Conservative media outlets have been ablaze with outrage over the cancelation of Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. So ablaze, in fact, that Rep. Jim Jordan called for the House Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing on “cancel culture.”
“The wave of cancel culture spreading the nation is a serious threat to fundamental free speech rights in the United States,” Jordan wrote in a letter to Chairman Jerry Nadler, adding, “Cancel culture’s long-term consequences to our democracy and our constitutional framework are serious and substantial.”
So what did and did not happen with respect to Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss?
CLAIM: Mr. Potato Head is being canceled.
Conservative media outlets seem to believe that Mr. Potato Head is only dropping the “Mr.” in a P.C. attempt to become “gender-neutral.”
What they fail to appreciate, however, is that little has actually changed. Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head will continue to be sold, as usual. The only material difference is that the company has decided to change its name to “Potato Head” so that the umbrella brand better reflects the full scope of the company’s offerings.
“While we’re renaming the Mr. Potato Head brand to Potato Head to better reflect the full line, the iconic Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters aren’t going anywhere and will remain Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head,” the brand wrote in a statement.
It is relatively commonplace for brands to alter their names in the wake of line extensions or expansions. The only surprise here is that it didn’t happen sooner. The brand coined its name when Mr. Potato Head went into production in 1952. Mrs. Potato Head would soon follow, but not for another year, and not until after the brand name had already been established. For years, the company would continue to sell products under the Mr. Potato Head name, even when those products weren’t, well, misters. So they decided to do a refresh of the umbrella brand.
This is not unusual, nor is it prima facie evidence of P.C. culture run amok. When Dunkin’ Donuts changed its name to Dunkin’, for example, it wasn’t because they were waging a war on fried dough; it was simply because their product offerings and focus had evolved over the years, and they wanted a name that better reflected that growth.
So rest easy, friends. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are here to stay, and you can check out their new branding below.
OUR RULING: We rate this claim False.
CLAIM: Dr. Seuss is being canceled.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday that it will cease publication of six Dr. Seuss books.
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the business said in a statement. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
The books being pulled include “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,” and are said to depict racist and insensitive imagery.
In “If I Ran the Zoo,” for example, Seuss, when portraying Asian people, writes that they “all wear their eyes at a slant,” and later expresses a desire to capture a “chieftain” — pictured as a man in a turban — and display him at his zoo. In the book, Asian characters are depicted carrying a caged animal on their heads, and African characters are portrayed as monkeys. And lest you think the latter a coincidence, a study of Dr. Seuss’ body of work found that Seuss “published over a dozen cartoons depicting Black people as monkeys and repeatedly captioned them as “n*ggers.”
Thus, it would be near impossible to argue that these depictions do not contribute to racial and ethnic stereotypes.
And yet, the reaction to the announcement was seismic, with conservative radio host Glenn Beck warning of fascism and Ben Shapiro likening the decision to burning books.
Aside from being amusingly apocalyptic, these calls for alarm ignore critical context.
First, these decisions were not made as a knee-jerk reaction to a “woke mob,” they were made a year ago after months of internal discussion during a review of the company’s catalog.
Secondly, the decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a company founded by Seuss’ own family to preserve and protect the author’s legacy. It was not made by publishing houses or booksellers who bowed to public pressure. To be clear, there is little evidence to suggest that significant public pressure even existed at the time of the decision. And the idea that Seuss’ own family would somehow be involved in some nefarious ploy to effect his cancelation — when they stand to benefit from his legacy and resulting sales — is hard to fathom.
The elevation of this issue to one of national importance is a bad-faith attempt at perpetuating a culture war. Because the books at issue are of marginal consequence.
Seuss’ popular titles sell hundreds of thousands of copies per year. Last year alone, “Green Eggs and Ham” sold 338,000 copies; “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” sold 311,000; and “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” sold over half a million.
“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”? 5,000 copies. And “McElligot’s Pool” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” haven’t sold through major retailers in years.
Thus, while it is true that six of his books face extinction, Dr. Seuss does not. His body of work continues to be revered by many, and the bulk of his contributions continue to be sold worldwide. The company founded by his family with the intent to preserve his legacy made a decision to pull six books, some of which may well have been pulled even in the absence of controversy due to a lack of sales.
And these books are not being burned or even stripped from shelves. The family is simply choosing not to publish new versions. Once existing stock is depleted, they will go out of print, as many books have before.
For these reasons, we rate this claim Mostly False.