Potato Head Goes To War
March 25, 2003
By Mike McArdle
Remember the Mr. Potato Head toy? It allowed kids to create
a face by pushing plastic mouths, ears, noses and hair into
a potato or the piece of Styrofoam that came in the box.
Well, it appears that the BBC inadvertently or maybe intentionally,
managed to catch our own Mr. Potato Head being created for
his most important public appearance. In the minutes before
Mr. PH was going to tell the world that he was launching unilateral,
unprovoked war, the proper face for the occasion had to be
A team of handlers worked feverishly on the creation. The
little individual with the mind of a potato and the heart
of Styrofoam was having his hair trimmed and his face made
up while the words that had been written for him were read
for a last rehearsal. He squirmed in his chair and his eyes
darted back and forth wildly.
But then the creation was complete. The potato-makers backed
away and there it was. Instant statesman.
Just before the speech he pumped his fist in the air and
said “Feels Good.” I guess if there was more time he would
have done a James Brown split and sung the whole song. You
got the impression that this war thing was the most fun he’d
had since he snuffed Carla Faye Tucker back in Texas. Maybe
the next time they start a war the cabinet will gather and
do the wave.
But of course the handlers had chosen a different demeanor
in view of the gravity of the occasion. Our boy is Mr. Potato
Head 7.0, the state of the art model where you can even select
a mood, not just facial features. You could almost see the
creators huddling that afternoon and deciding on a Robert
Stack-type monotone and leaving out the Clint Eastwood/John
Wayne stuff. So once the cameras kicked in he became a more
The talk itself was anti-climactic; of course, everyone already
knew what he going to say. The phrases were the same ones
he’d been using for months (new ones would have probably just
thrown him off and caused him confusion). PH rolled through
it in about four minutes staring blankly at the camera.
Then it was done and Mr. Potato Head went back into his box
or rather it was reported that he got to bed on time. He apparently
didn’t want to check on how the bombs were falling or how
many were dying. He has no real role in the ugly business
after all. The decision was made years ago by think-tankers.
The war will be administered by Generals no matter what doubts
they may have had about its wisdom. His sole job is to be
remade for public appearances and mouth carefully chosen words
for carefully chosen audiences.
The only problem that the White House could find with the
orchestrated performance was that the BBC had caught the potato
primping on tape. They then mischievously broadcast it not
only in Britain but in all of 200 countries. The Bushies grumbled
about the “unauthorized use of the footage” and vowed that
from now on they and they alone would control the feed to
the waiting cameras.
You see, only the illusion matters. We now live in a convoluted
world in which the unopposed brutal bombing of a city full
of living human beings is repackaged with a video game name
– “Shock and Awe.” Doesn’t that sound like something you can
put on your Play Station? One wonders what kind of catchy
name this crowd would have given to the bombing of Dresden
In the world of the Bush image-creators, plagiarized documents
can be used without shame to justify military action. Allies
are just a showpiece, useful to trot out when they’re on your
side and targets for convenient symbolic demonization (“Freedom
Fries”) when they don’t toe the line. World organizations
and decades-old alliances can either become part of the grand
illusion or they will be cast aside as irrelevant. The tragic
deaths of thousands of Americans are just a convenient P.R.
tool to be exploited for political gain. A little man who
avoided Vietnam and walked away from a cushy reserve assignment
is dressed in a flight jacket to talk to military audiences.
The image, not the reality, is what’s important.
As the grandest illusion of all is President Potato Head.
Shame on the BBC for showing the world that a root vegetable
isn’t very inspiring before it’s prepared. You can bet the
image makers will see to it that they won’t get another chance.