Courtney: The crucial debate of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head

Honestly, who cares?

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Zach Courtney

I’ve now been employed by the Minnesota Daily for about two months, writing weekly columns usually centered around what I view as the most important issues facing American politics.

For anyone who has watched the cable news networks (I’m looking at you, Tucker), read the newspaper or scrolled through Twitter, you might think the biggest story facing our country today is Dr. Seuss removing six books or Mr. Potato Head becoming a gender-neutral Potato Head. Being as political as I am, I’ve had plenty of people close to me reach out, asking for my take on what some view as an important topic in our current political discourse. My response has always been the same: Who cares?

I wouldn’t make the big bucks at the Daily if my column consisted of just those two words, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this crucial topic. (Note: When writing that, I paused to throw up).

First, the Dr. Seuss controversy. Dr. Seuss Enterprises discontinued six books from production, those being “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.”

Maybe some of you have read these books, but speaking for myself, I have not. After reviewing some of the racist imagery, it makes perfect sense to me to remove these books. Actually, everyone I’ve talked to about this (more people than I’d care to admit) acknowledged that these six specific books have racist images.

That isn’t where the controversy lies. Instead, the controversy comes back to “cancel culture.”

A popular common concern is that people are looking back in time and trying to erase the bad things in our history. This point is moot when considering the removal of these six Dr. Seuss books. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees Dr. Seuss’ estate, discontinued production of the books despite seemingly zero pressure from the public. Who are we to deny a private entity from making a decision that they see as being in their best interest?

Then comes the equally ridiculous controversy behind Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Hasbro, the company behind the brand Mr. Potato Head, announced on Feb. 25 that they are changing the brand name to a more generic Potato Head. Per the same statement from Hasbro, “Rest assured, the iconic MR. and MRS. POTATO HEAD characters aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. and MRS. POTATO HEAD.”

The Mr. Potato Head situation was even discussed at the Conservative Political Action Conference by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and others, centering in on the left’s supposed desire to “cancel” Mr. Potato Head. Left out of Gaetz’s (and others’) speech, however, was that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, Hasbro made the switch — like Dr. Suess Enterprises — under seemingly zero outside pressure. Second, Hasbro hasn’t even canceled Mr. Potato Head. He will still exist, as will Mrs. Potato Head. Hasbro is simply changing the name of the company to a generic “Potato Head,” recognizing that many families now consist of two moms, two dads, a transgender parent or other combinations as society’s recognition of LGBTQ individuals increases.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said of cancel culture that it “is the number one issue for the country to address today.” Although Jordan, a politician who makes $174,000 per year, sees cancel culture as the most pressing issue for the U.S. to tackle, I think the millions of Americans without work, the millions more who work but are in poverty and the tens of millions without health insurance would beg to differ.

My point is that while politicians — in this case on the right — are focused on riling up their base with unimportant yet controversial issues, they are failing to actually help the American people. Instead of focusing their attention on the increasing wealth gap, health care crisis, pandemic, recovering from a recession and more, Republicans are focused on the decisions of children’s book and toy companies.

In a fiery speech on the House floor, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), speaking to Republicans, sums up my viewpoint pretty well: “Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us on behalf of the American workers.”

If the Republican Party truly was the pro-worker party they sometimes claim to be, they’d be working alongside the Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage, pass a massive COVID relief bill, produce pro-union legislation and more. Instead, they overwhelmingly vote these popular bills down and rile up their base with this culture war nonsense.

So, until we recover from this recession and pandemic, raise the minimum wage and get everyone the health care coverage they deserve, don’t ask me what I think about Dr. Seuss or Mr. Potato Head. I simply don’t care.