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Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss … who cares? Policies, please

| Thursday, March 11, 2021

“Cancel culture” can be annoying. But you know what else is annoying and unproductive? “Anti-cancel culture,” or this staunch war against cancel culture which makes people think their freedoms are being taken away or that western civilization is being destroyed because behavior which could be deemed offensive or controversial was called out. It creates an unnecessary and exaggerated sense of anxiety and fear — which is often pushed by politicians and the media — and distracts us from issues which are actually affecting our lives and for which politicians should be held accountable for addressing. 

The latest example of “anti-cancel-culture” blowing up and distracting us from issues that actually matter? 

Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. 

On Feb. 25, the company Hasbro, which manufactures and distributes the classic children’s toy, Mr. Potato Head, announced it was dropping the “Mr.” and renaming the brand to simply be “Potato Head” in order to be more inclusive and “better reflect the full line.” The company also clarified that although the brand name was changing, the actual character names were not, and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will still be sold in stores. A few days later, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company which owns the rights to publish and carry on the legacy of the late children’s book writer Dr. Seuss, announced they will stop publishing six Dr. Seuss books — “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” — due to the fact that they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”  

Honestly, I’m not sure how much of an effect that changing the brand name of a potato toy will have in making people and children feel more included, but I also don’t see any harm in a private company making this decision. Similarly, I don’t know how much of an actual impact that stopping the publication and selling of a few Dr. Seuss books which have been out there for decades will have in making children grow up in a more welcoming and inclusive world but, again, this decision by this private company which made $33 million in 2020 doesn’t seem to do anyone harm. 

Despite this, the Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss controversy captured attention and debate as some declared this is “the end of freedom in America,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted a video of himself reading “Green Eggs and Ham” — which I agree is a fantastic story, but also isn’t one of the books not being published anymore — because he still likes Dr. Seuss, and major news networks are hosting panel discussions on these decisions about children’s toys and books being made by private companies.  

Why are some politicians and major news networks spending airtime talking about Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss books while COVID relief is being debated in Congress? Or while millions of people are unemployed and struggling to put food on the table? Or while President Biden recently ordered an airstrike on Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria? Or while a bill with actual policies which could tremendously impact and make a more inclusive country for LGBTQ Americans is in Congress?

Too many politicians and news outlets are letting things like meaningless cultural matters or anxiety-provoking cancel culture become actual discourse because they know these can incite a quick emotional reaction over political issues which are actually affecting people’s day-to-day lives. “Cancel culture” and the resulting “anti-cancel culture” have become mere political buzzwords — making something out of nothing and distracting us from what we should really be talking and thinking about.  

There’s even a term in journalism for this: the dead cat maneuver. Employed by and associated with the Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby, the dead cat maneuver is when a topic which is intended to provoke public interest and opinion is used to turn attention away from a more serious issue. Crosby is credited with Boris Johnson’s London mayoral wins, and Johnson described this tactic in the following manner: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table … [everyone] will be talking about the dead cat — the thing you want them to talk about — and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”   

In other words, Mr. Potato Head and a few Dr. Seuss books are like the dead cat being thrown onto the dining room table and pushing some discourse and anger away from actual problems like unemployed Americans, a lack of stimulus checks, rising cases of racial discrimination and violence, small businesses closing up, important policies like the COVID relief bill and the Equality Act, foreign policy decisions, vaccine distribution, infrastructure and relief for Texas following the recent snowstorm and much more.

To quote Dr. Seuss himself, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

We should use our brains and our freedom to information and opinion to steer our political discourse away from the Mr. Potato Heads, Dr. Seuss books and cancel culture dramas of the world and focus on issues which actually matter and impact people’s lives.

Megumi Tamura is a freshman in the Gateway Program. She is originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey and enjoys going to museums, watching political debates, and eating Jersey bagels. She can be reached at [email protected] or @megtamura on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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