Great Britain

Potato Head doesn’t belong in the ‘culture wars’ – just stop all the right-wing wailing

"It's just a potato" will be the response of many – whichever way you feel – about the news that Hasbro is dropping the “Mr” and “Mrs” from the branding of the potato head toys.

For people like Piers Morgan and Ben Shapiro, it is a step too far. Morgan oddly roped the move in with the Covid-19 crisis, as if that has anything to do with it, saying: "Imagine doing this in the middle of a global pandemic because you’re terrified of offending a few wokies… So spineless and depressing." As for Shapiro, his acid take was: "Barbie must be renamed something more gender-neutral. This is imperative". There have been plenty of others suggesting – completely appropriately – that this is the merely the latest step towards destroying all that is good and decent.

Beyond the needless vitriol, they are right in one sense. Mr and Mrs Potato Head are just potatoes – why the need to remove the honorific on something that has been that way for decades? Well, the reverse is true also. What are you losing by taking the honorifics out of the branding? Nothing. Hasbro has been at pains to point out that the characters will retain the names – but the branding on the toy will not. So, in actual fact, they are arguing over two or three letters on a box.

Hasbro, not unlike many companies before it, has gone for the Schrödinger approach – a move that is both significant and insignificant (with the change only really happening when you open the box). For those households who want to keep the honorifics, there is nothing stopping you once the two are out of the box – Hasbro has said the individual names are not changing.

But for those who would prefer not to use them, this change offers a choice. In the grand scheme of things it isn't a big one – but it will matter to some. It is the type of change that will be insignificant until it isn't – until you have that one person it is very significant to. Less so for the actual dropping of the honorifics, but more for the general move towards less clearly defined boundaries.

Some may not like it, but in reality it affects the vast majority of people very little – and isn't that worth it for the few that it does affect? After a couple of days of wailing from right-wing Twitter and statements like this one from GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group – “Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys" – the hype will die down and the toy (perhaps with another convulsion of Twitter vitriol) will launch later in the year.

So no, Potato Head shouldn't be part of the "culture wars" - as it is all about choice. You have a choice to buy the toy or not. You have a choice to use the honorifics or not. While I think that Hasbro is trying to have its cake and eat it, and anyone is well within their rights to dismiss the move as faintly ridiculous (without the Morgan-level vitriol) – this decision means there is more choice out in the world. Isn't that a good thing?

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