Dog Days for the Taco Bell Spokespet

Who keeps messing with that Taco Bell chihuahua? Remember when it first appeared about a year ago? It was a simpler time, a time before Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott began plugging Gap, before Apple

Feb 25, 1999 at 2:06 pm

Who keeps messing with that Taco Bell chihuahua?

Remember when it first appeared about a year ago? It was a simpler time, a time before Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott began plugging Gap, before Apple Computers started looking like Jolly Ranchers and before those irritating Budweiser frogs began to talk.

Yes, back then the Latino Lassie was a simple friend driven by a strange but endearing compulsion to ignore the ladies, approach complete strangers and say "Yo quiero Taco Bell." Marilyn Monroe comes to mind when I think about how this canine candle in the wind has been transformed from an adorable adolescent innocent to a pointy-eared pervert addicted to some kind of sick Gordita phone sex.

I knew something was seriously wrong the moment I saw my hairy friend dressed up like a tiny Che Guevara leading the masses in a mindless march for Gordita-ism. Maybe the dog was supposed to be Juan Perón or, for that matter, Eric Estrada dressed up like a chihuahua. Whatever it was, it was no longer a dog.

Like a hapless comrade-citizen of a forgotten Cold War nation, I was subjected to a torturous barrage of "Viva Gorditas" and "Let's go get some now!" I didn't understand what was going on, and then the so-called Gordita revolution ended as soon as it began.

Next, the pet suddenly and inexplicably appeared in New York City trying to trap Godzilla in a shoe box. "Here Leeezard, Leeezard, Leeezard," it called out. Then the dog was riding Godzilla's tail and ordering for two at a Taco Bell drive-thru. Hey, I can suspend belief for a talking chihuahua, but there have to be some rules.

A more recent commercial begins by showing the chihuahua singing a love song to a beautiful woman standing in front of the open window of a high-rise apartment building. Upon closer inspection, the camera shows that the dog is really singing to some overweight guy munching on Taco Bell food. Now I'm supposed to believe the dog is some kind of Julio Iglesias? Or maybe a young Ferdinand Marcos?

Well, Marcos was a Spanish-speaking dictator famous for singing karaoke with his wife Imelda. He ruled the Philippines, and the Philippines are somewhat close to Japan, the home of Godzilla. Bingo! Except that doesn't explain the first three commercials.

Frankly, I just don't know who or what that dog is supposed to be. Whatever it is, the stuffed version can now be purchased for the monetary equivalent of four regular tacos and some change at your local Taco Bell.

Do capitalists have to destroy everything they love? Maybe that's a little harsh. Blow up the chihuahua and make it a Fox network television event, I don't care. I can't take myself and the dog seriously at the same time.

Some people can, though. There have been boycotts and rumors of boycotts from the beginning of the Taco Bell campaign. One Hispanic activist went so far as to say the ads were a hate crime and that they should be outlawed — which makes about as much sense as the commercials themselves. Reassuring, however, is the fact that Mexican-Americans seem to either like the ads or simply don't care.

On another front are the professional breeders who say that this famous chihuahua isn't a good example of the breed. Lynne George, a breeder from Conroe, Texas, told me that the TV dog's ears are too big, its nose is too long and it has a questionable bite.

But what really concerns her, she says, is that the commercials might encourage a bunch of brainless Americans to go out and buy TV lookalikes. George fears that many of these fad pets will end up on doggie death row when the owners decide that, on second thought, they would rather have one of those irresistible Disney dalmatians.

It seems the chihuahua isn't the only one with an identity crisis.