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Mr. Potato Head

There are two things which connect Mr. Potato Head, and Dr. Seuss. First, that they are both in the news lately. Second, because a certain segment of the population is making a similarly based cause celebre out of them. They have become two more of their proposed examples of how the liberals, the Left, are trampling all over the things which made America what it was, and trying to substitute an imposed way of thinking, and a rigid set of rules. I will focus on the former Mr. Potato Head here, and then perhaps look at the more serious and delicate issues surrounding Dr. Seuss, another time.

Now, it is very tempting to spend several paragraphs noting all the ways that the Religious Right has over the centuries tried to impose its values; how they have banned and burned pamphlets and books; how they have developed various codes to which moviemakers must adhere, or be fined and blacklisted. The battle was always between “freethinkers” who wanted openness and lack of censorship, and doctrinaire people who wanted to control the narratives and the arts. I was almost always on the side of the freethinkers, as are most of us, and against the powers that kept trying to stifle free speech, scientific ideas, and new forms of expression in the various arts. They tried to ban Stravinsky, and “Catcher in the Rye,’ and paintings and sculptures of nudes; and liberals argued and fought for them to be shown and played.

Things change in history, though some of it is just for talking points. The so-called Left has certainly more recently tried to change or ban certain works. Where the Right would attack things for being sacrilegious, or communistic, or pornographic, some of the Left wants to stop things that they see as racist or sexist, or insufficiently diverse. The Right, always effective with slogans, calls this “Cancel Culture,” conveniently ignoring all the things that they have tried to cancel in one way or another. So here we are, in a place where there seems to be no middle, just extremes.

Back to the innocuous seeming Mr. Potato Head, we all remember that toy. It was a pretty clever marketing idea: people would supply their own potato, and the toy company, Hasbro,would sell you a box which had various plastic items, including noses, ears mustaches, hats,which the child could stick onto the potato, and he would become Mr. Potato Head. It was droll, and fun to play with for a time, though probably like most children, I would get tired of it, at least for a while. And then we would put it in the refrigerator, as the instructions told you; but then you might forget about it, and it would get stuck behind things; and one day you would look in, and see sprouts growing out of it which at least for me, was unsettling! But the toy and concept was still a cute idea.

And later, there was a Mrs. Potato Head. And when Pixar made the great quartet of “Toy Story” movies, Mr. Potato Head was voiced by Don Rickles, irascible but charming, with a Mrs. Potato Head, voiced by Estelle Harris,whom he cared about, and who cared about him, even though they would argue sometimes.

But now, Hasbro has decided to not make any more Mr. or Mrs. or Ms, Potato Heads. They will just make Potato Head, gender neutral. I assume that the box will come with a collection of both male and female features and accoutrements. I don’t know why they have done this; and what they might say about why they have, might not be exactly the reason. The most obvious thought is that they did not want to be accused of being sexist, by giving the potato the appellation “Mr.”

Now, I could at least imagine where some women might have been upset if Potato Head had been a female all those years; “Are you saying that it is cute to make a potato into a female, not a man? What kind of insult is that?!” But it was a male, and I guess that Hasbro does not want to be associated with a gender-specific toy, or rather, tuber. And that is okay, it is their company. But it does seem silly that they thought it was inappropriate to have the toy continued to be called “Mr. Potato Head.” Barbie, made by a different toy company, where my father was an art director in the Package Design Department, is a girl. And G.I. Joe is a man There is a G.I. Jane, and she is a woman. Superman is a man, well, a Kryptonian who looks a lot like a man, Wonder Woman is a woman. Vive la difference! And so it could be with potatoes!

I don’t know if Hasbro was getting pressure from consumer or interest groups, or whether it was a strictly an upper management decision. I do know that it gave the always angry Political Right, which really has as its only issue, the concept that liberals are trying to take away all the symbols of Americana, an easy talking point. Hasbro wasn’t concerned with that, and they probably should not be, they make toys.

On the other hand, what was the culture point they were trying to make? That everything, every toy, every image, every character in a movie, has to be exactly equal in number and name and size to everything else? Are we going to count up the number of villains in all the shows, and make sure that they are all exactly equal in gender and race? Are we going to count the toys the same way? It would seem to me, though I may be naive in this, that a girl, whether in the 1950’s, or the 2020’s, could have just as much fun putting different features on a Mr. Potato Head, as she would have with a Mrs. Potato Head, or a Potato Head. Children like to play, often with siblings or friends, and they like to imagine. A Potato Head couple would seem ideal to play with.

Does everything have to become part of a culture war? It’s not something that either side is going to win to its satisfaction. And in fifty years, people will probably look back at this era as seeing things all wrong, just like virtually every generation has done in more modern times, as the historical cycles began to move faster and faster. Well, I read this morning that Hasbro may be planning to start a new line of various versions of Potato Head. I don’t know if this is good or bad news. Crime Fighting Potato Head? Green Arrow vs. Renegade Potato Head? Potatovision? Not this again! 🙂

One Response

  1. I suspect this was a marketing decision by Hasbro. Potato Heads probably weren’t selling very well so this move has put the toy into the news. It’s free publicity. I doubt there was a leftist cabal behind it.

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