Grading the toy crazes

Ah, Christmas. If there’s a plus about being isolated, it means that we get to escape the madness of crowds. People now have to line up outside stores to keep them under capacity. There’s at least some attempt that people have to step on the stickers they got on the floor. Santa has to be scheduled by appointment.

But there’s a little something missing. Where are the crazy mobs of parents trying to get the next hot thing?

When it comes to toy crazes, there is only one that really matters: the Cabbage Patch Kids. The innocuous toys have such a bizarre origin that likely involves intellectual property theft, a toy factory that was a repurposed clinic where dollmakers dress up in scrubs and treat the dolls like they were alive, an origin story where the babies grew from cabbages, and predecessor where the dolls retailed for thousands of dollars. If you haven’t heard the Decoder Ring podcast on them, I suggest you check it out. The dolls also exposed the ugliness of capitalism and the human soul, where shameless parents mobbed stores and literally yanked the dolls right out of the hands of poor little girls. I’m tempted to give it a demerit for sparking one of the darkest chapters in toy history… but darn it, they really are kinda cute, aren’t they? Grade: B.

So according to some sites, the Star Wars Early Bird Certificate Package was the very first Star Wars action figure item. And what’s that, exactly? Well, Kenner got blindsided by the popularity of Star Wars and didn’t have the figures ready for Christmas. So instead you got this empty box/display case where you could fill a mail-in card and get the first four toys in roughly four months time: Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca. Not gonna lie: if I got this when I was a kid, I’d be pretty stoked, even if it is just a whole bunch of cardboard. Shoot, if you were particularly creative with a pair of scissors, you could come away with some sweet Star Wars paper dolls! Grade: B+.

Tickle Me Elmo is yet another testament to the violence inherent within the toy crazes. (And also to hacky comedians who couldn’t resist turning the name into a sex thing,) Elmo was just another Sesame Street doll chilling on the shelves at Wal-Mart until the fateful day when Rosie O’Donnell, on her talk show, made a surprise unsolicited endorsement. Then it was on. One thing led to another, yadda yadda yadda, a Canadian clerk got hospitalized in critical condition after he was trampled on my 300 people rushing to get at the toy, perhaps as hundreds of Elmos surrounding him laughed and made light of his pain. There’s some strange sense of karma here, where the more childish a toy is, the more violent the situation. I mean, you never her of people stealing from kids or hurting store employees over GI Joes. Anyway, you Tickle Me Elmo owners have to enlighten me on this guy, because I can’t see how this toy and its giggling doesn’t get old after 15 minutes. Grade: C.

Fortunately Furbys, while popular, did not inspire the same crowd madness as some of its predecessors. It did run afoul of the government, though. If you remember, Furbys could adapt their Furbish language the more you talked with them. This was apparently a problem… something that presage the whole concern about Pokemon Go potentially recording proprietary data. The NSA was apparently concerned that Furbys had the ability to record conversations and banned them from premises. The FAA included Furbys on their “no fly” lists. (This was back when CD players and GameBoys were prohibited from being used on take-offs and landings.). Who know Furbys were enemies of the establishment? I think Furbys are generally cute (even if CNN at the time called them “slightly sinister-looking“), but those eyes are just so judgmental. Grade: B+.

So, until I had started writing this I had never even heard of Hatchimals. It was, though, apparently the hot toy of 2016. They were apparently inspired by unboxing videos. Get this… what if the toy… could unbox itself? So, yeah, that last like shows that I am completely out of touch with the kids these days. The again, that whole toy craze where kids could sticks eyes, a nose, and a mouth on a potato was pretty bizarre when you think about it. The egg was supposed to hatch after you interacted with it for some time. There were some defects, though, and parents reported eggs that failed to hatch. A hard lesson for the kids that day about stillborn births and the cruelty of life. Which leads me to this morbid thought: can you pass off a cabbage as a stillborn Cabbage Patch Kid? Grade: B-.