For decades, Otter Pops popsicles have served as adorable plastic sheathes for freezable sugar water with no particular discernible political bent. As the saying goes: “Keep your politics out of my freezer.” Well, times they are a-changin’, and the great Otter Pop Awokening of 2018 is upon us.
Today, I received an emailed press release announcing that, “The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and The Jel Sert Company gender balanced Otter Pops, creating new empowered female mascots to inspire both girls and boys.” Could it be that the calls for diversity in popsicles were finally being heard? Indeed: Otter Pops has unveiled “three new diverse and empowered female otters and one male otter” to its slate for the sake of “promoting gender equality.” Whoa.
My mind was immediately awash in questions, the foremost being: Is this a craven attempt by a brand to piggyback on a much needed and effective social movement like #MeToo? Hold your horses, says Otter Pops! This issue is explicitly addressed in the FAQ sheet in this campaign’s extensive Dropbox of PR materials:
Did this change in the characters have anything to do with the multitude of women’s movements like the #MeToo initiative?
No. We were inspired by the work of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and focused on how our characters could positively impact kids.
For my other questions I had to reach out to the Otter Pops PR rep. I was not disappointed with the answers I received (it turns out one of the popsicles is trilingual!):
Jezebel: I’m wondering if there’s information on exactly what makes these female otter mascots empowered.
Otter Pops Rep: You can see the backstories of all the Otters [here]. Each new Otter has unique traits that you don’t see in many female mascots. For example, Cosmic Coconut is an astronaut that represents the myriad jobs that will be available to youngsters who grow up alongside the burgeoning field of space commerce. She’s an aspirational character, a fan of sci-fi stories who knows that science fiction often becomes science fact and with that comes cool new technologies used in exploration.
Jezebel: How are [these new characters] diverse beyond Otter Pops’ usual vast diversity, which has traditionally provided an array of different-colored characters in every box?
Otter Pops: Because Otters are a truly international species, we wanted to thoughtfully and playfully [reflect] that fact in the personalities of our four new characters.
- DJ Tropicool is a bilingual California Sea Otter; fluent in both English and Spanish, who plays frequently in Baja.
- Cosmic Coconut is a river otter from Florida where her dream of exploring the cosmos was fueled by watching the space program there.
- Anita Fruit Punch hails from the mangrove forests of Southeast Asia and speaks three languages: English, Chinese and Khmer.
- Major Mango is an urban otter from the Chicago River (for the first time in eighty years, otters have returned to the Chicago River and we wanted to celebrate that fact by raising awareness around successful conservation efforts).
Jezebel: Are any of these otters part of the LGBTQ community?
Otter Pops: We don’t currently have sexual orientations for the otters but it’s something that we’re discussing right now and considering including in the storylines we’re developing for them.
Jezebel: Can you explain the decision to put a flower in the astronaut otter’s ear?
Otter Pops: That was actually Geena’s idea for her to have a flower and Obie Scott Wade, the children’s animation creator who developed the characters created a storyline for Cosmic that she is an astronaut who wants to explore the cosmos in search of water (because water is very important to otters) and she brings her flower with her so she can grow flowers wherever she is in the universe.
And finally, Otter Pops notes: “Lastly, I wanted to add that Otter Pops always wants to give people the opportunity to project their own thoughts and beliefs on the characters. We want to continue giving the characters that freedom and everyone has a different interpretation and a specific character they identify with, which is wonderful. We like to thinking of it as the characters opening ‘a freezer full of possibilities’ that inspires everyone.” Thank you, Otter Pops!!!