It's not really the holiday season until you've waited in an interminable line in adverse weather conditions to spend money on a toy that has been hyped within an inch of its life. To get your festive fix of fisticuffs, we present to you the Top Five Most Dangerously Popular Holiday Toys of the last two decades.
1. The Toy: Cabbage Patch Kids
The Year: 1983
The Chaos: My very own parents can attest to the fact that these (admit it) sorta-ugly dolls were THE must have Christmas item for much of the early 80s, thanks, in part, to a few big celebrities who were apparent fans of the little dimpled tykes, including Burt Reynolds (His wife, Loni Anderson, was a toy collector. We assume he bought them for her. That has to be it, right?) I had two. My first adopted daughter's name was Jemima. I don't remember the name of the second, but I do recall that her new special feature was that you could "curl" her hair by winding it around your finger. Basically this meant that instead of normal yarn-like hair, she had strands that felt like oily, waxy Twizzlers and were probably made from something we'd rather not think about. As for the frenzy surrounding these dolls, we'll let the You Tube footage speak for itself:
2. The Toy: Tickle Me Elmo
The Year: 1996
The Chaos: Nearly 300 people had amassed outside a Wal-Mart in Frederickton, New Brunswick in the five hours before it opened. The moment the doors were unlocked, the Muppet-seeking mob pushed their way through the entrance, evidently not caring who they had to step over on their way to the shelves of creepy, giggling, red rascals. One defenseless employee had to be hospitalized. (This was eerily similar to the tragic death of a Long Island Wal-Mart employee last month.) Down in Texas, two Wal-Mart employees were lucky enough to escape the Elmo rush unharmed, but they weren't able to escape The Man: they got fired for hiding Elmo dolls from customers so they could claim them for themselves.
The new Elmo on the block, "Elmo Live," doesn't just giggle; he sits, stands, dances, sings, tells jokes and crosses one leg over the other. It's terrifying and just a little bit awesome. See for yourself:
3. The Toy: Furby
The Year: 1998
The Chaos: Despite the fact that nobody was really sure what a "Furby" really was, the floppy-eared, big-eyed gremlin-esque toy with a capacity to remember a vocabulary of over 100 English words (along with some words spoken in "furbish") was so coveted in 1998 that people waited in line for hours just to buy Furbies that they could scalp to shoppers who were still waiting in line. The eternal law of supply and demand was put to the test as the media featured stories about this innovative "intuitive" tech-y toy months before it was actually scheduled to hit the shelves. By the time it did, the demand was already out of control stores were forced to turn away customers away with vague projections about when they'd get a few more Furbies in stock. Several customers at a Wal-Mart in Tewksbury, MA, wouldn't take "No Furbies" for an answer and threatened violence against the store management if their desire for Furby wasn't quenched. They still left empty handed, but at least they weren't in handcuffs. The Furbster is still around today, and there is actually a Bejeweled Furby that has been appraised at a worth of $100k. There are only five in existence, but somehow we suspect (or hope) the supply might be more than the demand this time around. Ready to lose several nights of sleep? Here's a You Tube video highlighting Furby's more"¦ uh"¦ demonic characteristics:
4. The Toy: Beanie Babies
The Year: 1997
The Chaos: The words "Beanie Baby Black Market" might conjure more than a few chuckles, but such markets were a reality in 1997 when Beanie mania was at the height of its frenzy. Oak Brook, IL-based toy maker Ty, Inc. introduced the original Beanie Babies in 1993. Four years later, they were still introducing new beanie designs that became instant must-haves for the kiddie set, while serious collectors paid thousands to get their hands on the "vintage classic" beanies with '93 and '94 birthdays. One Nebraskan toy storeowner reported that grown men were fighting in line waiting to get into her store to buy these $5 trinkets. Stores had to vastly limit the number of Beanies that customers could buy because while they only cost a fiver at the retailer, the underground trading market was being flooded with beanies costing ten times their intended value. In 1999, a St. Louis couple was sentenced to one and half years in prison and a $150,000 fine for smuggling in counterfeit Beanie Babies from Europe with the intent to sell them in the United States. Creator Ty Warner intended to get out of the beanie business altogether after he saw how his simple creation was getting blowing vastly out of proportion with asking amounts in the thousands, but he's back at it with Beanie Babies 2.0, an updated version of the same old stuffed animal with the added feature of being able to log on to the internet with a special code that allows you to play games and interact with your beanie virtually. (Much like the now hugely popular Webkinz, the first collectible plush to take up the original beanie baby mantle). For more beanie news, we will now direct you to this You Tube clip that actually features Beanie Babies delivering fake news. It's too precious to be believed.
5. The Toy: Nintendo Wii/Sony PS3
The Year: 2006
The Chaos: It's unlikely that you've forgotten the intensity surrounding Sony and Nintendo's holiday console system debuts in 2006. The lines. The websites devoted to tracking the latest shipments to your local stores. The urge to rationalize paying three times the retail price just so you would know what it felt like to be one of the proud few who would hold one on Christmas morning. This writer still doesn't own either, as she somehow believes that it is beyond her reach, like if I was to go right now to the store and try to get a Wii, two years later, they would still tell me to get in line. Nevertheless, some people did manage to score these two state of the art systems in '06, but in one reported instance, getting one was actually the easy part. One CNN staffer posted a personal account of her brush with violence as she struggled to escape with her newly purchased Wii, stating that as she made her way for the exit, disgruntled line-waiters who just been told there were no more Wii's to be had started grabbing for her bag and shouting at her. A lone female in a sea of angry gamers, she was escorted to a police car by the store's security guard and was given safe exit by her armed escort. For a 19-year old in West Bend, WI, just getting in line for a PS3 was a struggle: he injured himself running into a pole as he sprinted to claim one of 10 coveted spots in line outside a Wal-Mart to lay claim to the small shipment of PS3's that was available. Believe it or not, that was just the tip of the extremely violent iceberg surrounding these super-hyped systems:
We don't know yet which toy will claim the top spot under the tree this year, but here's a gallery of the contenders. Our money is on Kota, the dinosaur who munches leaves and whom that small children can sit on and ride. What we wouldn't give to be six again.
What's your best (or worst) must-have toy memory?
Jenn Thompson is a freelance writer for publications including Charlotte Magazine, Variety, and Time Out.