Cancel culture is the hottest thing in the world right now. We’re “canceling” stuff left and right, if the internet is to be believed. But it turns out the world has a long history of taking things that are inoffensive and meaningless and then banning them totally and with little to no reason whatsoever.
Today, the humble potato may be the most popular vegetable in the world. It’s versatile and delicious and can complement almost any food at any time. What else is at home next to a fast food burger or a high-end steak? What goes well with breakfast or dinner? What can you fry, bake, mash, boil, or stick in a stew? The potato is everything you need. But it was not always so. Once upon a time, not only was the potato not lauded for its near universal deliciousness, it was straight up persecuted.
In 1748, the French waged all out war on potatoes. Potatoes were not food for humans at that time, they were meant to be used as livestock feed. And not only that, the French were under the impression potatoes caused leprosy in humans.
Potatoes were not native to Europe. The Spanish had brought them back from the New World and people were skeptical, to say the least. You can still see this today when people are confronted by new foods. There’s an entire industry of YouTube videos dealing with people eating stuff from other lands. So back in the day, this mysterious tuber that grew underground was scary and weird. So they outlawed them for nearly 25 years until French army officer Antoine-Augustin Parmentier convinced his people how great they were after being held prisoner by the Prussians who fed him potatoes that didn’t kill him.
9. Female Bellybuttons on TV
In today’s modern TV landscape, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to titillation. Thanks to HBO and other cable networks, you can barely turn the channel without something sexy jumping out at you. But back in the TV dark ages, something before the late 1990s, television was a far different medium. No one cussed. Violence was heavily implied, and there certainly wasn’t nudity on most channels.
Back in 1951, the National Association of Broadcasters was hard at work protecting home audiences from corruption and moral turpitude. To this end, they established guidelines for what could and could not be seen on television. Naturally, the seductive and beguiling female navel was on their list. It was banished from the airwaves lest the easily influenced see it and become ensorcelled. This rule against female belly buttons on TV (because male bellybuttons are devoid of sinister powers) stayed on the books for over 30 years until 1983.
There were a few moments in history when the belly button sneaked in, notably with Uhura on an episode of Star Trek in 1967, but for the most part it wasn’t until Cher kept showing off her midriff in the 1970s that the belly button was finally set free.
If you watch or read much epic fantasy, you know that harps have an important place in the world of bards and travelling minstrels. This wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. Harps in real life have a long history of not just making music but influencing people and culture. This was especially true in the Celtic world, where a harpist was a true artist and a person afforded great respect.
In the 1500s, tensions between England and Ireland were especially high. The English Crown decided that Irish harp players were a danger because of the potential power and influence they wielded. In fact, Queen Elizabeth issued a decree that all harpers were to be hanged and their instruments destroyed.
Harpers were accused of being spies and they were imprisoned. By 1650, Oliver Cromwell banned harps entirely. The most gentle of all musical instruments, the one associated with angels and very low key dinner parties, were now illegal. Existing harps were destroyed and harpers were banned from even getting together in groups. The tradition was Irish harp playing was almost entirely lost as a result.
7. Carp Farming
Carp is one of the most common, everyday fish in the world. The common carp is native to China and has been farmed for ages. They’re very easy to raise, they grow quickly and they’re good to eat. It’s everything you want in a fish. Unless, of course, your name sounds kind of like the same word used for fish in your language,
For generations, the common carp was a staple of Chinese cuisine and Chinese fishing. However, things changed during the Tang Dynasty from 618 to 906 AD. The Emperor Li banned the farming and consumption of the common carp because the name for carp sounded too similar to the emperor’s family name in Chinese.
On the upside, this ban led Chinese fishermen to focus on other species of fish. This ended up greatly diversifying their aquaculture and their cuisine as a result, so it all worked out in the end.
Ask anyone who isn’t Australian to talk like an Australian and 99 times out of 100 they’re going to say “G’day, mate!” and then maybe reference shrimp on the barbie. Sadly, this is what an entire nation has been reduced to in the eyes of those abroad. It’s kind of ironic then that, despite how inextricably linked to Australia, the word “mate” is that it was once shunned as the powers that be tried to ban it from the land down under.
Back in 2005, the Aussie government felt that it was necessary to decree that security guards at the Parliament House were not permitted to call people mate. Apparently, someone else in the government had lodged a complaint. The blowback was swift and severe as Australians en masse expressed their love of mate.
As it happens, the word comes from Germany and at least one linguist believes it became popular thanks to drunks who couldn’t remember each other’s names, so they just called one another mate. Australia has adopted it wholly and the ban against using the word was swiftly reversed.
You could make a good case for sausage being one of the best foods mankind has ever created. Meat grounds up with seasoning and encased in a tube so you can eat it on a bun? That’s genius. But alas, the classic German sausage was not always free to satisfy the hunger of the masses. Who would ever dare ban innocent, delicious sausages? The German war machine.
The German war effort was full steam ahead during WWI and they were putting a lot of their eggs in a basket made of zeppelins. They’re not used for much these days but about 100 years ago a zeppelin was cutting edge technology. Unfortunately, you need cow intestines to make a World War One era zeppelin, the same intestines that had previously been used to make sausage.
At the height of the war effort, Germany and its allies were using upwards of 250,000 cows to make bladders to hold hydrogen and keep those zeppelins afloat. That meant Germany and its allies were temporarily banned from producing sausage.
Germany ended up making around 140 zeppelins during the war. Today that sounds silly because how practical and useful could a blimp be? They were remarkably effective at the time, and incredibly hard to combat. It was years before a proper defense against zeppelins was mounted and they were able to be shot down.
4. Trapper Keepers
If you’re of a certain age, when you were in high school, if you didn’t have a Trapper Keeper, there was a good chance someone sitting near you in class had one. These were the “cool” three-ring binders and they’re arguably the only binder in the world that has a name. It’s a Trapper Keeper. It keeps, well, papers. But it did it reliably well.
Trapper Keepers date all the way back to 1978, and they were designed to look cool and colorful. There were pockets and storage places inside, and you could snap it shut to hold your stuff secure. Mead, the company that makes Trapper Keepers, sells $100 million a year worth of them. That’s impressive. But teachers still banned then.
By the early 2000s, schools were putting out lists of items that students would need for their school year and things that were not allowed at all. Trapper Keeps topped the banned list, forbidden from numerous classrooms for a myriad of reasons. Rumor has it a lot of teachers couldn’t stand the sound of the Velcro snap with kids opening and closing them all day. Others said they were just too big and too clumsy to be practical in a classroom setting.
Students were encouraged to buy less organized binders because, ironically, all that organization made kids unorganized. It was too hard to find what they were looking for.
3. Trench Coats
Trench coats date back to the first world war. These long coats were designed for officers as an alternative to heavier coats worn at the time. They could keep them dry and warm and, let’s be honest, they looked pretty cool. They gained popularity over the years as a fashionable and masculine design popularized in a lot of movies and favored by soldiers, cops, and gangsters on film. Fast forward several decades and The Matrix made them even cooler. With about a century of history, how could any clothing item end up getting banned?
The Columbine school shooting became one of the most polarizing events in modern history. In many people’s minds, this set off the continuing and nightmarish trend of school shootings.The shooters committed their crime both wearing long, duster-style trench coats. For some reason, this became a focal point for many school administrators around the country. They banned trench coats out of hand because that was a visual representation of the crimes and it seemed to some people like a reasonable response. Some schools literally banned the color black because the shooters wore black.
The ban began after the 1999 shooting but continued for decades. There was a Santa Fe shooting in 2018 in which the shooter also wore a trench coat. The ban on the coats was still on the books across many school districts at the time. It’s not a national ban by any means and goes from district to district. Presumably, this ban still exists in many school districts where the coats are simply listed as unacceptable outerwear.
Pinball has fallen by the wayside in modern years. Arcades in general are few and far between these years, thanks in no small part to the fact that home gaming systems are able to offer a superior gaming experience when compared to most arcade machines. So if you can find an arcade, it’s mostly dedicated to retro gaming, and that probably includes one or two pinball machines.
What we think of as modern pinball machines date back to around the 1930s. They were staples of not just arcades but bars and bowling alleys and more. They seem like a good bit of old-fashioned fun these days, but there was a long period of time when they were the scourge of New York City.
Starting in the 1940s, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles banned pinball machines for being pits of moral depravity. That’s thanks to the fact they were considered a kind of gambling when they were introduced and no one wants that. How was a pinball machine gambling? Because when they were developed, they had no flippers. That meant the player had to move and shake the machine to move the ball and, to the government, that was a game of luck and therefore gambling.
Amazingly enough, the ban was on the books for around 30 years. The machines were smashed by police and literally tossed in the river as part of what was alleged to be a crackdown on the mafia, of all things.
The ban only ended in 1976 when one intrepid pinball player managed to convincingly demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill.
There’s been a long and weird history of people talking down to the world of gamers. Video games have been blamed for all manner of violent or criminal behaviors, not to mention laziness and who knows what else. Professional gaming is a huge industry and the game market itself is worth billions but people in general still talk about it like it’s kids in their parents’ basements doing it exclusively. So that’s weird.
When it comes to gaming, it’s usually games themselves that receive people’s ire. But gamers themselves have been banned from things as well for no other reasons than they’re gamers. In specific, Gran Turismo gamers were banned from driving actual race cars because they were too good at it.
Starting in 2008, Nissan’s GT Academy was enlisting Gran Turismo gamers to race actual cars in real life. And they were good at it. Really good. Too good.
In 2013, the British GT Championship, a race that has existed since 1993, banned Gran Turismo gamers from racing. This stemmed from the previous year’s Pro-Am race when the amateur who was a consummate Gran Turismo player proved himself to be as good as the pros thanks to his gaming experience. Because the game made amateur racers so good, they were banned because it was considered an unfair advantage over others.