Obama Mania Seizes Kitsch Makers


The first 100 days of President Barack Obama’s presidency are coming to a close and there are plenty of opinions about the new administration, but the popularity of one facet of the presidency is pretty undeniable: memorabilia.

After the popularity of stickers, t-shirts and posters with the Shepard Fairey “Hope” design, businesses big and small are speculating that the market for these products will continue to grow.

A number of products are considered by many to be offensive, sparking debate on whether they represent racist sentiments and should be pulled from the market, or whether the products are just silly or tacky being marketed by companies unaware of the implications.

Here are a few examples of products inspired by the 44th President that run the gamut from the tame to incendiary:

Hail to the Ch-ch-ch-Chief

After denying several requests, Joseph Pedott, president of Chia Pet maker Joseph Enterprises, gave in and developed two Chia Obamas.

“How can I take this asset and make it supportive, positive for what Obama is trying to do?” Pedott says he initially asked himself about the Chia business.  He wanted to develop, “not something happy-go-lucky or funny or something serious,” but to bridge the gap between those sentiments, he says.

Pedott found a photo of the President with a “determined” look on his face and came up with his first Chia Obama design.  But since the President is “known for his smile,” he decided to make a happy Chia Obama as well.

After appearing on shelves at Walgreens (Stock Quote: WAG) stores which stocked about 16 Chia Obamas each starting March 23, sales rose by 50% every day for a week, Pedott says.  But Walgreens pulled them from their shelves after disapproval from executives at the drug store chain, Pedott says.  They’re currently only available through Amazon.com (Stock Quote: AMZN) and Drugstore.com (Stock Quote: DSCM).

“After the successful launch of our Special Edition Chia Obama, plans are in progress to roll out a complete patriotic Chia ‘Proud To Be An American’ series,” Joseph Enterprises announced on the Chia Obama Web site.

On whether the Chia Obama could be considered offensive, Pedott says, “It never even crossed my mind.”

This hand-drawn design of President Obama as a zombie was meant to be a “commentary about rabid Obama fan-mania,” says Jared Moraitis of Pop Monkey Illustration who created the design himself just after the President was elected. 

“The political scene has changed to the point where Obama’s novelty had started to wear off a bit, and he'd started to make some of the ‘changes’ he'd hinted at which weren't what a lot of people were expecting or hoping for.” Says Moraitis. “In turn, the Zombama design had taken on many more potential meanings and could mean whatever you wanted it to mean, depending on your mindset.”

The design on t-shirts began to appear just recently, but Moraitis has received several responses from buyers, “some of whom love Obama - or most likely love zombies even more - and some of whom hate Obama with a passion and see this as some sort of commentary against him.”

“I originally created it as merely a wacky non-sequitur takeoff on all the parodies of the Shepard Fairey ‘Hope’ poster,” Moraitis says.

Obama Fried Chicken
German food company Sprehe, a maker of dinosaur-shaped chicken tenders, has introduced Obama Chicken Fingers, apparently unwittingly grating on a long-held stereotype that fried chicken is the food of choice among African Americans.

It never occurred to the company that the product might be considered racist.  "It was supposed to be a homage to the American lifestyle and the new U.S. president," Sprehe spokeswoman Judith Witting told Spiegel Online, a German publication.

Along similar lines in the U.S., sparking more controversy amid fried chicken-related stereotypes, two restaurants in New York City have been renamed Obama Fried Chicken.  While the restaurants, located in Harlem and Brownsville, Brooklyn, may have meant to pay homage to the President and thought they’d attract more customers, the move might actually have the opposite effect.   

Obama Ice Cream
“Black in White! Chocolate in Vanilla Ice Cream!” exclaims an Obama-inspired ice cream bar advertisement designed by Russian advertising agency Voskhod showing a smiling cartoon character resembling the president in Washington.

“We see nothing wrong with this... We believe pointing to race is not racism,” the company told SkyNews, a British publication. With our ad we are celebrating the fact there is a black president in the White House.”

In Russia, messages of racial hatred are considered a criminal offense, the black cartoon character on the cover of the box appears happy, even likeable, which could make it difficult to argue that it’s racist.

Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s, on the other hand, celebrated Obama’s inauguration by temporarily changing the name of its butter pecan ice cream to “Yes Pecan” for the month of January.

Obama Condoms
“Obama condoms…were designed so Americans could take their favorite candidates out of the living room and into the bedroom... Where the real game of politics is played,” according to Practice Safe Policy on its Web site ObamaCondoms.com.

Benjamin Sherman, the company’s founder, says he’s sold about 250,000 Obama condoms in about 50 different countries since their launch last June and calls his creation “the nation’s first brand devoted to showcasing the indecent relations between politics and sex.”  The condoms are similar in quality those at your neighborhood drug store, the company says.

Coin Collecting
Among the less risqué Obama products, altered U.S. Mint coins peddled on shopping channels and infomercials may have more sentimental value than the coins’ original value,  resale value or the price you pay for them.  For example, the Barack Obama $1 Presidential Coin available on sale for $9.95 from the original price of $19.95 from the Merrick Mint, superimposes colorized images of President Obama on regular U.S. mint coins, a move that could actually be considered defacing government property.

“These items are not official United States Mint products. Furthermore, these products, businesses, and advertisements are not approved, endorsed, sponsored, or authorized by the United States Mint, the Department of the Treasury, or the United States Government,” the U.S. Mint says on its Web site.  “The United States Mint does not encourage, endorse, or sponsor products that alter the fundamental images depicted on its coins.”

Obama Bandana
Among other products catching on to the Obama craze is the Obama bandana. Unfortunately, if you’re really planning to wear it on your head, you’ll probably have to fold it in half, obscuring the president’s full smiling face from view.  Making a pillow out of two bandanas might be a better idea.

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