Back to the future with 99 Red Balloons and Roald Dahl books

Back to the future with 99 Red Balloons and Roald Dahl books
Опубликовано: Friday, 24 February 2023 07:52

Spy balloons and ‘problematic’ editing show that 1983 is the new 2023.

Welcome to Declassified, a weekly humor column.

This week’s column is brought to you by the year 1983.

Forty years ago, German singer Nena had a massive hit with “99 Luftballons” — it would later become an English-language chart-topper as “99 Red Balloons” — and now there are suspicious spheres popping up everywhere.

This week, a large iron ball washed up on Enshu beach in the city of Hamamatsu on Japan’s Pacific coast. What the bloody hell is it, locals asked (using whatever the Japanese equivalent of ‘bloody hell’ is)?

They ruled out a land mine, a ball from “Dragon Ball Z” — the Japanese anime TV series in which, when seven magic balls are collected, an Eternal Dragon is summoned who grants them a wish (which is also how EU enlargement works) — and a blue whale’s testicle (and yes, I did Google ‘blue whale testicles’ as part of my, er, research and now know exactly how much sperm these whales ejaculate. It’s a lot, dear disgusted reader). But it could still be one of those pesky spy balloons that both China and Russia have been accused of sending up into the sky.

Of course if Beijing and Moscow really want to use spy balloons, they should make them in the shape of SpongeBob SquarePants or a Disney princess, then no one would suspect a thing when they go floating by.

Also in 1983, Roald Dahl published “The Witches,” in which a vicious and powerful Grand High Witch arrives in England and plans to turn all of the children into mice (which was also a key component of Boris Johnson’s 2019 Conservative Party manifesto).

Dahl’s estate and publisher have been at the center of a row this week after updating his works to be more suitable for modern audiences. New edits include the removal of any reference to Oompa-Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as “small men” — they are now “small people” — and the removal of the word “fat” from every book.

British Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch told a POLITICO event this week that the editing was “problematic” and Dahl’s French publisher Gallimard had to issue a statement saying it does not intend to change the texts of the children’s books.

But there have long been issues with Dahl’s work. Take the aforementioned “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which the world’s least competent CEO takes a bunch of kids through his health-and-safety nightmare of a factory — there’s barely a guardrail in sight, which is at least in part why Augustus Gloop falls into a river of chocolate — and at one point Willy Wonka says “this amazing piece of gum is a three-course dinner” without as much as a second thought for the devastating impact such a product could have on the European farming industry!


“Coming soon to Netflix … ‘CSI: Kyiv.’”

Can you do better? Email [email protected] or on Twitter @pdallisonesque

Last time we gave you this photo:

Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag — there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze.

“Former UK prime ministers two for one this week at ALDI,” by Tom Morgan.

Paul Dallison is POLITICO‘s slot news editor.

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