A selection of objects from the 28-piece kit, Mr. Potato Head Silly Suitcase, forms an open, combinatory system, in which various parts fasten together to form different versions of an abstract character–Mr. Potato Head.
The individual objects in the kit have been manufactured from a synthetic plastic and the majority of these them are uniform in color. The kit, as described on the product’s carrying case, includes the following: 1 potato body, 1 fire extinguisher (missing), 1 firefighter’s badge, 4 ears, 3 pairs of eyes, 1 set of teeth, 2 mouths, 1 tongue, 3 noses, 2 mustaches, 1 pair of glasses, 1 pair of goggles, 4 arms, 1 firefighter’s hat, 1 construction hat, 1 pair of feet, and 1 pair of boots. The case, which contains these items, prompts us to, “create a MR. POTATO HEAD firefighter, construction worker and lots more!” These particular occupations–a firefighter or construction worker–are overtly represented in the kit but the majority of the items refer to anatomical or facial features.
The aesthetic of these objects is cartoonish, which comically enhances the frivolous act of decorating a potato with recognizable bodily/facial features and accessories. For example, one of the mustaches is green and longer than any of the arm attachments. Two of the four arms are mustard yellow and jagged like accordion, while the other two are purple with exaggerated “muscle” lumps. The firefighter badge is humorous, as it bears the letters SPUD–alluding to a fictional division of tuber firefighters. While the aesthetic of these parts is not particularly detailed, it is specific enough to support a relational logic between them, as features to use for creating a Mr. Potato Head.
The bulbous, potato body is a central component to the underlying structural system. It stands out as both the largest item in the kit and the only item made from a rougher plastic variety. It is riddled with perforations whereas the other items in the kit include a stem or an alternative fastening device such as a hook or a clip. In the context of each other, an intuitive relationship arises between the stems and the perforations. While the kits neglects to instruct any formal method or procedure for creating a Mr. Potato Head, we can infer that the potato body serves as a platform for experimenting with combinations of objects. Our inference might be based on the complimentary design of the perforations and stems; on the example image displayed on the carrying case; or on any prior knowledge of the toy.
Symbolic reference of the attachments as facial/bodily/occupational features is conditioned by the information provided on the carrying case. A model of Mr. Potato Head appears in an image on the front of the case. This model does not dictate a method for creating a Mr. Potato Head but rather it suggests one possible way of combining the provided attachments to do so. On the case we see Mr. Potato Head modeling a bushy brown mustache. Without this example, we might initially interpret the attachment to be a toupee. The inventory tells us that there are four ears included in the kit. However, the two pink ears, when turned sideways could easily be duplicate pink tongues. Imagination is limitless and these attachments can become whatever we imagine them to be, but our initial interaction with the kit has been affected by its presentation.
It is also important to note that the usage of all objects included in the kit is not required or even possible to form a Mr. Potato Head. In addition, interaction with these items does not rely on any particular order or placement of the components onto the potato body. Selection and placement, which are foundational procedures in this open system, adhere to personal methods of interaction with the system. As we introduce new methods, we also impose new relationships between the attachment-objects.
Some examples of personal methods include the following: Replicate the image on the front of the carrying case; create a version of Mr. Potato head that bears a resemblance to someone familiar; create a anatomically “accurate” version of Mr. Potato head by placing the eyes where eyes would go and the nose where a nose would go a human; create the most absurd version of Mr. Potato head, disregarding any consideration for human anatomy; create as many different versions of the Mr. Potato head character as possible; create a version of Mr. Potato head to use in a narrative.
These methods introduce objectives into the system. Consequently, the values of individual objects change; specific objects that contribute to a new objective become more valuable. The badge or construction hat, for example, might become more valuable when the objective is to construct a specific character. The notion of right and wrong items to include also arises in the context of accomplishing an objective. The goal of creating a version of Mr. Potato head to use in a narrative is particularly interesting because it enables us to assess a greater, imaginative system of engagement that relates to sociocultural conventions or conventions that build a new fantasy.
As a character with feet, Mr. Potato Head is either barefoot or he is wearing sturdy work boots. Sociocultural conventions, relating to the usage of work boots or the presence of bare feet, imply that a character with either foot-option would support a very different character than the other option. There is a tendency for kids to enact their curiosities about parents and adult life through a kind of pretend play. In fact, the marketing of the entire Silly Suitcase kit relies on this curiosity.
Character-creation is, however, not inextricably tied to the practical usage of Mr. Potato Head’s objects in the real world. The usage of an object attachment could be a symptom for some power possessed by Mr. Potato Head. For example, giving him two sets of eyes might represent the power of awesome eyesight. Or the placement of an arm where one would expect to find a nose might give Mr. Potato Head the power to give nose-wiggling high-fives.
Any version of the Mr. Potato Head character is grounded in the process of object selection and placement. This foundational system of interaction with the kit remains open to personal methods of engagement, which enable creativity and imagination in the world of Mr. Potato Head.