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Sock It to Him : Saddam Hussein Bashing Is an Instant Trend as Americans Find Humorous Ways to Fight Back

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shyrlee Jones, a Littleton, Colo., grandmother, felt like sticking it to Saddam Hussein. So she sat at her Singer sewing machine, stitched up a Hussein doll, pricked it with pins and decided to call her creation “Beast of Baghdad, You Do Voo Doo Doll.”

This week, 20,000 dolls--pins not included--will be available for $10 in gift stores across the United States.

On the home front, many consumers have caught war fever, and gift-ware and novelty manufacturers are racing to produce “anti-Hussein” merchandise. Manufacturers report that many of these product ideas hit the drawing boards soon after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August. But when American troops were deployed to the Saudi Arabian desert and war broke out, so did the Hussein-bashing items: golf balls, punching bags, dart boards, toilet paper, T-shirts, a paddle board game.

“Saddam bashing is a trend,” says Tom Behlmer, one of three owners of Creative Imaginations, a novelty manufacturer in Los Alamitos. Behlmer, his brother, Jack, and their friend, Rick Hamilton, displayed two punching bags called Sock Saddam and a foam doll called Squash Saddam at the recent California Gift Show at the Los Angeles Mart. At the gift show, more than 50,000 exhibitors and buyers reviewed product lines and spotted some of 1991’s gift-ware trends.

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“We were sitting around having a few beers when we thought of the Squash Saddam doll,” Tom Behlmer says of the 4-inch-high foam figure that is meant for squeezing and squishing. Behlmer says he and his partners got the idea for the bags and dolls a few weeks ago afterseeing a political cartoon of President Bush knocking a punching bag with Hussein’s face on it.

The doll will retail for $7. So far, Creative Imaginations has received 10,000 doll orders as well as 10,000 orders for both the 20-inch and 42-inch-high punching bags from gift stores in Century City, Santa Monica, Torrance, Buena Park, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The bags, which will sell for $10 and $20, feature a drawing of Hussein in a green beret and fatigues on the front of the inflatable bag. The back of the bag shows Hussein’s trousers lowered with an imprint of a soldier’s boot on the buttocks. The bags are being marketed as “anti-stress” relievers, Behlmer says.

“I only wish we had made more of them. We’ve shipped every bag out. Now it’s time to see how well they’ll do in stores,” he says. Behlmer says he isn’t sure if his company will manufacture more anti-Hussein items because a product turnaround takes 30 to 40 days “and we don’t know what’s going to happen over there in Saudi Arabia.”

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Psychologist and social worker Noemi Contreras says the anti-Hussein merchandise can relieve some frustration over the war.

“It’s a way to relieve the hostility and frustration toward this guy who is the monster,” says Contreras, executive director of the Glendale Humanistic Psychological Center and a member of the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem.

“People don’t like what this individual is doing to human beings and people don’t agree with his philosophy of life which is violent,” Contreras says. “And the people’s frustration comes from an inability to deal with the guy personally, so we fight back by punching a bag with his face on it.”

Contreras compares such release of tension and frustration to the psycho-drama technique she uses during therapy with clients. In those sessions she says a patient strikes a pillow or cushioned chair with a padded bat to vent pent-up hostility. “It is better to release anger in this way than by hitting a real person, and afterwards you will feel more relaxed,” she says.

Ben Enis, who teaches marketing at USC, says the anti-Hussein novelty items “are a harmless way to express one’s feelings of patriotism and support for the war effort. Saddam Hussein is someone we love to hate these days and there is a demand for this type of product.”

He says during wartime and events such as the taking of American hostages by Iran in 1979, products that bash the enemy find their way into popular culture.

“I’m just amazed at how quickly the American marketing system responds. But I wouldn’t be real happy if the products were used to physically hurt someone. I believe that they do release tension,” he says.

McCord Golf Ball Co., in Merrillville, Ind., is producing the “Bully of Baghdad” golf ball that features Hussein’s head and shoulders with the words “Hit Me!” printed on it. Three balls sell for $6.95, six for $12.95 and a dozen for $19.95.

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“We’re getting a lot of orders from individuals and groups,” says company spokesman Bob Morgan, who adds that the golf balls can be purchased only through a toll-free number. “The orders include a mother in Atlanta who requested a dozen to send to her son in the gulf, and a Michigan radio station that ordered 50 dozen for a group of moms in Michigan.” In the past week the company has received orders for more than 1,200 balls.

Ivory Tower Publishing Co., in Waterton, Mass., is now producing “Wipeout Hussein” toilet paper. Debbie Mines, regional accounts manager for the company that publishes books, greeting cards and gift wrap, says that thousands of rolls of the toilet tissue--which will sell for $5 a roll in gift stores--have been shipped across the country and hundreds of dozens of free rolls have been sent to the troops in Saudi Arabia.

“We’ve received an incredible response to the product,” Mines says of the tissue that was available three months ago and continues to be a hot seller.

Paul Kratzer, an advertising executive in Salisbury, Md., developed the IraqiWacker, a paddle with a drawing of a cross-eyed, beret-wearing Hussein and an elastic band attached to a rubber ball that sells for $8. The handle reads “Right between the eyes!”

Hummingbird Toy Co., a yo-yo toy manufacturer, is producing the item and has sent 1,000 free Wackers to troops in the Persian Gulf. Another 10,000 are being produced for gift shops.

“I came up with the idea about a month after Iraq invaded Kuwait,” says Kratzer who runs an advertising firm. “We sent out a flyer to the stores and asked them if they were interested even though we fully expected the whole gulf crisis to be resolved. Then war broke out.”

Kratzer says he has received letters from soldiers saying they “like the Wacker and that it has improved morale. That makes me feel good. Needless to say, I wish none of this had happened. I’d much rather burn them (the IraqiWackers) for kindling than to have us go to war.”

Jones, the creator of the Saddam voodoo doll, says she designed the doll “to work out my own frustration” over events that she says have affected her livelihood as an on-site saleswoman with U.S. Home, a real estate company.

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“Creating the doll was very therapeutic for me and then I thought it would be therapeutic for others,” she says. Jones, an artist and seamstress, says the idea came to her in September. She says real estate sales hit a slump a month after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait “and I was upset at Saddam Hussein.”

She showed the doll to a friend in the gift-ware business who later made a few phone calls to manufacturers. Laid Back Enterprises Inc., in Oklahoma City, liked the idea and after seeing several of Jones’ prototypes for the item, agreed to mass produce the doll in October. This is her first venture into the gift-ware business.

The doll’s packaging includes a yellow ribbon with the message, “America’s plea . . . bring our troops home safely"--a suggestion made by Laid Back and adopted by Jones.

“That’s what we all want. I’ve heard from mothers across the country who have sons in Saudi Arabia who want their sons back home,” Jones says.

“If the doll makes them feel better, then that makes me feel better, too,” she says. “War is not a joke and this doll does not make war funny. I created it because it is my way of fighting back.”


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