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Mr. 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 put together.

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 somber potato.

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 1945.

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.

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