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Monday, December 04, 2006

The Truth About A Certain One-Eyed Sailor

Nobody's talking about Popeye the Sailor much these days, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about him. Popeye and I go way back, after all. It's possible, though not by any means certain, that he may've been the first superhero I ever saw on TV. Popeye's not a superhero, you say? Well, I beg to differ! After all, he had the whole spinach-in-a-can deal working where he'd suddenly become ten times stronger once he'd downed one of those bad boys! That was almost - though clearly not quite - enough to make me think about eating spinach when I was a kid. If I could've choked it down in one gulp like he did, then maybe...

But of course the spinach angle turned out to be a scam. There I was in the 70s, watching cartoons from the 40s or 50s, that were propogating a mistake that'd been debunked in the 30s. For those who don't know about the error, here's part of the Wikipedia write-up on spinach:

"The myth about spinach and its high iron content may have first been propagated by Dr. E. von Wolf in 1870, because a misplaced decimal point in his publication led to an iron-content figure that was ten times too high. In 1937, German chemists reinvestigated this "miracle vegetable" and corrected the mistake."

Popeye, on the other hand, was created in 1929 and became very popular in the early 30s (rivalling Mickey Mouse, also according to Wikipedia). So the creators had the better part of a decade in which they could be excused for playing off the high-iron-content screw-up around spinach, although it continued to be used long after 1937's correction. Not that it was ever much of a reason for a guy's arms to swell up and be infused with superhuman strength, but at least it was something.

So the myth of spinach ended up being just like the rest of my experiences with vegetables: a big letdown! But that's a story for another day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh out loud (at my desk) when I read this! That whole spinach makes you strong is as cockamamie as Wimpy's hamburger eating made him fat!! Oh wait..