Grandpa Joe, Viral Toxicity, and how the Pen is Mightier than the Sword

By Jody Tuso-Key – Managing Editor

Flowery Branch, GA – February 16, 2002

I recently had a personal post on Facebook go viral for the first time. It was about Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Grandpa Joe from the films CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Cancel culture says Grandpa Joe in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY was an a-hole and a disability faker. Those of us from the 1960s-70s generation that grew up with it understand him completely. Those four impoverished elderly folks in the bed probably worked every day of their life. If you read the book, you would know that grandpa Joe used to work at the factory before Willy Wonka closed it and hired the Oompa Loompas. He loved that job in the factory and used to stay up late at night telling Charlie stories about it. Now he is retired, depressed, arthritic, and just waiting to die. Charlie winning the Golden Ticket to the chocolate factory finally gave Grandpa Joe motivation and something to live for. The fact that he was able to get out of bed and move around after being in bed for years was a miracle. Anyone who is over 70 and has arthritis can understand and appreciate this. The rest if you need to get some empathy and read the book for his full backstory. That is all.

Jody Tuso Key – Facebook, February 13, 2021

So I was scrolling through my memories on Facebook (as one does), and found this post on the 13th. I thought it might be fun to share it on a few theater groups I belong to, so I posted it on Theatre Geeks and Broadway Obsessed, and didn’t think much else about it. I post on these all the time and get a few comments, no big deal. The next time I opened up my Facebook app, the notifications were blowing up. People had a mixed salad of opinions that varied from agreeing with my post, not knowing what I was talking about, and telling me I was taking what was meant to be a joke way too seriously. There was also the very eloquent “OK Boomer” and “F*uck Grandpa Joe” sprinkled in among the comments. If you’d like, you can click on the links and go down the rabbit hole. Apparently using the words “cancel culture” was the trigger. This was subtly meant to be a play on words. Cancel “Culture” — literature, film, theater are all cultures. Banning books is considered cancel culture, as is trashing on characters in books. People have assumed that I must be a Boomer (I’m a proud member of Generation X,) a conservative (I’m a moderate–quite neutral on most issues), and a piece of sh*t (last time I checked I was a biologial female human being).

I had no idea people connected to and felt so strongly about Roald Dahl’s beloved character Grandpa Joe. I’ve since come to find out that there are Facebook groups dedicated to hating Grandpa Joe. One such group eloquently titled I dislike the P.O.S that is Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka, has a member that decided to share the post. This has unleashed a troll that went to my profile to find pics and dox me. My backstory for my new pet troll is that he lives under a bridge at the I-85/285 interchange, but in reality, I don’t know him from Adam and have no interest in stalking his profile. I did, however, change my privacy settings as you never know what kind of mentally unstable folks are out there. This troll attacked me as a special education math teacher commenting something about how our children are doomed (I can’t remember the exact quote, nor do I care to remember).

What I have discovered is that there are some vile, self-absorbed, miserable people online. More so than just the few I’ve encountered previously. Apparently, the hating of Grandpa Joe is a “Joke” started by Millennials, and I just need to lighten up. Someone needs to let the folks at the P.O.S. group know that. They’ve taken joking to new heights. The ironic thing to me is this is the generation that has placed an emphasis on the importance of mental health, yet they won’t concede that depression is a reason why someone might feel they aren’t able to get out of bed.

This all started after having a conversation with my then 22-year-old son, who played Grandpa Joe in 8th grade. He explained to me how Grandpa Joe was a selfish a-hole and this was widely known. This was bothersome to me not because, people were judging Grandpa Joe, a fictional character’s actions, but because in doing so, there was an apparent lack of empathy for his character. Art imitates life, and it’s disturbing to see the lack of respect for an elder who Charlie clearly loved be reduced to fodder for some angsty Millennials, who probably could care less about their own grandparents.

I get it. When I was 18, I didn’t have time to spend with my Grandpa and Step Grandma when they came to visit us in Oklahoma from California. I was too busy with my abusive boyfriend and my job. I wish I had known that was the last time I would be able to spend time with him. Ironically, he was named Joe — he was my literal Grandpa Joe-Joseph Salvatore. He passed of a heart attack when I was 21. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I really wish I could go back and do that visit over again. My dad is named for him, Joseph Frederick, and now my youngest son is also a Joe–Joseph Robert. I hope in carrying on the family name, Grandpa Joe can forgive me.

I’ve responded to some of the haters and even the troll. I’ve been given the gift of being able to write–so I come to Speakeysie to share my experience of going viral on Facebook (17 shares, over 1000 reactions, and hundreds of comments in the first 24 hours). I suppose this is part of my 15 minutes of fame. I certainly hope it’s not what I’ll be remembered for.

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