‘Mr. Dictator Head’: Ruthless political despots reimagined ala ‘Mr. Potato Head’

A plastic sculpture of Kim Jong-il from artist Stephen Ives’ series ‘Mr. Dictator Head.’

Belief has to be suspended to enter the worlds I create. When the audience no longer sees the puppets strings they will then believe the puppet is real.

—artist Stephen Ives

The sculptures in this post are a part of a series by Melbourne-based artist Stephen Ives called “Mr. Dictator Head.”

For the 2010 series, Ives’ created rather hauntingly accurate Mr. Potato Head sculptures in the image of various historical tyrants such as Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Lenin,  even Margaret Thatcher. In the spirit of the original toy (and to make a point about the interchangabilty of tyrants, no doubt) Ives even reused various facial aspects of each dictator to create a new one—so to create his potato head Hussein he combined Mao Zedong’s plastic cheeks, the eyes used to make potato head Hitler and the lips of the “Butcher of Uganda” Idi Amin. Ives’ sculptures are amusing but they most definitely give off an equally sinister vibe. Especially when you consider the real-life track records of each.

Idi Amin.

Margaret Thatcher.

Vladimir Lenin.
More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb
10:07 am
Gulf War kitsch: Some red-white-and-blue numbnuts reads his ‘Letter to Saddam Hussein,’ 1991

I’ve been waiting for this primo item of Desert Storm-abilia to turn up on YouTube for years, and Lord knows I have waited patiently; for as the Good Book reminds us, “the race is not to the swift” (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and some of these fuckers are anything but swift.

Back in ‘91, Jerry Martin (a/k/a Jerry Buckner) rode the tide of blood unleashed by the first Gulf War all the way to #71 on Billboard’s country chart. I’m still struggling to understand how this epistolary spoken word release qualified as a country song, but I’m going to bet it had something to do with the kinds of radio stations that played it and the obscure regions of our nation to which their signals penetrated. A cassingle issued in a plain gray sleeve, Martin’s “Letter to Saddam Hussein” had little in common with Jello Biafra’s contemporary Gulf War cassingle, “Die for Oil, Sucker,” which pointed out that we might not be fighting for the noblest of causes.

Martin left that kind of thinking to eggheads, Poindexters and Philadelphia lawyers. On his cassingle, he allowed as how he didn’t know much of anything, because being so ordinary, regular and real didn’t leave a lot of time for studies. But there was one thing he did know: our pride would be Saddam’s shame.

I mentioned that Jerry Martin was the pseudonym of Jerry Buckner. Now, I can’t be sure this is the Jerry Buckner of “Pac Man Fever” fame, but I do wonder how many vocal talents named Jerry Buckner might plausibly reside in the Atlanta area. To whom was Saddam supposed to address his reply? Whatever, I bet the dictator thought twice about showing his face down south after this tape came out. Cut way down on his trips to Georgia.

Now a quarter-century old—its sleeve no longer the shiny gray I remember from my Sam Goody youth, but the dull gray I see in my Sam Elliott beard—this curiosity fetches outrageous prices on Amazon. I can’t imagine why. I hope it’s because there are a lot of Big Lebowski and Nevermind fans researching the beginnings of American history’s most bogus journey.

Without spoiling the dramatic ending of “Letter to Saddam Hussein,” I can tell you that we kept its promise. Our boys showed Saddam who was boss, thereby transforming the entire Fertile Crescent into a fiery whirlwind of widows’ blood and children’s limbs. Now our boys will be there showing Saddam who’s boss forever!

Mission accomplished, numbnuts!

Posted by Oliver Hall
01:21 pm
The (not so great) Great Dicktator: Saddam-lookalike’s porn film abduction
11:36 am

I last visited New York in July 2003, around the time the coalition of the willing were getting stuck into dividing Iraq’s spoils between their affiliated corporations, and generally laying the foundations for almost a decade of chaos and sectarian slaughter.

Whenever I’m in the US, it’s always a huge treat for me to gorge myself on the vaguely satanic schmaltz pumped out by its television stations, which at that time naturally consisted of lots of chipper propaganda concerning the occupation (back in the UK, the propaganda was much dourer, and sometimes outright agonized). One very memorable moment was hearing some general-or-other “confide” to some newscaster-or-other that one of the main problems with the freshly “liberated” Iraqis – and so one of the principal challenges faced by the “liberators” – was a want of indigenous “entrepreneurial spirit.”

The phrase entrepreneurial spirit, which can hardly even be enunciated in an English accent (or shouldn’t be – just as Americans do well to steer clear of certain British swear words like “wanker” and “bollocks”), and furthermore conjures – to a Brit – profoundly mundane images of people opening pet shops and pizzerias, clearly possesses some strange sacred quality to various right-wingers across the pond. The general even lowered his voice as he intoned the words, as if to imbue the phrase with its proper dignity, but also spare the blushes of any passing Iraqis that might be within hearing range, swinging by on crutches or whatever (they had, after all, quite recently been subjected to the tough love of Shock and Awe).

Not that, the general immediately added, this unnatural insufficiency was down to some genetic or even cultural predisposition. Hell no. On the contrary, the entrepreneurial spirit – which God Himself lovingly blows into the ear of every human baby – had been contorted, thwarted, crushed (I doubt he used those exact adjectives) by the greed-sapping weight of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. But, sure as day follows night, this general could personally testify that, during the few short months coalition forces had been raping, robbing, killing and – you know – occupying Iraq, the green shoots of renewal were already visible.

Well, almost ten years later, and a remarkable story doing the rounds in some of our gaudier news organs last week suggests that the instinct to imaginatively exploit any given circumstance for monetary gain (in which the invasion of Iraq arguably provided a veritable masterclass) is indeed rediscovering its organic apogee among Iraqis.  

Mohamed Bishr (pictured above), is a middle-aged Egyptian bearing a striking resemblance to a certain golden Kalashnikov-loving former Iraqi dictator, a back-handed “gift” from Allah that has seen him repeatedly attacked, and also – I’m guessing – sparked several Saddam-is-alive-and-well-and-living-in-Egypt rumors a la Elvis and Hitler.

For most, Bishr’s uncanny likeness was just that, but one man’s sovereign state is another man’s oil reserves, so to speak, and a few weeks back some men with “Iraqi or Syrian accents” (they are broadly thought to be the former, naturally) approached Bishr and offered him a princely $333,000 to star in a porn film, apparently intending to afterwards palm off the footage as genuine.  Our long-suffering doppelganger, however – a devout Muslim – kept his honor, turning down this opportunity to become (presumably) the world’s best paid porn star, at which point the gentlemen, who may or may not have been organized criminals, became increasingly threatening, eventually kidnapping Bishr off the street and bundling him into the back of a van at gun point.

In reports, Bishr complains of his abduction having taken place in plain sight of numerous bystanders, who apparently “did nothing.” We understand how you must feel, Bishr, but try to see it from their perspective. One minute they’d be thinking, “fuck me, isn’t that Sadddam Hussein?” and the next they’re watching Sadddam Hussein get stuffed into a van with a gun to his head. Absolutely anyone, having pinched themselves, would be sure to keep their head down.

Fortunately, having been threatened and roughed up a bit, Bashr’s abductors let him go (the whole thing rather resembles Bob Dylan’s recent video for the splendid Duquesne Whistle”). Casting aside the small issue of Bashr’s right to “self-determination,” you have to concede that, while they might still be lacking that Anglo-American capacity to stick to your guns until you see the money, these were some pretty ingenious gangsters. The entrepreneurial spirit, it appears, is finally spreading its wings across the Middle East. Yeehaw!


Posted by Thomas McGrath
11:36 am
Remember the women & children of Iraq: Fouad Hady’s heartwrenching reports

Fouad Hady contemplates a 15-year sentence in a Saddam-era women’s prison cell
Whether under Saddam Hussein’s abysmal regime or in this post-“liberation” era, we tend to think of Iraq in terms of power and its players—mostly leaders and soldiers and mostly men.

Nine years after he fled Baghdad for Australia, Melbourne-based reporter Fouad Hady has helped change that by travelling back to his home country to file long-form reports from the ground for the Dateline program on Australia’s public SBS One channel.

In 2009’s “City of Widows,” Hady first surveys the miserable poverty of Baghdad’s outlying Al-Rashad district before being told of the Saddam-era womens’ prison, some of the cells of which are now occupied by refugees from other areas. Downtown in the city—which is home to 80,000 of Iraq’s 750,000 widows—he finds a burgeoning movement of women in loss.

“Deadly Legacy”—filed last month—finds Hady reporting from Fallujah, which was the site of massive anti-insurgent operations during which American troopes used munitions made with depleted uranium. Hady’s reporting on the city’s astronomical rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia speaks for itself.

These two reports are staggering in their eye-level view of some of Iraq’s afflictions before and after Saddam. No matter your position on that war, these should also prove instructive to those clamoring for action against a far more formidable foe like Iran. War against that country would make this look like a game of croquet. 
Click to see City of Widows on YouTube
After the jump: see Deadly Legacy on YouTube…

Posted by Ron Nachmann
06:19 pm