosaurs were pretty smug too.
Where will we be without people like Danny Bonaduce? Bad example. How about Dwight Eisenhower? Ike was a redhead. (He was younger then.) And what other group could we taunt without fear of retribution? "Hey match-stick head," "I'd rather be dead than red" and "Where did you get that hair?" are just some of the cute comments we get to hear on a daily basis. So if we want little Ron Howards or Lindsay Lohans in the 22nd century, we have to plan ahead.
A common myth has it that redheads have hot tempers. (That one really infuriates me.) Many people believe red-haired women are wild between the sheets. (My husband is not one of them.) Others believe redheads should answer to witty nicknames like "Red," "Carrot Top" and "Peppermint Patty" (mine). In some societies, the term "redhead" is synonymous with hard-headedness, even being mentally challenged. And all this is considered politically correct.
The world will be frightfully ordinary without redheads. Try to picture the year 2150. Everyone will have dark brown hair, brown eyes and faces bereft of orange freckles. Action figures and dolls will be dark-haired, pretty and handsome, but Raggedy Ann will have fallen by the wayside. Redheaded clowns will have all gotten into their tiny cars and driven away, never to return.
Oh, there will be museums featuring redheads of the past. Like the Neanderthal, Hominis redheadis will be a fascinating curiosity. Conspiracy theorists will insist that an entire population was banished to a faraway island, where they step-danced to oblivion. There will be stories about famous redheads: Vincent van Gogh, William Shakespeare, Woody Allen and Lucille Ball, thus illustrating the fine line between genius and insanity. There will be parties at which revelers dress as their favorite redhead: Little Orphan Annie, Woody Woodpecker, Elmo.
How did we get to this sorry state? The redhead sprang from a mutated gene in Europe thousands of years ago. Yes, redheads are mutants, like comic book heroes—except without superpowers. Maybe that's why nobody has proposed a plan to save the redhead. We don't even count as an endangered species. If redheads were as adorable as pandas, scientists would select a male and female and house them in a habitat, such as an Irish pub, that would encourage mating.
On the bright side, the redhead has almost a century left to make its mark in the world and become a legend that will live forever. And I, for one, see a time when people will speak in whispered tones of the days when redheads roamed the earth.
Patricia McNamee Rosenberg lives in Oak Park, Illinois. Thanks to the wonders of chemistry, she is still a redhead.
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