In today's heated environment, even mustard politics is too hot to handle

Last fall, I spent a lovely week in Middleton, Wisconsin, a suburb a few miles outside Madison, the state capital.  It's a clean, pretty place with a pleasant mix of charming Victorians, mid-'50s modern houses, and upscale apartments and homes.  It also boasts the world's only (and therefore greatest) National Mustard Museum.  That museum is now in hot water (spicy mustard?) for pulling its six Russian mustards from the shelves.  In a hyper-connected world, virtue-signaling can be problematic and overreactions epidemic.

The museum is a lot of fun.  It's really nothing more than a two-story shop, but every inch of it is filled with cans, bottles, and jars of mustard from every corner of the world.  Downstairs, it's a pure museum, with endless condiment containers, both old and new, from everywhere.  (My natal state, California, turns out to produce prodigious amounts of mustard because California's vineyards seem to be suited not just for grapes, but for mustard, too.)  Upstairs, there's an equally impressive array of mustards that one can buy.  In the back, there's a counter where one can try exotic and imaginative mustard combinations.  (I have a grim, dim memory of a banana mustard.)


Image: Some of the exhibits at the National Mustard Museum.  YouTube screen grab.

Given that most people like mustard and that the museum is singularly focused on that condiment, one would think there is little the museum could do to become the center of a firestorm.  However, as we've seen time and again over the past decade or so, when you mix relatively inconsequential acts by unknown people with Twitter, things can get explosive.

In the case of the mustard museum, the inconsequential act was temporarily removing six Russian mustards from the shelves as a sign of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.  And then there was the tweet, which merely observed what had happened without further commentary:

Given that most people like mustard and that the museum is singularly focused on that condiment, one would think there is little the museum could do to become the center of a firestorm.  However, as we've seen time and again over the past decade or so, when you mix relatively inconsequential acts by unknown people with Twitter, things can get explosive.

In the case of the mustard museum, the inconsequential act was temporarily removing six Russian mustards from the shelves as a sign of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.  And then there was the tweet, which merely observed what had happened without further commentary:

as seen at the Wisconsin mustard museum pic.twitter.com/tynV4sCg5c

— David Is Employable (@ExodiacKiller) March 13, 2022

That one little tweet, with its mild homage to Ukraine, got over 165,500 likes, along with more than 11 thousand retweets.  It also created a furor among Russia's supporters.

The Daily Wire talked to the museum's founder and curator, Barry Levenson, a former Wisconsin assistant attorney general and, like so many Jews, someone with ancestral ties to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.  Levenson explained that he never meant to show animosity to the Russian people; he wished only to show support for Ukraine:

"Gosh, as a former lawyer, I understand what happened in the Japanese internment camps and how wrong it was then," Levenson said in response to people who believe there was prejudice behind the decision. The museum "never intended" to encourage Russophobia, he told The Daily Wire.

Levenson also made the distinction between the Russian people and Putin.

"This is Vladimir Putin's government," Levenson said to The Daily Wire. "I don't know anybody supporting him," he added.

Nevertheless, and despite all the "likes" on Twitter, the mob came for the mustard museum, leaving the clerks dealing with angry calls from around the world:

The curator of the museum, which boasts more than 6,000 mustards from around the world, said that he was "not really sure what should be done. Some people are angry."

"It was just a way of showing support for Ukraine, the invasion was wrong[.] ... Maybe it was an awkward way of showing support?" he pondered. 

The dream of the internet was that, by facilitating communication, we could bring the world together, making it smaller and more harmonious.  In fact, we've created a world in which people feel compelled to opine about issues and others who are incapable of dealing with opinions contrary to their own.

There's a lot to be said for the old expression "least said, soonest mended" — and that applies both to those who would virtue-signal and, even more strongly, to those who get their knickers in a twist because a small, charming store in a Wisconsin suburb took six bottles off its shelf and explained why.

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