And, so, farewell to Gidget, the Taco Bell Chihuahua

I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I think I’ll miss Gidget, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, more than I’m going to miss Michael Jackson.

Gidget — who even knew she had a name? — died today, at 15. She gained favorable notice for a series of TV ads that ran from 1997 to 2000, promoting the fast-food chain, a unit of YUM Brands that offers particularly unpalatable tortilla-wrapped food items. It regularly occurs to people who have been out late drinking and forgot to eat dinner that it might not be an entirely bad idea to stop at Taco Bell and pick up a couple of bean burritos. Gidget, with her appealing manner, and her passionate cry of “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” made it possible to imagine that such thoughts could be something other than a radically self-destructive impulse. This is by no means a tiny accomplishment.

Unlike Michael Jackson, Gidget completed her assignment on behalf of Pepsi-Cola (the former owner of Taco Bell) without managing to set her head on fire, and developing addictions to prescription analgesics as a consequence.

Alas, poor Michael
Alas, poor Michael

We discover, after her passing, that Gidget was a female who was assumed to be male; her dubbed voice was that of Carlos Alazraqui, the dialect comedian. Jackson’s gender issues were, of course, much more complex.

Chihauhuas average a litter size of three. Jackson was one of 10 children, including Brandon, who was stillborn. Four pounds is a decent weight for a chihauhua, and Gidget seems to have maintained an acceptable body mass index, despite the documented high prevalence of obesity among Americans of Hispanic extraction, and her employment promoting the caloric, fat-laden products of the Taco Bell organization. Jackson reportedly weighed 112 pounds at his death, which indicates that his endorsement must have applied mainly to the fructose-free version of Pepsi-Cola.

A 40-ounce cup of Pepsi, which is what they’ll offer to serve you at Taco Bell,  contains 500 calories. A pair of those bean burritos is going to come in at 700 calories. The cola will perk you up, and the heavy lunch will put you to sleep, potentially creating a cycle of dependence. Watch out for that.

A coroner’s report said Jackson suffered from alopecia, and wore a wig. Chihauhuas, which typically live 10 to 17 years, are sometimes known as Mexican Hairless dogs.

As for Gidget, she seems today like a groundbreaking entertainment industry figure, who bridged previously offensive media stereotypes with today’s common depiction of Hispanic-Americans as a diverse and vital component of a multicultural society. Some have argued that Jackson’s popularity in the 1980s paved the way toward greater understanding between the races, leading to the presidency of Barack Obama. That could be, but I don’t think I want this discussion to go there. Obama is leading the world to a safer, saner place; Jackson died too young; “Beat It” is a great tune. We can agree on all that.

Sally Field was the original television Gidget. She’s still on TV, in a real stinker of a weekly drama, and promoting that osteoporosis drug in a series of commercials that is just painful to watch. Gidget the dog never stooped (pardon the disease-specific joke) to endorsing prescripton drugs. For his part, Jackson didn’t need to push pills; he allegedly had 19 doctors happily writing up enough scripts to get him through his final mid-life crisis.

The best you can say about Gidget, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, is that, though she appeared mainly in commercials, and though she was undeniably a canine, she brought two distinctive and seldom-seen  characteristics to the human-dominated modern entertainment industry.

Talent. And dignity.

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