Mushroom Clown: Nuclear Destruction and Fun

See the clown face in that mushroom cloud? Ironic, no? Mixing childhood smiles and nuclear detonation to hock Playstaton 3. We’re supposed to read it as “atomic fun” but I can’t help but see it as a perverse commentary: laughter at death. Sexy bombs, slick fun, sick stomach.

Many who encounter “Mushroom Clown,” though, seem to focus on the (admittedly impressive) art direction rather than the twisted irony of its message (see discussion at aotw). And I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, “weapons of mass destruction” is part of our daily vocabulary now — more a slogan than anything real. What those weapons do to people seems an afterthought.

As a lover of unusual games, I very much want to see the industry push the envelope in every way imaginable. And sometimes that means offending folks. But Sony could have done better. Games like DEFCON and Balance of Power, for example, let us use nukes without ever letting us forget the damage they do. The specter of nuclear winter hangs over both in very different but equally potent ways. That’s important stuff.

It’s easy to trivialize nuclear war. It’s art to make it matter. Sony should learn from its mistakes.

27 Responses to “Mushroom Clown: Nuclear Destruction and Fun”

  1. 1 Justin Ruckman

    Whoa that image is excellent!

  2. 2 Jason

    I agree. Totally amazing execution.

    But I also find the idea a bit disturbing. Whenever I look at it, I find myself sickened by the blatant trivalization of war. I wonder if the artists thought at all about the irony of what they were saying. Is mass murder really that entertaining?

  3. 3 Quynh

    On a related note, there’s an Altoids ad for their chocolate-dipped mints that has the mints falling into a pool of chocolate with an explosive, chocolate mushroom cloud reaction. To me, it’s even worse than the Sony ad because it’s attributing something very negative to something I find particularly positive (clowns, on the other hand, have always been kinda creepy to me). It is surprising that Sony would use that imagery considering they’re Japanese! I wonder if they show the same ad in Japan. This entry reminds me of your earlier one on gummy bear genocide – the trend of desensitizing us to horrific reality is pretty disturbing.

    I couldn’t find an online version of the altoids ad – maybe someone else can, but just to make sure that I wasn’t just dreaming, I did find someone equally disturbed by it:

  4. 4 Luke

    Society has lost the plot, you people need to stop wrapping yourselves in bubblewrap, perhaps look at the picture instead of looking at the person next to you and copying him/her.

    In conclusion, the picture made me laugh, and it is very detailed. Stop reading into thinks too much.

  5. 5 Jason

    Luke, I’m not sure what you mean by “looking at the person next to you and copying him/her.” Who is copying what? Clearly I’m not copying the sentiment on atow because (as I stated in the post) most people there didn’t have my take on it.

    Ultimately, my point is that we should be conscious of messages in advertising (intentional and unintentional) rather than just being passive consumers. If you’re going to joke about nuclear war, I’m happier if folks bring intelligence to it (see Dr. Strangelove) rather than just going for simple laughs.

    This is particularly true considering the censorship of photographs of nuclear strikes (more) and the significant nuclear saber rattling around the world today. What nuclear bombs do to people is too serious to take lightly and the wrong cultural programming can lead us bit by bit down that path.

  6. 6 ryu

    what game is it?

  7. 7 Jason

    It’s just a general PS3 ad — no game in particular.

  8. 8 Dave

    For Quynh:
    I know when you posted your response it was almost a year ago, but i found the commercial. Here is the link:

    For Everyone:
    Did you notice how one clown is smiling and (i see two) the other is frowning?

  9. 9 shannons unraveling mind

    for dave:
    um i seen you said there was two clowns, can you tell me how and where?

    this picture really gets to me, i like how artistic it is but i dont like how it shows a negitive mixed signal. it just throws it off balance.

  10. 10 ME

    i find the nuclear explotion quite intreging.

  11. 11 William

    I think everyone needs to take a chill pill on this one. It is funny! It is amazing… Whoever made this is a great artist, and has a great sense of humor!

  12. 12 hoh

    are you telling me that this mushroom cloud is part of a sony playstation game?
    80,000 – 140,000 died from the hiroshima atom bomb – our nuclear bombs are 30 times more powerful
    2,400,000 deaths per nuclear bomb

    All countries must dismantle their nuclear weapons!

    i found yr blog by doing a search for nuclear mushroom clouds! google
    3 popped up

  13. 13 Rob

    I think it is a little disturbing but I am not going to get up in arms about it.
    Where is the second clown?

    By the way that vido has been removed from Utube

  14. 14 meih27

    honestly….clowns are evil…especially american style ones…look at how chill french clowns are…how could a baby be afraid of that…now put an american clown in front of a kid and see how they react…anyone remember the movie “it” wut that was about…clowns…spiders.. if u know were im going wit this than i shall speak no more……

    or it might be a twisted metal ad….that game wit the clown as a character…u drive around blowing up other cars

  15. 15 dragonfire3333

    i agree that clowns are evil and this picture is kinda evil to now that i look harder at it after i rad these messages but don’t blame sony it’s not the research and developments teams fault it’s the marketing teams fault so if anyone blame them i mean come on a nuculear bomb and a clown yes i agree clowns have to die becasue they are very creepy but whateveri just got confused about this pic until i read these responses oh and the second clown well i thought i did but now that i think about it wher eis it?

  16. 16 Jemand von Niemand

    My first reaction was to laugh. A lot.

    My second reaction was Oh. My. God.

    My third reaction was to link to this page from a post about the wonderful folksiness of Governor Sarah Palin; who would, in her own folksy, soccer-mom and Joe-Sixpack, clownish way, destroy much of the planet should she become President.

    Send in the Clowns.

  17. 17 Ash

    A highly thought provoking picture, very cleverly done…

    It’s obvious the artist isn’t implying bombs/war/etc are funny; he’s used the image of the clown, which has evolved from a figure of fun, to one of evil and horror, to highlight the irony of his art.

  18. 18 Sparx

    The image is actually pretty cool, and it only struck me how -ick- it is until i read the caption and the comments. So now I really don’t like it. I wonder what program was used to create it though, it’s really well done.

  19. 19 Phil

    There’s nothing disturbing about this image at all. The PS3 is one of the most powerful systems out right now. Anyone who thinks the artist is linking war with fun is making that connection because they take things too literal and can’t understand a clever metaphor or art.

  20. 20 Seth

    Well, i just think ps3 is a bunch of junk.

  21. 21 Chris

    I think the picture is DAMN FUNNY. I wish that it was used in a game. The whole lets get up in arms about nukes thing is a bunch of hippy bullshit anyway. I’m all for nuking Korea before they nuke us, I only wish that the clown in the cloud would really happen cuz that would freak the FUCK out of China.

  22. 22 kristie

    It’s not a second clown, it’s where the clown is goin bald & he has the hair ring around the head! Lol look @ it again =)

  23. 23 dan

    can I get that in wallpaper size?

  24. 24 Jimmy

    Lol picture is amazing makes everything cool about ps3. games dont teach children to kill Children grow and teach themselves to kill :3 ps3 ftw

  25. 25 Thomas

    I downloaded this wallpaper the other day and started to see the clown in it, just now I said ‘f it’ and Googled ‘mushroom cloud clown’. Now I feel a right f’ing idiot lol

  26. 26 bruce

    Here is a link to images from the highly offensive Altoids ad.

  27. 27 Tariq Amir Ra' El

    I need to know who (if anyone) owns trademark/copyright to the mushroom clown photo?

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