By Nick Opsanic, staff writer
For the past 100 years, life as a child growing up was made up of mostly “fun,” with great toys, games, and books. Lionel Trains, Crayola Crayons, Lincoln Logs, Dr. Seuss books, and Mr. Potato Head allowed kids hours of pleasure. Using these simple, but captivating tools, children could explore the changing world around them while expanding their imagination and provoking their creativity.
Today, everything from syrup and childhood books to children’s TV shows are being changed or cancelled. A June 2020 New York Times article explained how the popular children’s TV show entitled “Paw Patrol” was in danger of being cancelled due to the Black Lives Matter movement. Calls to eliminate one particular dog in the show, a German shepherd police dog named Chase, mounted after the show’s Twitter account called for “Black voices to be heard.” The article cited Twitter comments stating, “Euthanize the police dog,” and “Defund the paw patrol.” Supposedly, now all police are bad, and there are no good cops.
As a relatively harmless program, Paw Patrol teaches kids how the police and rescue services should act and sets a good example for kids. Luckily, however, the kids show will not be cancelled.
On March 2, we celebrated Read Across America Day, but it was not without its controversy. Six entertaining Dr. Seuss books that were originally published nearly 100 years ago will no longer be published because they allegedly “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” according to a statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises.
Last month, Hasbro Inc. sparked headlines and confusion when it announced that it would lose the “Mr.” in its Potato Head brand name and logo, a move the toymaker said was intended to make the toys more inclusive, and one that new polling indicates largely upset consumers. Ultimately, the company later announced that Mr. Potato Head will still be sold, but a new inclusive Potato Head family set will be added to the lineup to have a more gender inclusive identity.
Since 1889, Aunt Jemima has been a breakfast brand that everyone loves, yet it will now be renamed “to make progress toward racial equality,” Quaker Oats announced this past June. Other products such as Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth’s will be rebranded because of protests against systemic racism that erupted across the United States this past summer.
A market study recently completed and published on guardian.com revealed that while it may seem like a trivial issue, toys help children learn new skills and develop intellectually. Dolls and pretend kitchens are good at teaching cognitive sequencing of events and early language skills. Building blocks like Lego and puzzles teach spatial skills, which help set the groundwork for learning math principles down the line. The article concluded that both genders lose out if we put kids on one track and they cannot explore.
Dolls also teach kids empathy and how to take care of another person, says Christia Spears Brown, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and author of “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes.”
Over the years, Dr. Seuss inspired so many children, and now people want to get rid of his books because the author has now been judged as “racist.” In an article in the Denver Post, children’s literature expert Jen Robinson said, “I think that the key to Dr. Seuss’ enduring appeal lies in the spirit of playfulness that permeates his work.” She added: “He encourages children and adults to look at the world in different ways, whether this means upside-down, from the top of a tree or from inside a tiny speck.”
Mr. Potato Head has been who he is for decades, so why change him now? Clearly, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner agrees because in early March 2021 after the gender controversy erupted, he stated in a CNN interview: “Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are not going anywhere. They’re still a prominent part of the brand. Parents and kids want to expand on the brand. As part of the potato head family you can now have extended potato head family members like brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles.”
You may be wondering, why is all of this important? By changing or eliminating these products, we risk limiting the imaginations of children to be able to view the world with an abstract eye and develop unique creativities. By canceling harmless children’s TV shows and rebranding products that have been a staple in our country for many decades simply because a small group of outspoken people find these things offensive in some way, we limit the rights of the majority and give in to the opinions of a select few. If we allow all of these changes, and so many more that are in the works, where will it end? Is life, as we know it being cancelled?
(Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School