By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
Illustration by Bob AulOC may be superior to LA in many ways, but until now the Colossus of the North remained unchallenged in at least one: 12-inch dolls with an unintentional dark side. North of the county line lies El Segundo, home of Mattel, whose Barbie doll has been the smiling face of body dysmorphia for generations.
Only one man could possibly measure up as Goodwill Ambassador for a Troubling Aspect of American Culture, and it's not the eunuch, Ken: it's George W. Bush.
Irvine-based Talkingpresidents.com is selling a talking George W. Bush doll, and selling enough to attract nationwide attention.
The words "talking George W. Bush doll" instantly suggest liberals having fun at the malapropistic president's expense. Not so.
"We like Bush," company founder John Warnoc told CNN recently. And there's no reason to doubt the sincerity of a man CNN describes as "a staunch Republican."
The Talkingpresidents.com website calls Bush "a true action hero," a generous description of someone who apparently couldn't serve out a cushy hitch in the Air National Guard without going AWOL for a year (Brennan, "A Charge Card to Keep," Jan. 19-25, 2001). Anyone still suspecting that the doll is the work of liberals need only visit the site's links page, which features nothing to the left of the Nixon Library or the Drudge Report.
Still, it may be surprising to learn that among the 17 genuine soundbites programmed into the doll, three are what polite journalists call "Bushisms," or, as Talkingpresidents.com delicately puts it, examples of Bush's "comedic use (or misuse) of the English language." Keep pushing the button on the doll's back, for example, and eventually you'll hear the word "subliminable."
But the knots into which Bush ties his tongue have never been a problem for his supporters. In fact, according to Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, White House handlers have spun Bush's thick tongue as proof that the president is a regular Joe. That helps obscure the fact that Bush is the Ivy League-educated son of one of the most powerful families in America, who became a millionaire trading on his family's connections.
A media studies professor at NYU, Miller originally intended his book on Bush's verbal gaffes as a work of humor. But while slogging his way through a mountain of error-laden transcripts, Miller found a pattern.
"Bush is not an imbecile," he told The Toronto Star in a November interview. "I think Bush is a sociopathic personality. I think he's incapable of empathy. . . . He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge . . . It's only when he leaps off into the wild blue yonder of compassion, or idealism, or altruism, that he makes these hilarious mistakes."
As an example, Miller cites a phrase that is one of the doll's three Bushisms: "And you're working hard to put food on your family." According to Miller, Bush didn't make that mistake "because he's so stupid that he doesn't know how to say, 'Put food on your family's table.' It's because he doesn't care about people who can't put food on the table."
Of course, most people buying the Bush doll are unlikely to agree with Miller's argument—that when Bush "tries to talk about what this country stands for, or about democracy, he can't do it" because "he's all about punishment and death." They'll just smile happily as the doll talks about food on families and wait for "subliminable" to cycle back again.
"It would be a grave mistake to play [Bush] just for laughs," Miller told the Star. But if it's a mistake, it's a profitable one. According to CNN, Talkingpresident.com has already sold 10,000 dolls at $30 apiece. El Segundo beware.