The Magazine

Mr. Obama Head

Andrew Ferguson, collector.

Jan 26, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 18 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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The best store in Washington recently changed its name from the P&D Souvenir Factory to the classier-sounding Obama Biden Collectible Merchandises. The ex-P&D is on Tenth Street N.W., next door to the Peterson House, where Abraham Lincoln--remembered today as one of Barack Obama's big influences--was taken after his assassination. Tourists file through the bedroom where he was lain, his skull leaking brain matter, and somberly they contemplate his agonizing martyrdom before going next door to buy a bobblehead Lincoln wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sitting in a miniature Thunderbird. I visit P&D every few months, and on my most recent visit I loaded up on Obama merchandise, spending a lot of money that I hope I can write off on my taxes. I walked out with a mixed bag, however.

I don't want to sound like one of those Republican sore losers, but my Barack Obama Candy Bar was kind of tasteless--a big disappointment. The wrapper was smooth and elegant, with a gold sheath beneath the picture of the new president grinning and fist-bumping his wife. But the chocolate had that dry, flaky feel that means somebody somewhere got skimpy with the whole milk. I've eaten crayolas that were tastier. Fortunately I bought an eight-ounce can of Nuts for Obama, along with a bottle of Obama Spring Water to wash them down.

I could have used a crayola for my Obama Family Coloring Book, in which Sasha and Malia are shown doing chores around the White House, spending weekends at Camp David, and making friends at school while their father stands around with excellent posture, grinning and pointing. The likenesses are better in the book of Obama Paper Dolls, though in truth the paper doll Mrs. Obama looks more like BernNadette Stanis, from Good Times. Not necessarily an improvement.

The pleasantest artistic rendering of Obama is on the Yes We Can jigsaw puzzle, made by Hasbro. Unlike G.I. Joe and Mr. Potato Head and the other flowers of Hasbro genius, the puzzle isn't recommended for kids under 12, according to a disclaimer on the box. I can see why. The Obama puzzle has a thousand pieces, literally. Obama's in the foreground, grinning, always grinning, but behind him wide stretches of indeterminate blue slowly blend into a bird's-eye view of a vast crowd. Each head in the crowd is incredibly teeny. And they all look bald. It's impossible to distinguish one from another when you're trying to match the pieces. You could have an army of spinster aunts in your house and still not finish the puzzle in a week.

Hasbro did not manufacture the Obama Action Figure, which is too bad, because Hasbro would have brought some G.I. Joe-level quality to the job. The action figure on sale now is both too flimsy and too cartoonish. His hands are like ping-pong paddles. So I left the action figure on the shelf, and I did the same with the Obama bobblehead. Some news stories have made a big deal of the Obama bobbleheads. But bobbleheads are not a big deal. There was a time, not so long ago, when becoming a bobblehead really meant something in this country. A bobblehead was a signal not merely of celebrity but of achievement. Only the most accomplished public figures got to be bobbleheads: the fleetest athletes, the most toothsome movie stars, entertainers who had reached the zenith of popularity. Now we've defined bobbleheads down. Soap opera stars can be bobbleheads today, so can a utility infielder, also the mascots of unranked college sports teams. I know where you can get a Tom Daschle bobblehead.

Obama calendars come with monthly themes, grand in the Obama style: Once you're done renewing America's Promise, Reclaiming the American Dream, Promising America's Renewal, Reclaiming the Renewal of America's Promised Dream, Promising America a Reclaimed Renewal, and Reclaiming the Promise of Renewal, you're still only halfway through the year. Sprinkled week to week are the new president's most uplifting commands. "Let us unite in common purpose," for example, "to chart a new course for America." It makes so much more sense when you can hear him say it.

At the store on Tenth Street there are many more merchandises, each merchandise imprinted with Obama's handsome mug: shot glasses, key chains, and, of course, mugs. On one item, the store was no help. I asked the friendly, non-English speaking woman behind the counter whether she stocked any Chia Obamas. Even with hand gestures, I couldn't get her to understand the Chia concept. "Vegetation," I said, patting my head. "Growing out of here."

She looked at me like I was crazy. And maybe I am, because I went straight home to order a Chia Obama online. Joseph Enterprises offers two options: a "Happy Chia Obama" or a "Determined Chia Obama." I'm going with Happy Chia Obama, at least for now.