Mr. Peanut and the Imaginary Mayor
Dan Savage’s recent post on Slog announcing the possibility of his running for mayor of Seattle couldn’t help but evoke this image in my mind:
Mr. Peanut, artist Vincent Trasov, image by Bob Strazicich, from Megaphone: Vancouver’s Street Paper
I unexpectedly met the Mr. Peanut suit from Vincent Trasov and John Mitchell’s 1974 Vancouver mayoral campaign at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria about two years ago. After moving from the deflated costume to a small screen showing black and white footage of a debate in which Mr. Peanut hand-wrote his responses (his entire campaign was executed in silence) I recall being struck by the immediacy of Mr. Peanut’s presence as a form of living art. As Western Front Society’s website explains, William S. Burroughs endorsed Mr. Peanut with a most poignant statement:
“Since the inexorable logic of reality has created nothing but insoluble problems, it is now time for illusion to take over. And there can only be one illogical candidate: Mr. Peanut.” (via The Western Front)
Although Mr. Peanut ran his campaign in Canada, in retrospect, it is difficult to avoid seeing the work in light of the resignation of Richard Nixon and the surrounding events the same year. Baudrillard identifies Watergate as a primary example of the final stage in the transformation from image to simulacrum in essay “Simulacra and Simulacrum.” He notes,
“Watergate tend[s] towards scandal as as means to regenerate a moral and political principle, towards the imaginary as a means to regenerate a reality principle in distress.” (Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Second Edition 176)
The absurdity of a non-speaking commercial mascot (or pure simulacrum) running for a government office resonated with 3.4% of Vancouver’s voters during Mr. Peanut’s race. However, I do not think a reality principle necessarily regenerated (in the United States, at least) between 1974 and the present.
There is a similarly absurd aspect to a mayoral election that lacks meaningful competition and representation, so perhaps a Gay Sex Scandal is less a simulacrum than the Watergate Scandal and a 24-hour monorail proposal relates more directly to the actualities of politics than Seattle’s other options.