Bye-bye, Bamba

This is one baby that deserved being thrown out with the bathwater.

Bamba baby 370 (photo credit: Osem website)
Bamba baby 370
(photo credit: Osem website)
The Bamba Baby has been bumped off. Thankfully.
Cute as it indisputably is and an abiding local icon as it had become, it’s a travesty to resort to this delightful charming-cum-mischievous image as our national emblem. But this is precisely what our Olympic Committee agreed to do last week.
It took unequivocal public outrage to keep Bamba Baby at home and away from this summer’s London Games. This gives us at least two snacks for thought – the fact that such an idea arose to begin with and the fact that the public spoke up against the lovable bluediapered imp.
But first things first. Bamba Baby is the logo of Israel’s quintessential native snack that conquered the local market back in 1963 and had since dominated it with ease (accounting for a quarter of all snack sales). It is one of Osem’s most successful and reliable products ever.
The peanut butter-flavored corn puffs are no less than a national staple, and the somewhat zany-looking Bamba Baby has entered the national folklore. Its plastic figurines and dolls of yesteryear are collectors’ items.
So far, so good. It is indeed a comfort that in the cutthroat globalized economy a homegrown blue-andwhite product can survive, much less become an inseparable part of the experience of every Israeli – from infant to soldier.
But it is a long stretch from this to serving as our national symbol. Not every locally produced item of domestic consumption – regardless of how ever-present or nostalgia-laden – deserves to represent our Israeli collective.
True, it may be argued that we shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously, that no massive issues of national honor are involved here, that no disrespect is inherent in the Bamba Baby choice and that a mascot ought to be lightweight and lighthearted. But this is where the commercial aspects of the kerfuffle enter and accentuate the unease.
Neither our Olympic Committee (which initially approved the Bamba Baby emblem) nor Osem (which proposed it) denies that a business transaction took place. They’re only mum on the details but not on the fact that a deal was struck, which is what’s disconcerting.
Osem was awarded the license to market its brands with the Olympic mascot and Israel’s Olympic Committee logo. In return Osem was to pay the Olympic Committee if Israel an undisclosed sum.
No matter how presented, this is a commercial promotion.
To be sure, this is hardly unheard of in sports or in other Olympic associations in the international arena. Increasingly, the guardians of the public coffers aren’t sufficiently generous and private interests move in.
But are we there? Do we crave the crass commercialism that is rampant abroad? Can a state as young and as beleaguered as ours afford to have its public face among the nations hijacked by a trademark – no matter how winsome and familiar it is? And where does it stop? If all that matters is business and payoffs, would we be as cool about it if foreign conglomerates sought the same advantage here as Osem nearly scored? If we want to steer clear of commercialism, it’s the principle that must matter and not the identity of the sponsor.
It ought to be a source of pride to us that our public didn’t acquiesce in the takeover of our identity.
The backlash occurred quickly and spontaneously. It arouse from the grassroots. It manifested itself before officialdom could intrude. It came equally from Left and Right and it fused objections of a national and an anti-commercial nature. Our politicos only chimed in subsequent to the groundswell of opposition to beloved Bamba Baby.
So loud was the squawk that it could not be ignored.
Neither the Olympic Committee nor the commercial sponsor could afford to do what was patently the unpopular thing. Bamba Baby was booted off the Olympic team within the day.
MK Uri Orbach gave vent to widespread indignation when he suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the national anthem be changed to the Bamba Baby jingle.
This is one baby that deserved being thrown out with the bathwater.