#Art + Culture

The ‘Genderless’ Tale Of Mr Potato Head And A Half-Baked Controversy

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The Mr Potato Head gender controversy is among the most bizarre mix-ups the world has witnessed in recent times. Emerging from a year as dystopian as 2020, one thought: is it at all possible for things to get more surreal than this? And since the universe takes all such rhetorical questions as challenges, it threw at us… a controversial potato. A half-baked one.

When US toy giant Hasbro announced late last month that its frontline product Mr Potato Head – a toy with stick-on parts – was being renamed to go gender-neutral, it sparked a furore. Amid massive backlash, and simultaneous massive applause for Hasbro for gender inclusivity, the company dropped another bombshell saying the Mr in the toy’s title would be retained, with an altogether fresh line of gender-neutral toys hitting the market.

This resolution pacified some but angered others further.

So what really happened in the Potato Head gender controversy? Did Hasbro change the name back after backlash? Or did it always intend to introduce a new game set that was gender-less? Did the company, in the end, uphold the ideals of inclusivity?

Here’s All You Need To Know About The Potato Head Gender Controversy:

1. Generations of Americans have grown up with the Mr Potato Head toy line, created first in 1949 by artist George Lerner and acquired by Hasbro Inc in 1952. From featuring in Toy Story films to collaborations with fan favourite superheroes, Mr Potato Head has taken on a life of its own. Pushing the envelope on the spud’s human likeness, beyond face features, Mr Potato Head also has a sweet little hetero-normative family of his own, comprising Mrs Potato Head, Brother Spud and Sister Yam.

2. Come February 25, 2021, Hasbro served a thunderbolt, announcing that Mr Potato Head was going genderless and would be “renaming” its iconic spud brand for gender inclusivity. Reports said the former mister would now be known as only ‘Potato Head.’

3. Now, despite the presence of his colourful variety of relatives, the original patriarch Mr Potato Head is inarguably still the most popular from the line. So for him to undergo an identity change shook fans, young and old. The Potato Head gender controversy invited instant criticism, as social media began bulging with attacks directed at Hasbro. At the same time, there was immense appreciation by many for Hasbro for – finally – showing non-binary representation.

Potato Head gender controversy: A genuine mix-up or a messy cover-up?

4. Only hours after the Mr Potato Head gender controversy sent online trends shooting off the charts, Hasbro came forward to state that the iconic moustached spud would not be going anywhere. Only, a new game set called ‘Create Your Potato Head Family,’ which would have genderless potato families, was being introduced in the fall later this year.

5. A statement on the website read (and for some reason, still reads): “Hasbro is officially renaming the MR. POTATO HEAD brand to POTATO HEAD to better reflect the full line.” But in the aftermath of the Potato Head gender controversy, Hasbro added, “But rest assured, the iconic MR. and MRS. POTATO HEAD characters aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. and MRS. POTATO HEAD.”

6. As some heaved a sigh of relief at their beloved potato’s gender remaining predominantly male, to others, Hasbro’s reassurance seemed nothing better than half-baked patchwork in a bid to backtrack on its gender-neutral promise. Regardless of whether the company from the start intended to introduce a new genderless game set or that this modification was a cover-up in response to the backlash of Mr Potato Head going genderless, Hasbro has now found itself in the eye of the storm.

But in the sphere of popular cartoons drawing flak of late, the Potato Head gender controversy isn’t in isolation. Earlier this month, two more animated universes came under fire from critics: Pepe Le Pew and Dr Seuss characters.

Pepe Le Pew, a controversial skunk cartoon from the Looney Tunes franchise, has reportedly been scrapped from Warner Bros’ Space Jam film. It comes following a piece in The New York Times which said this skunk “added to rape culture” and “helped teach boys that ‘no’ didn’t really mean no.”

As for Dr Seuss (or Theodor Geisel), the legendary children’s author whose works have always been mired in controversy, six of his books have been pulled from publication on charges of racism. The announcement made on March 2 has drawn a spate of mixed reactions, with a large number saying it was about time some Dr Seuss books were cancelled and another section crying foul at ‘cancel culture.’