UPDATE, 5:00 p.m.: After the uproar over the rebranding, Hasbro clarified that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls will still be available under the gender-neutral Potato Head brand. They have also introduced a box set that includes multiple potatoes and accessories so kids can build a family of potatoes of any genders they want.
Every once in a very great while, a brand does something that is not driven by the singlehanded and all-consuming pursuit of profit. On very rare occasions, they do something that could be perceived, by most reasonable people, as generally OK, or even good. Today, Hasbro did just that when the toy company announced it would be rebranding the iconic Mr. Potato Head toy (you know, the starchy vegetable that bears an uncanny resemblance to the former Oakland As pitcher Rollie Fingers) and his female counterpart as gender-neutral “Potato Heads.” The reasoning behind this change, a spokesperson for the brand said in an interview with Fast Company, was to reflect the changing social milieu and redefine what it means to be a potato family. “Culture has evolved,” Hasbro SVP Kimberly Boyd said. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists — with the Mr. and Mrs. — is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”
This is, objectively, both a very sweet and very marketing-savvy decision: according to 2019 census data, there are currently more than 220,000 children in the US with same-sex parents, and it makes sense that Hasbro would want to create a product that caters more directly to their experience of what it means to be a family (it’s also worth noting that it will likely drive up demand among toy collectors for the old, male-branded yet penis-less version). Further, the shift does not constitute a significant revamp of the toy itself, because unlike toys like GI Joe or Barbie, Potato Head is not exactly known for embodying strict gender roles, and children could already build whatever gender or combination of genders they wanted. Put another way, Potato Head’s masculinity is not integral to the experience of playing with Potato Head, because it is quite literally simply a potato with funny googly eyes. Unless you view Don Rickles’ performance as the character in Toy Story as a John Wayne-esque display of unfettered testosterone, there is virtually nothing about the toy that is gendered to begin with.
Tell that, however, to conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, who upon hearing the news of Potato Head’s revamp, brutally mocked it, viewing the announcement as yet another example of PC culture run amok. “Bigotry ANNIHILATED,” Shapiro tweeted in a multi-part thread, followed by, “Mrs. Potato Head has also been killed off. She will be replaced by an asexual can of Pringles.” “Woke-o Haram strikes again,” tweeted Erick Erickson. “How soon will Toy Story have to be re-edited to get rid of Mrs. Potato Head?” Right-wing author and vlogger Mark Dice was apparently so upset that he tweeted, in response to an Associated Press story about the rebranding, “It’s time for Republican states to secede.”
Dramatic calls for possible secession aside, the reaction among the right is fairly unsurprising. These are the same people, after all, who basically imploded after Land O’ Lakes replaced its Native American woman logo last year, and similarly lost their minds earlier this month when the Aunt Jemima logo was rebranded to the Pearl Milling Company. Such meltdowns prompt valid questions about why grown adults would harbor such deeply ingrained and emotionally intense attachments to multimillion dollar corporate brands. But when it comes to the Potato Head revamp, what’s going on here is exactly what happened after Harry Styles appeared on the cover of Vogue in a dress: white conservative males, in clinging to the remnants of the power that comes from being white and male, are so deeply invested in the preservation of outdated gender norms that they are willing to fight to the death over maintaining them. And if that deprives a three-year-old with two mommies of the option of making a same-sex plastic potato family that looks a little more like her own, then so be it.
Anyway, congratulations to the children of well-intentioned progressive parents who will inevitably be gifted a gender-neutral Potato Head doll this Christmas, and congrats as well to Hasbro for successfully trolling the right. Next up for liberal parents: actually getting Paw Patrol canceled, but not because of the cop dog, mostly just because it sucks.