Poor Mr Potato Head. Born in 1952 and now nearing the ripe old age of 70, the much-loved children’s character is surely a little confused by our more gender-sensitive modern world.
Mind you, there was a fair bit of confusion doing the rounds last week following the announcement on Thursday by toy brand Hasbro that it is dropping the ‘Mr’ in an effort to ensure “all feel welcome in the Potato Head world”.
In our hysteria-prone social media environment – which must also leave the patriarch of the Potato Head clan somewhat bemused at times – there was an immediate frenzy of comment and concern.
Being sidelined after almost seven decades?
Had Mr Potato Head been emasculated? Was he being sidelined after almost seven decades of delighting kids as a cartoon character and star of animated movies? Had he been consigned to the scrap heap and now destined to become the side order of fries in a Big Mac meal?
This wasn’t unthinkable, given the many gender-neutral and more socially inclusive strategies followed in in recent years by children’s characters.
Barbie, for example, has long eschewed the tall, blonde and Euro-centric look to embrace more ethnicities and body shapes, while moving Ken more to the fore. In 2019, parent company Mattel also released a line of gender-neutral dolls.
The male-dominated Thomas the Tank Engine series has included more female characters in its storylines in an effort to improve its gender balance.
Company clarifies its earlier announcement
But it turns out that reports of Mr Potato Head’s demise were greatly exaggerated (to misquote famed author Mark Twain) and the Twitterati had partially got their Tweets in a twist.
Later on Thursday, Hasbro moved to clarify its earlier announcement by saying that Mr Potato Head – and his lovely wife Mrs Potato Head and the rest of the family – will continue to exist. What is changing, though, is that the brand name, logo and product packaging will no longer carry the ‘Mr’ and the range will simply be known as ‘Potato Head’.
“Your main spud, Mr Potato Head, isn’t going anywhere!” the company said in a reassuring Tweet.
Encourage toy brands not to assign genders
“While it was announced today that the Potato Head brand name & logo are dropping the Mr, I yam (sic) proud to confirm that Mr & Mrs Potato Head aren’t going anywhere and will remain Mr & Mrs Potato Head.”
So, is it all just a storm in a packet of French fries that has achieved nothing more than to leave sexagenarian Mr Potato Head and his fans dazed and confused?
Perhaps not. Ali Mierzejewski, the Editor-in-Chief of website Toy Insider told the Associated Press news agency that dropping the ‘Mr’ from its brand name could encourage other companies to stop assigning genders to their toys and accelerate the trend that has already been happening for some time.