Picture this: It’s St. Patrick’s Day and you’re out with your friends. What are you going to order to celebrate this very Irish holiday? No, besides beer. What else? No, I said besides beer. It’s potatoes. The answer is potatoes. St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but the lack of potatoes drove the Irish out of Ireland. That’s how important potatoes are. In fact, an Irish potato farmer recently re-cultivated the Irish Lumper, the predominant potato before the Great Famine, after which it disappeared for almost 170 years. I like to think that my addiction to French fries derives from my Irish heritage, but in all likelihood it’s just my human heritage. Potatoes are universally beloved.
You probably love eating potatoes and every delightful food they’re used to make, but have you ever thought about how pervasive the potato has been in pop culture over the years? From the mashed potato dance craze to former Vice President Dan Quayle’s inability to spell the word, we’ve witnessed and created a lot of big potato-related pop culture moments. Whether it’s a subtle moment (like Kate Winslet’s character making potato dolls in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, above) or an entire storyline (like Cliff on Cheers pointing out a potato’s resemblance to Richard Nixon), the potato boasts a much longer resume in the entertainment industry than most other vegetables, probably because you’ll be hard up to find someone who won’t eat some form of taters.
You might recognize some or all of the potato-related references I’ve already mentioned, but you’re a lot more likely to refer to the following iconic moments in your everyday life. Warning: You will have a major potato craving when you’re done reading this.
Animal House – “I’m a Zit!”
Odds are a lot of the guys you knew in college had a poster of John Belushi in Animal House. You might also have had a friend who liked to imitate his character Bluto’s obnoxious antics. I hope for your sake that it didn’t involve his “I’m a zit!” joke, in which Bluto stuffs his mouth with mashed potatoes, punches his cheeks, and sends the potatoes shooting out of his mouth. I don’t blame you if you’re wiping nonexistent mashed potato out of your eyes right now.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Potato Mound
You might not initially associate Steven Spielberg aliens with mashed potatoes – that’s what Reese’s Pieces are for. But one of the most iconic movie moments, let alone potato moments, ever, is Richard Dreyfuss shaping his mashed potatoes into a recreation of the mountainy image he keeps seeing. It’s a famous scene to this day because it illustrates his changing mental state and how it’s affecting his family. Possibly the most haunting use of potatoes in entertainment.
Sling Blade – “French Fried Potaters”
If you, unlike me, don’t imitate Billy Bob Thornton in this movie every time you order fries at a restaurant, then you’re probably a normal person. But odds are you’ve at least heard of this classic quote, even if it was just through Liz Lemon’s impression of it on 30 Rock. Although according to Jenna it was an Oprah impression.
Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head
You gotta love the Potato Heads, whether you played with them as a kid or loved them in the Toy Story movies. Fun fact for all you youngsters: The original Mr. Potato head was an actual potato. Kids just bought the accessories and put them onto a real spud. Can you imagine doing that with any other vegetable nowadays? No veggie has the personality of the potato.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Sam Explains Potatoes To Gollum
This one is probably my favorite. As an obsessive fan of these films, certain quotes have stuck in my head for a decade, whether they’re emotional or unintentionally hilarious. This one falls under the second category. Hobbit Sam enunciates “po-ta-toes” for Gollum, who thinks they sound disgusting. Sam then launches into a Bubba’s-shrimp-style list of ways to cook them. Most Rings fans will know exactly what you’re talking about when you stretch out the word “potatoes,” and some of them have even made weirdly catchy remixes of it, like the one above. Just try not to have it stuck in your head all day.
If there’s one lesson you should learn from this crash course in pop culture potatoes, it’s that you should never underestimate a potato’s power to make or break a movie. So this St. Patrick’s Day, eat a potato or ten. Sure, beer too, but I’m talking about potatoes now. Sheesh.