MAD DOG: Littering the Streets With Art, or, Who Loosed the Moose?

Rhode Island has adopted a tourism mascot, and not surprisingly it's Mr. Potato Head. Before you go calling this a half-baked idea, think about it. What else would the country's tiniest state use to represent it, Mr. Magnifying Glass? Tiny Tim? Tater Tots?Their plan is to scatter forty 6-foot statues of the anthropomorphic spud around the state to greet tourists as they pull off I-95 to use the bathrooms at McDonald's. They were originally going to use greeters from Wal-Mart but figured the statues will be around longer. This is part of a tourism campaign they're launching which will include newspaper advertising based on the theme: "Rhode Island -- The Birthplace of Fun." If it's successful it will probably be used on their license plates. This would be a big improvement over their existing slogan, "Rhode Island -- In Between Connecticut and Massachusetts."In case you're wondering why they're using Mr. Potato Head, it's because they couldn't figure out a way to build correctly proportioned 6-foot-tall Barbies that wouldn't tip over and fall flat on their faces. Just kidding. The real reason is that Hasbro, which makes the popular tater toy, is based in Pawtucket. It's a good thing the Big O Vibrator Company isn't headquartered in Providence. The state's tourism division commissioned local artists to create individualized works of Potato Head art, each one having a different theme. So far they have one dressed as a fisherman wearing a rain slicker, one covered in sand with seaweed hair, and one wearing sunglasses and a bikini. I'm not making this up. The state of Rhode Island thinks Mr. Potato Head is a cross dresser.It's not surprising that they'd tie in with a product rather than use something people associate with the state, like, well -- okay, maybe they didn't have a choice. Besides, corporate sponsorship is such an '00s thing to do. Every sports stadium, concert arena, bowl game and event has a company's name attached to it. This trend is destined to continue until everything has a corporate sponsor, so don't be surprised when you come across Depends' Nursing Homes, the Bank of America Kiting Competition, and the Sherwin Williams White House. Rhode Island isn't the only one putting sculptures all over the place. Come June, Toronto will be littered with 400 9-foot-tall fiberglass moose. The reason they're using the moose is that it symbolizes their national pastime, which is drinking Moosehead Beer. That and no one knew what a Labatt is. One big difference, though, is that they're calling theirs an art exhibit rather than a desperate attempt to call attention to themselves.This mock moose invasion is a fundraiser for Olympic athletes and various charities. Businesses in Toronto can buy a moose for $6,500 or pick up a four-pack for $30,000. (NOTE: This is Canadian dollars, which at the current exchange rate is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.) They'll stand the moose outside their businesses, adorn them with accoutrements like suits and cameras, then sit back and wait for hunters from Michigan to show up so they can arrest them and levy fines for hunting on a baited street, filling the city's coffers with great big piles of American bucks.Actually, they stole this idea from Chicago. Not arresting people who come from Michigan, but rather putting faux fauna on the street. Chicago did a very similar thing last summer except they used cows, claiming it brought 2 million tourists to the city who spent about $200 million, most of it on brushes to scrape fiberglass cow pies from the soles of their shoes. The concept is spreading. Seattle is thinking about putting giant coffee cups on their streets. Springfield, Massachusetts, home of the Basketball Home of Fame, is looking into putting big basketballs around their city. If this continues we can look forward to seeing more city streets filled with sculptures, including bare breasts in New Orleans, pork barrels in Washington, D.C. and cops' bullets hitting innocent black men in New York.They should consider doing this in Longyearbyen, Norway, where it would be nice to have big calendars in the streets. This isn't so much for art's sake but rather so people can figure out what day it is. You see, Longyearbyen is located 620 miles north of the Arctic Circle, which makes it nearly as remote and out of it as Des Moines. They're so far north that while the rest of the world saw the Dawn of the New Millennium"! on January 1st, the 1,200 hardy souls who live in Longyearbyen didn't see it until March 8th. And to think, people on the west coast of the United States thought it was old news by the time it got to them.Their delayed millennial dawn occurred because up there the sun sets in mid-October and doesn't reappear for nearly five months. Even then it only shows up for a measly 10 minutes that first day. Hopefully they were all wearing sunscreen when it happened because by that time they were probably whiter than Michael Bolton covering a Tupac Shakur song. Of course come late April things change radically and they'll have 24-hours of daylight for two months.By that time they shouldn't have to worry about sunburn. Not if they get their butts in gear, anyway. All they'll have to do is duck behind one of the 9-foot-tall fiberglass calendars that will dot the city and they'll have all the shade they want. You can't get that kind of SPF protection from a transvestite Mr. Potato Head or a business-suited moose, now can you?

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