The Hasbro company announced Thursday that it will, going forward, market the product formerly known as Mr. Potato Head under the name Potato Head. The toy will still be sold with accessories children can use to make their plastic potatoes into men (or women, or anything they like, as has always been the case, if you think about it), but the top-line brand name will no longer treat masculinity as a default condition. The company also notes that it is not actually even eliminating the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head themselves from its packaging.
The right-wing cultural apparatus is, nonetheless, engaged. YouTube personality Mark Dice (who has 1.65 million subscribers on the service) responded directly to an Associated Press tweet about the change to propose the secession of Republican areas from the United States, adding that “Mr. Potato Head has been canceled”—he apparently didn’t read the AP’s actual article, which made clear that this is not true—and that “Democrats believe there are dozens of genders.” (I must have missed that night of the DNC.) Blogger/radio host/cable guest Erick Erickson called the move an example of “Woke-o Haram” striking again and asked if Toy Story would be reedited to get rid of Mrs. Potato Head, indicating that he must also not have read the news coverage. Ben Shapiro, who has 3 million Twitter followers and an enormous (if possibly fraud-inflated) Facebook following, asked what would happen if Potato Head “identified as a squash”—sarcasm!—and said Barbie “must be renamed something more gender-neutral,” which, amazingly, indicates that he too did not read the AP or Bloomberg articles about the announcement, because both articles noted that the commercial success of more diverse and realistic Barbie products may have inspired Hasbro’s move. Matt Walsh, who has nearly 500,000 Twitter followers and writes for Shapiro’s Daily Wire site, mocked the idea that young girls would be happy to use toys that don’t emphasize gender roles. Fox News posted the news under the headline “PC Police Strike Again.”
Additionally, right-wing writer about town Stephen L. Miller, who has 200,000 Twitter followers, asserted that “the great thing about being a tans potato head is if it changes it’s mind it can just reach in its own ass and put the penis back on.” Not sure about that one.
We include this breadth of commentary not only out of grim incredulity but to convey that Slate is not mischaracterizing the wider conservative reaction by elevating one or two fringe voices. A rolling panic about gender and sexuality is one of the few things animating a Republican Party whose entire 2020 platform was “Whatever the president wants,” especially now that said president has lost. While the right-wing media was warning its audience about toy-gender concerns, two of the most high-profile Republicans on Capitol Hill were also engaged in more substantive gender-issue warfare. Wednesday night Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene posted a hallway sign asserting the existence of two, and only two, genders across from the office of a colleague whose daughter is transgender, extending a dispute that began when Greene tried to block a vote on a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. On Thursday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul used inflammatory language about “genital mutilation” to question a transgender nominee for a Department of Health and Human Services position. While anti-LGBTQ backlash has long been a force in Republican politics, the day’s events are the nth recent example of such outrage spam and sheer tribal hostility having mostly superseded economic and foreign policy concerns in the party’s hierarchy of priorities. An American conservative is, increasingly, someone who stands athwart history yelling something at an imaginary liberal about a potato toy’s hypothetical penis and ass.