Another Tack: Obama dolls and other distractions

As an inveterate doll collector, I still vividly remember the cloying supposed look-alikes of Jackie Kennedy and dynasty-princess Caroline, spawned for quick profit during those long-gone Camelot halcyon days. For months I’ve been suspecting that neo-Camelot Barack Obama counterparts are already being sculpted and readied for production. Malia’s and Sasha’s crude likenesses will soon appear in vinyl or low-grade porcelain, I kept prophesying to anyone who reluctantly lent me a tired ear.

But my prescience impressed even me. German toymaker Marcel Offermann, in collaboration with the very veteran Schildkroet firm, stole the thunder of American entrepreneurs and their Chinese subcontractors. Offermann and Schildkroet didn’t wait for the inauguration. Not even the election. So overpowering is the Obama mystique in Europe that the candidate was crowned victor early in June, when his commercial plastic representation joined other Offermann celebrity dolls, like Princess Di, Pope Benedict XVI, Angela Merkel, the Dalai Lama and Mozart.

None go cheap. The limited-edition 14-inch Obama sells for 139 euros.

It matters diddly that the doll resembles a blackface minstrel of Jim Crow vintage more than it does its hyped subject. Ordinarily its uber-dark complexion and exaggerated stereotyped features might even be considered offensive, except that these are expressions of unstinted adulation – as removed from their living object as Offermann’s portrait is from Obama’s mirror-image. What matters here is the icon, not the actual man.

Thus on a recent European hop, a vendor at an antique doll fair offered me quite a meaningful markdown because, having identified my English as American, she automatically deduced that I “love Obama.” My daughter was shocked that I passed up a hefty discount to set the saleslady straight and correct her assumptions.

At the next counter, when I examined a doll marketed as mid-20th century – though she seemed incongruously older to me – I was strictly forbidden to utter a syllable. “Do you love Obama?” I was asked again. Before I could answer candidly, my daughter struck a very good deal, all because she smiled indulgently as the retailer waxed ecstatic about how smart and wonderful in every conceivable way Obama is.

I never got to ask how she knew.

BUT WHO cares? The myth has rendered reality irrelevant. The spin supersedes the truth. That’s why Dorothy Byrne, head of news at Britain’s Channel 4, opined that Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s views are “enormously influential.” In this spirit of blithely relativist spin, her network chose Ahmadinejad to deliver the channel’s seven-minute “Christmas message.”

Personally I don’t give a hoot about Channel 4, but its postmodern moral equivalence is alarmingly symptomatic and widespread. Let’s not forget that Dear Leader Obama considers Ahmadinejad a valid interlocutor, one with whom he proposes to chew the fat over the potential to nuke Israel.
Seven decades ago such attitudes could presumably have made Hitler a welcome guest in British broadcasting. His views too were “enormously influential.” Indeed he too was considered a worthy negotiating partner. The results weren’t apparently cataclysmic enough to deter latter-day appeasement.

And so in the spirit of carefree smugness and self-congratulatory superficial enlightenment – to say nothing of ratings greed akin to the greed that inspired Schildkroet’s Obama creation – Ahmadinejad was selected as a legitimate exponent of an “alternative narrative.”

Eager to exploit the bizarre bountiful benefits of European sucker liberalism, Ahmadinejad sought to recruit his nominally Christian audience to his anti-Jewish jihad, without of course mentioning the Jews. This led the wannabe Hitler to conjecture that “if Jesus were alive today he would oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.” All preceding pejoratives are frequent synonyms for Jews and Israelis in Ahmadinejad’s Newspeak.

THE IDENTITY of the aggressor, however, is the only point on which I disagree with Ahmadinejad. Like him, I am sure Jesus would oppose attacks and occupation – attacks against his people, Israel, and occupation of the Land of Israel. No amount of convoluted revisionism and distortion could cleanse the historic Jesus of his Jewishness. Just turn to Mark 12:28-31 for the incontrovertible evidence. Jesus is asked which is the most important commandment of all, to which he replies: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might.”

Any Jew would instantaneously recognize this as the primary article of Jewish faith, a direct quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. For observant Jews it is an obligatory prayer each morning and evening. It’s the Jewish bedtime prayer. It’s the prayer inscribed within the mezuza on every Jewish doorpost. It’s the final prayer uttered by the faithful before death. It is the prayer with which Jewish martyrs perished at the hands of their executioners – whether from the ranks of the Catholic Inquisition, Muslim jihadists or Hitler’s henchmen.

Indeed were Jesus alive today, he might well be a Holocaust survivor who had lost beloved kin in the unparalleled slaughter which Ahmadinejad so adamantly denies ever took place. If Jesus were alive today, moreover, Ahmadinejad would in all probability target him for extermination. If Jesus were alive today, he wouldn’t silently acquiesce to the plotted annihilation of his people. He was one of us – not one of our enemies who butchered, slandered and ostracized us for two millennia in his name.

But no excess cerebral exertion disrupts First World self-satisfaction. Intellectual complexities unsettle the West’s satiated denizens. Fashionable slogans, catchphrases and sound bites replace earnest reflection. Problems with no facile solutions are downplayed rather than confronted. Difficulties make way for pipe dreams. The sparkly veneer is preferred to what lies beneath. Supercilious bon ton determines that, in the name of peace on earth and goodwill to all, death-merchant Ahmadinejad deserves a dispassionate neutral hearing, that Obamamania dolls are desirable and that – as seemed the inescapable omnipresent antique fair consensus – I must love Obama. I wanted to rail, but decorum decreed otherwise.

Nevertheless, I got my own back. Sort of. The ball-jointed 27-inch doll we acquired because I wasn’t allowed to deny loving Obama turned out to have been a unique find. Further meticulous inquiry showed that the specimen we have since dubbed “Our Own Obama Doll,” was rare. My initial hunch about her antiquated Belle Epoque appearance was subsequently borne out by researching the intricate history of her embossed back-of-the neck markings. She’s an extraordinary pre-1910 Schildkroet. What’s more, she cost me less than would Schildkroet’s latest Obama doll, and all because I was coerced to stay on my best behavior.

Does any of this mean anything vis-a-vis the bigger picture? Maybe only that we must keep hoping against hope that, despite all unfavorable odds, something even marginally good might emerge from the patently disheartening.

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