Tag Archives: Iraq War

Trading Card of the Week: Hafez Assad

I'll trade you two Albert Pujols and a Saddam Hussein for Hafez Assad and a Dictator to Be Named Later.

Card #187 from the 1991 Topps Desert Storm series.

Kids don’t stick trading cards in their bicycle spokes anymore. Heck, do kids even get off their rear ends and ride bikes these days?

I can’t imagine that this Hafez Assad card was that popular on the playground. If you think that Bashar Assad is now being an unreasonable man, his daddy was not the posterboy for Amnesty International either.

Yet, Topps makes Hafez sound like a harmless old man who just yells at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. Here’s the inscription on the back of his rookie card:

“The President of Syria, Hafez Assad played an important role in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As the leader of a radical Arab nation and Iraq’s neighbor, the Allied coalition was happy to have Syria’s cooperation and help. However, Hafez Assad always made it clear that Syria’s cooperation hinged on the issue of Israel not becoming involved in the conflict. With this in mind, Assad still contributed troops and arms toward liberating Kuwait from his old rival Saddam Hussein.”

I’m sure the people of Kuwait remain SO grateful for the three armored snack trucks that Syria sent to the front lines.

And as for Israel “not becoming involved in the conflict,” I can tell you first hand that they got involved.

(If you like to collect more risque Middle East artifacts than trading cards, check out “The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie.”)

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Squeezing Saddam Hussein’s noose into lemonade

 Herobuilders.com CEO Emil Vicale serves up a platter of unfinished action figure heads including "Hero" Condoleezza Rice and "Villian" Osama bin Laden. Vicale doesn't release sales figures, but says the bad guys outsell the good guys by a huge margin.

Herobuilders.com CEO Emil Vicale serves up a platter of unfinished action figure heads including “hero” Condi Rice and “villain” Osama bin Laden. Vicale doesn’t release sales figures, but says the bad guys outsell the good guys by a huge margin. (Image courtesy of Emil Vicale)

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
“Politically incorrect toymaker thrives on gallows humor”

The Boston Herald — January 17, 2007
**
It’s been almost three weeks since Saddam’s noose debuted on YouTube –
and the global debate over execution etiquette is still reverberating
in the most unexpected places.

Like the toy box.

Herobuilders.com, the Connecticut-based manufacturer of terrorist and
dictator-themed action figures, typically times the release of its new
dolls to the latest international crisis. CEO Emil Vicale introduced
his $24.95 “Dope on a Rope” Hanging Saddam figure a few days after
Christmas and hours before the deposed Iraqi tyrant was killed. But
he likely never imagined the subsequent hoopla over souvenir snuff
videos that guards made with their cell phone cameras.

“We’ve run out of boxes. We’ve run out of everything,” says the
ecstatic Vicale. “Things have been absolutely insane around here!”

To label his product as “gallows humour,” as the Sunday Times of
London did, doesn’t take into account the toymaker’s full body of
work. Since the beginning of the Iraq War, he has immortalized
President Bush’s archnemesis in various stages of his career.

“Crackhead Saddam” features the dictator in sunglasses, a beret and
full military regalia. “Captured Saddam” is a snapshot of the
disheveled leader when he was found hiding in the infamous “spider
hole.” And completing the set, “Trial Saddam” chronicles cockier
leisure suit days lecturing his Iraqi judge and prosecutor.

Vicale says his political satire attracts “hundreds and hundreds” of
hate e-mails each year, joking that it’s “cool” he’s already gotten
his first death threat of 2007. “Emil Vicale,” a Brazilian e-mailer
writes, “you are dead!”

Brief, no-nonsense threats are the ones that Vicale forwards to the
FBI. Not the “meaningless diatribes” about “American imperialism” and
the “Great Satan.”

“You can’t make everyone happy with a political product,” he says.
“These people are insane to think I even care what they think.”

The Bronx-raised Vicale talks in a street-tough New York accent and
seems giddy when he’s rattling off insults about America’s sworn
enemies. “Barbaric” and “pathetic” are warm-ups for “the most
demented people in history.”

But as much as he enjoys mocking terrorists (he no longer sells a pink
tutu to “humiliate” his Osama bin Laden doll), Vicale is an even
stronger believer in action figure diversification. Customized
hand-sculpted wedding figures – think cake toppers with 23 points of
articulation – go for $1,000 per couple and $39.95 for each additional
figure. Herobuilders also caters to gay weddings and bachelorette
parties with anatomically correct “Big Joe” figures with “flex-action
Little Joes.” And his “Hotbox” female vampires, “the sexiest female
action figures in the world,” were recently featured in the B-movie,
“Grandma’s Boy.”

A career industrial designer, Vicale launched “Herobuilders” a few
months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. He now employs 15
sculptors, designers and administrators and is looking to hire more
freelance help.

Sculptors earn $150 per head. His best artists carve up to 20 each week.

“Everybody is stressed. Our molding shop is three weeks behind,” he
says. “You can only push your workers so much.”

As for those death threats, well, let’s just call them another
business opportunity.

Inspired by his “first round” of hate mail, Vicale also sells his own
brand of anti-terrorist clothing for people – not action figures.
Black Star Ops” is a line of “reasonably priced covert tactical
clothing” meant for undercover agents as well as civilians working
high-risk assignments. The $39.95 shirts feature secret holster
pockets to conceal a gun or “comfortably carry a spare magazine or
canister of pepper spray.”

“I know I’m doing the right thing,” says Vicale, who cites fans in an
“unnamed five-sided building” in Washington, D.C. “That’s evident in
my bank account.”

**
Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the
Boston Herald. Stories or rants from the workplace are welcomed at
heraldstiff (at) gmail.com.

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Filed under Middle East, Politically Incorrect Products, politics, War Toys

Terrorist Geek Exposed: Action figure hostage hoax fizzles in Iraq

Action Figure Hostage Hoax

Action Figure Hostage Hoax

Culture Schlock – By Darren Garnick
“Toy collector exposes action figure hostage hoax in Iraq”

The Telegraph — February 10, 2005
**
Newspaper journalists loftily think of themselves as “writing the first draft of history.”  When the definitive stories of the Iraq war are written decades from now, they hopefully will include at least one paragraph on the persistence of toy collector Brady Miller, a military analyst the mainstream media has largely ignored.

Miller’s expertise is in action figures, perhaps the reason why the Associated Press didn’t immediately take him seriously when he called their national desk last week with vital information on a breaking news story from the Middle East. The name of his business, “Monkey Depot,” likely didn’t enhance his credibility as a source.

Based in Mesa, Ariz., the Depot sells the highly evolved descendants of G.I. Joe – meticulously detailed 12-inch plastic soldiers who come with dozens of variations of uniforms, weaponry and other equipment. Miller, who jokingly refers to himself as a “worldwide arms peddler,” specializes in loose parts: offering helmets, boots, berets, gas masks, night vision goggles, belts, binoculars, MREs, propaganda leaflets, grenade launchers and every firearm imaginable in miniature.  His business model was inspired by frustrating experiences as a collector, not wishing to pay $45 for a high-end figure if all he needed was an extra machine gun or flak jacket.

Last Wednesday, while looking up a price on his computer for a customer, Miller stumbled across a breaking AP story on the Yahoo! News site. Iraqi terrorists claimed they had kidnapped a U.S. soldier and posted a grainy photo of the bound American with a gun pointed at his head.

“Even from the thumbnail image, I knew something was wrong,” recalls Miller, finding it odd that the hostage was still wearing his military-issued knee pads. “I clicked on the photo for a close-up right away and after I saw the gun, my gut feeling was absolute. I stare at these things 12-14 hours a day.”

hoax-2

Miller was the first to discover the hoax that the kidnapped soldier was actually a special edition action figure named Cody, which was sold only on U.S. bases in Kuwait. He frantically tried calling several different bureaus of the Associated Press, each time getting referred to their automated reader comment line. “If someone would just take two seconds to look at this, they’d realize this is an action figure and not a real guy,” he told the gatekeepers. Finally, a skeptical photo editor in New York listened and agreed to look at photos of the action figure for comparison.

“Thanks for the great info and images,” the editor fired back in an email. “You have the largest newsgathering organization on the planet at a standstill!”

After confirming the photographs with the manufacturer, Dragon Models USA, the AP ran with the action figure hoax story that instantly became incredulous conversation fodder at water coolers around the world. On his popular news satire Web site, comedian Andy Borowitz later reported that the most recent Osama bin Laden tape was actually the voice of Hokey Pokey Elmo.

“Of course America should be outraged at the atrocities of kidnappings, both real and staged,” says toy publicist Lauri Aibel, a longtime observer of the military action figure industry. “But it seems the terrorists tangled with the wrong market. Hobbyists combed their memories and then their ample collections to quickly unveil the identity of the un-named GI and to them it was as obvious as if they had just seen a scale-size gun pointed at Malibu Barbie.”

Liam Cusak, a spokesman for Dragon Models USA, says he’s “stunned” by last week’s bizarre intersection between the military action figure world and the real world. He notes that the fact someone would confuse a Dragon figure with a real soldier for even a moment is “a great compliment,” but quickly adds: “Of course, we don’t condone anybody pulling these sort of hoaxes just to get attention.”

Speaking of attention, Miller is getting very little of it. Internet journalist Matt Drudge is now widely credited for exposing this hoax first, even though his photographs were the same ones from MonkeyDepot.com. On top of that, outside of Miller’s hometown paper, all of the major news coverage neglects to even mention him. He also has no plans to brag about his journalistic coup on his Web site, explaining, “I don’t want to try to sensationalize this or even give the appearance of sensationalizing it.”

“I hate to say this,” adds Miller, “but I have to begrudgingly – very begrudgingly – give them (the hoaxsters) credit for the idea. For $44.95 and a little Internet bandwith, they were able to make the troops a little nervous. In this conflict, propaganda and using the media is a key part of the battle.”

Theories abound as to who is behind the hoax – one analyst speculated that this stunt was designed to undermine the credibility of terrorist Web sites – but there is a glimmer of positive news if this was from the usual gang of headchopping thugs. Trying to fake a soldier kidnapping means that it is extremely tough to abduct real ones.

If an action figure fanatic recognized problems with the kidnapping photo, chances are the U.S. military wouldn’t have been fooled either. Nonetheless, it was the toy collector and not the Army who embarrassed the 24/7 press for its report-first, run-a-correction-later mentality.  Every minute longer that the hoax remained unexposed was another minute of needless worrying for U.S. military families.

“This whole experience has been a freakish thing,” says Miller. “But I’m glad this story got squashed when it did.”

**
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in Encore. Reader feedback is welcome via email at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com

___________________

OTHER WAR TOY STORIES WORTH PERUSING…

Squeezing Saddam Hussein’s Noose Into Lemonade: A gallows humor action figure.

Kentucky Toy Surgeon Rescues G.I. Joes on Their Deathbeds: Meet the guy who knows what to do about action figure balding and joint deterioration!

Pink Aisle Refugees: Guys who shop for (and train) Barbie commandos — Do her accessories include rocket-propelled grenades?

Coming to a Gumball Machine Near You: Classism! Trailer park figurines come with kegs and unemployment checks.

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Filed under Action Figure Hoaxes, Darren's Archive Vault, Favorite Columns, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, War Toys