The Mythbuster: Red Hair Is Going Extinct
“We ain’t going out like that.” Redheads are alive and kicking globally, the myth that we are going extinct must be extinguished once and for all. My own family is a microcosm of explanation that illustrates how, whilst the ginger gene is recessive, it will take a lot more than the inaccurate musings of a research project backed by a hair dye manufacturer to consign us to history.
Dad, a Cumbrian with fair hair married Mum, an Essex girl with jet black hair and a skin tone that appears to emanate from Jerusalem rather than Dagenham. None of my grandparents had particularly red hair or freckles, though my Dad’s father did have an ever so light auburn hue to his locks.
I’m not adopted, nor is my brother – our facial features, and the terrifyingly rapid advancement of my receding hairline, are all firmly steeped in the genetics of my family. I am more ginger than my brother, we both deliver strongly on our annual freckle crop yet he tans better than I do.
Historically, the ginger gene punctuates myth, tradition and philosophical studies of humanity. Perhaps the most bizarre and inexplicable aspect of gingerness is the generation-skipping, seemingly indiscriminate nature with which the ginger gene manifests itself. Scientists and historians are far more qualified than I am to explore genetics and anthropology. I want to understand how and why the dogma that our extinction is imminent fiercely tried to be part of the zeitgeist.
So why now? What is the agenda behind the latest in a long line of redhead myths that suggests we are to join the dinosaurs, the Dodo and the American lion as extinct ad infinitum?
Jealousy? Ginger artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele are winning awards for fun and receiving critical acclaim, and significant sales each time they so much as breathe. Growing up I remember Rick Astley dominating the sound of my school discos, I recall thinking I was too cool to love Mick Hucknall because my mum did, and bubblegum pop act, Sonia, doing for music as much as Charlie Sheen has done for serious acting over in the USA. For the record, I love Mick’s soulful voice and admire his exploits as a serial ginger gigolo.
Hollywood seems to have caught onto the notion that, actually, being ginger is a pretty cool thing, a status symbol perhaps. Jessica Chastain is flavour of the moment, Christina Hendricks, a bottle-born redhead, is almost as famous for her barnet as she is for her other three assets. Damian Lewis is stealing jobs from American waiter/model/actors with gay abandon. Ron Weasley, or Rupert Grint as he is known to his mum, is a fundamental member of one of the most successful film franchises ever thanks to being Harry Potter’s ginger and, frankly, more handsome buddy.
"Historically, the ginger gene punctuates myth, tradition and philosophical studies of humanity"
In the sporting world, Team Ginger, an unspecified yet clearly defined segment of the British Olympic team, won more medals than the whole of Australia (probably, or was that the Republic of Yorkshire?) and the England cricket team replaced one gritty, reliable ginger in Paul Collingwood with my fellow Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow. Manchester United fans will cite their little ginger maestro, Paul Scholes, as one of the fundamental reasons behind their ongoing dominance of the Premier League since it stopped being the plain old English First Division.
Britain, or at least our media, has a funny habit of building up public figures purely, it appears, for the purpose of knocking them down again. This Newtonian mindset means that if you achieve something amazing, no matter how far up you reach, you can guarantee that somebody, somewhere is plotting to bring you straight back down to earth. In the case of this whole fabricated extinction theory, a blonde or brunette journalist may well have decided enough is enough, those gingers are beginning to get too big for their boots; it’s time to take them down a peg or two. Having said that, the Oxford Hair Foundation “study” was released around 2005, so shouldn’t we have moved on from this by now?
Then it came to me, like a solar shower of inspiration. The company behind the Oxford Hair Foundation research project must have produced an unimaginably large volume of blonde hair dye following the release, in 2001 & 2003 respectively, of Legally Blonde 1 & 2. Vast tubs of caustic, aggressive secondary amines were fit to burst with blonde hair dye cooked up by, “the blonde is best” brigade. Whilst Marilyn Monroe may have put her name, face and beauty to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” early pictures of Norma Jeane Mortensen depict a distinctly titian hue. They simply want to sell off their copious stock of blonde hair dye now that being ginger is so desirable you can’t turn a corner without asking the question, has she dyed her hair that colour? Is she a natural born ginger, or just another redhead in a bottle, sending out an SOS? It can’t be her natural hair colour, unless her skin is that colour because she (or he) took a dip in a trough of fake tan as well.
Clearly my conclusion is the opposite of scientific, and Darwin didn’t allow for global warming when constructing the theory of evolution – how will we, gingers, cope as the Earth’s temperature rises and UV becomes more prevalent and dangerous to our sensitive skin?
The answer to this conundrum, perhaps, could be found firmly in the lap of the scientists that must surely be developing higher SPF creams in a dimly lit laboratory somewhere near you now. Could we alter the chemical make up of all that unsold blonde hair dye to make it fit-for-pale-skin-purpose?
Finally, forgetting the speculative nature of my loosely constructed thoughts above, gingers are making certain that our gene remains in circulation by gathering at redhead events globally. Simply add alcohol, remove inhibitions, and let’s see how much truth there are in those lurid, often sordid, sexy ginger stereotypes. See you in Holland in September. Mine’s a large one. Drink. A large drink.
Interesting article. It is my understanding of passing the MC1R gene that both parents have to have the gene in the family. My childrens father did not & I am a 100% redhead so all of my children & grand children have hues of red but no bonafides. However my brother also a 100% and the mother of his children has the gene in her family so he had 2 redhead daughters, 1 is 100% the other has darker tone. Almost everyone in our family has overtones of red but only 4 of us are 100%. I too don’t buy into the extinction argument since the gene is still very prevalent in so many families. Maybe as we are seeing an increase of twin births we might see a surge in redheads in the near future to balance the scales a bit.