question of the weekend: What makes Mr. Potato Head Mr. Potato Head if it isn’t his potato?

Reader Bruce recently saw Toy Story 3 and was struck by the scene in which Mr. Potato Head makes a daring escape by throwing parts of his body out of the sandbox and then attaching “himself” to a tortilla… which, for Bruce — and for all of us, really — raises the question, Where does Mr. Potato Head’s essence reside if not in his very own potato head? Is it in the sum of his parts?

And then Bruce came across a post at Zen and Back Again, where the writer was also struck by the same scene:

Where was Mr. Potato Head’s control center, his essence? Was it inside of his potato body, or in his individual parts? If the former, then the scene would be impossible because his parts were acting with a life of their own, without his body. If the latter, then in which individual part (eye, ear, nose) did his essence reside? Both were impossible.

By now you probably see the Buddhist connection. Buddhism posits the idea that there is no inherent self or essence abiding inside of us; rather, what we generally refer to as the self is simply the participation of the five skandhas–form, sensation, perception, mental formations (or volition), and consciousness. Nowhere inside (or outside, for that matter) of these will you find any evidence of a self.

The same goes for Mr. Potato Head. There is no essence to him; it can neither be found inside of his entire body nor his individual parts. Because it’s a conventional reality. This self-clinging, from a Buddhist perspective, is the root of all suffering, for from it comes all subsequent forms of clinging. This is not to say that the day-to-day ‘I’ ceases to exist (because it never had any concrete or ultimate reality in the first place). I can still function and refer to myself as ‘I,’ but now I see the self for what it is–a construct designed for conventional purposes. Mental shorthand.

The Toy Story scene culminates in a symbolic masterpiece, at least in Buddhist terms. Mr. Tortilla Head is pecked to pieces by a pigeon. His tortilla body falls apart, thus exposing the conventional nature of the self.


And then reader bronxbee learned that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head have been put on a diet by Hasbro!

Before and after:

bronxbee notes:

If the potatoes are forced to get slimmer, on a low carb diet, why not make Mr. Tofu Head and/or Mr. Broccoli Head?

Excellent question. If what makes Mr. Potato Head a unique individual is not his potato, then couldn’t he very easily be Mr. Carrot or Mr. Apple? If Mr. Potato Head has a soul, where does it reside in his body?

What makes Mr. Potato Head Mr. Potato head if it isn’t his potato?

(FYI, Tortilla Mr. Potato Head has a Facebook fan page.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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