Can American culture survive the politicization of the Chia pet?

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald October 02, 2009 10:28 am

America has survived wars, floods, famine and high-fructose corn syrup, but those rank as minor distractions compared to the malevolence which today threatens our nation.

I’m referring, obviously, to the Chia pet.

This diminutive decoration has long hidden behind its facade of tackiness, but the evidence of Chia’s evil plot is so compelling that no jury would acquit.

Not even one with a majority of members who have been rescued, from the brink of a birthday or Christmas gift disaster, by a fine Chia product.

Despite America’s ability to defeat all manner of enemies, the damage the Chia pet is now inflicting on our reputation surpasses, I fear, even our power to repair.

We can continue to endure the sex scandals of celebrities and politicians.

Gangsta rap poses no real threat.

Reality television? A silly, but ultimately harmless, diversion.

But no society can long maintain its place among the great nations if it grows herbs in cheap clay models of its presidents’ heads.

Most countries honor their leaders by commissioning brass busts or fine oil portraits.

We peddle shoddy pottery on TV.

(Although the call is free, and operators are standing by, and all you have to do to keep George Washington’s scalp sprouting is top off the water now and again.)

I have no beef against herbs. Most emit a pleasant scent, and some varieties add a tang to spaghetti sauce.

But I don’t see how it helps America if President Obama sits across from Putin during an arms reduction summit and the Russian leader is not pondering in a sober way the power and prestige of America, but instead is smirking about how different the president’s hairline is compared with the picture on the Chia Web site.

For the first 10 seconds after the newest Chia commercial started I was convinced I was watching a parody, perhaps a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

The Chia people are bold marketers, sure.

They have over the years broadened the product range both geologically (if you’re intrigued by the Mesozoic era you can choose the Chia dinosaur) and genetically (the list of classes also includes amphibians and mammals).

The world of animation is amply represented, too — in particular the Simpson family (Bart and Homer) and the sleuths who ride around in the Mystery Machine (Scooby and Shaggy).

Yet flush with success, the purveyors of Chia seem to have forgotten that their business epitomizes low kitsch rather than high culture.

They have unveiled the “Special American Collection.”

This four-Chia set (each sold separately) includes the following: Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Obama, along with the Statue of Liberty.

The collection, according to the Chia Web site, is intended “to commemorate and honor three great American presidents with a well known American icon.”

Notwithstanding the historical fallacy of this — Obama is certainly capable of greatness, but he has yet to earn that accolade — I can’t help but admire the sheer bravado of the Chia hucksters.

It takes real cheek to claim that a proper way to honor the Great Emancipator is to make him look like Julius Erving would have looked had Dr. J washed his hair in the Love Canal in about 1975.

And who knew that Washington powdered his wig with lime gelatin mix rather than chalk.

Even if America’s eminence outlasts this latest sordid episode, the original Chia pet and its eclectic cousins have much to answer for, it seems to me.

It turns out that the company that makes Chias — Joseph Enterprises — is responsible for a couple of other products whose popularity must give other industrialized nations great confidence that America is not flexing its intellectual muscles with anything like the vigor of which it is capable.

The Joseph Enterprises line also includes — and you saw this coming — the Clapper and the Ove Glove.

Suffice it to say that the Chinese and the Indians aren’t apt to be intimidated by a country whose citizens are so lazy that they deign to stand up to turn the lights off, and so clumsy that they can’t pull a casserole out of the stove without a special implement.

Although, considering how many countries depend on America’s unrivaled ability to grow food, perhaps Joseph Enterprises ought to promote the Chia presidents as educational rather than — and I’m shuddering as I prepare to type this word — decorative.

So what if we put our presidents in the same league as, say, cilantro.

At least we can feed ourselves and still have plenty of seeds left over.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.