Pellet-Filled Fun

        Beanie Babies took the toy world by storm in the 90’s. When I asked my mom about them she said that “It seemed like nearly every child owned at least one, whether they wanted it or not”. They became an instant popular collectible all over. They were an innocuous stuffed animal toy whose use or functionality as a toy is questionable at best. In large part, they were purchased and popular because they had names, facts about them, and even dates of births on their name tags that could be memorized and collected until a child had enough beanie babies to forget about how fun real toys used to be before beanie babies.  My family was no exception to this fad. From the time I was three years old, until last year when I left for college, my grandparents would buy me a Beanie Baby for any occasion that they could find a legitimate excuse for. They also happened to do the same thing for my two  younger brothers and sister. They loved giving them to us and we loved receiving them as gifts. But my siblings and my love for  beanie babies was rooted in a much different passion than my grandparent’s love for them. My grandparents loved the cuteness of the designs, the variability in their colors and features, their adorable names and lil’ factoids that could be found on the heart shaped tags attached to every lovable animal. On the other hand, my siblings and I loved the weight, girth, and abundance of different satisfying positions in which one could comfortably hold a beanie baby in your throwing hand. That’s right. Beanie babies were our favorite and most valued presents because of how lethal and functional they were as throwing ammunition in our daily, perennial sibling “war” of “let’s use beanie babies as a means to evaluate once and for all which sibling is the most superior” that lasted from around 1999-2010. Part of the reason beanie babies became so popular in society, was because of the novel idea of stuffing the toys with “pellets” or “beans” rather than the conventional stuffing of fluff or other things that couldn’t cause pain no matter how hard they were thrown. My siblings and I were also fascinated with the novel idea of pellet-filled stuffed animals as it was a game-changer. They were so much more satisfying to throw at someone than a cotton-stuffed doll. Just like the rest of America, my siblings and I began to amass our own beanie baby collections, completely separate from one another. Some “models” were clearly more valuable than others because of their weight and design (e.g. being nailed by Pinchers the Lobster  hurt much worse than getting hit by Legs the Frog, but If one was skilled enough to be able to accurately throw Legs the Frog by one of his limbs, then a much faster hit could be delivered to the less-fortunate or skilled sibling). It came to be that opening my grandparents’ gift for Christmas or our birthdays became one of the most anticipated and simultaneously dreadful moments of those special occasions. A good beanie baby was like gold to us, and even better, it made our grandparents so happy. Although we didn’t use beanie babies for their original intentions, we could not be happier with having  them for our own use. We derived our own value and meaning of what a beanie baby’s function was ,and to us it was just as valid as the creators’ intent. We were doing exactly what Griffin describes in her article as “poaching”.  As she explains it, “Children draw upon prefabricated characters and situations of popular culture to make their own social experience, reworking them to satisfy their own needs and desires. Children take what they can and make their own culture with it” (104).  Our grandparents bought us beanie babies in hopes that we would enjoy placing them on shelves to look at and not for vehicles of violence, but we did just that, because as Griffin talks about, “Childhood is a concept of innocence, which has often little relation to the material experience of actual children” (103). Similar to how children found a way or excuse to conform to the “Davey Crocket Craze” by finding their own meaning in it, my siblings and I were able to conform to the popularity of beanie babies by finding our own value and meaning for them. 

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2 thoughts on “Pellet-Filled Fun

  1. Okay okay this is awesome, but I want you to unpack the intended use of beanie babies just a bit more — how can you situate them as “training wheels” for other sorts of collecting behaviors (and the capitalist impulse beneath them)? And how does your own behavior disrupt that?

  2. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing toys that children will want for that reason, another more hidden and economic reason for owning beanie babies was to teach children the values of owning something. Parents used the purchasing of beanie babies as a means to introduce their children to the value and importance of owning something like a collectible to help teach them how to save and recognize valuables. In an unconventional way, my sibling’s and my behavior reflected those same values but we only recognized the short term value of owning a beanie baby. We did not comprehend the long term or economic value of owning beanie babies or other possessions that had monetary value; we only cared about owning it and using it as often and frequently as possible until it inevitably tore and pellets went everywhere. This is evident by the fact that we do not own a single beanie baby today as none lasted for more than typically a few months before falling apart.

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