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10 Horrible Things We Do to Teddy Bears

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I would like to draw your attention to a horrible epidemic of toy abuse. Teddy bears are being treated like objects in that we find ways to hurt, maim, and destroy them in the name of recycling, art, politics, or even entertainment. It's not that Ursus teddius domesticus is an endangered species (quite the contrary), but do we have to treat them so badly? Let's check out a few awful things that humans have done to teddies.

1. Drop Them From Planes

A Swedish plane flew over the town of Ivyanets, Belarus, last July and dropped teddy bears. Thousands of bears rained down on the town, "bearing" messages such as “Belarus freedom” and “We support the Belarus struggle for free speech.” The storm of bears was traced to Studio Total, a Swedish ad agency, which performed the stunt free for the political group Charter 97. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, who Charter 97 refers to as a dictator, tried to keep the bear drop out of the news -to no avail, thanks to Twitter and other social media.

2. Use Them in Experiments

The winning entry in the Mad Science Fair at ConDor 2010 was Dr. Allison von Lonsdale of the Institute for Dangerous Research for her experiment called "Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus." In the experiment, distilled Pure Evil was given to pregnant teddy bears to measure its effects on their offspring. The offspring, both miscarried and term, were "euthanized and mounted for display." The experiment is explained in full here.

3. Bottle Them

Canadian conceptual artist Iain Baxter&'s art installation called Animal Preserve(s) puts teddy bears and other beloved plush toys on display in specimen jars. Or are they just canned for later consumption? This installation was created in 1999, and has been copied by teenagers and other subversives ever since.

4. Make a Coat of Them

Artist Sebastian Errazuriz made a coat out of teddy bears in 2009. No doubt it was warm.

The Care Bears Coat by Instructables member scoochmaroo doesn't cover as much skin, but is more colorful. It consists of 45 Care Bears.

5. Turn Them into a Rug

Argentine artist Augustina Woodgate makes rugs from the recycled "skins" of donated plush animal toys. The effect is beautiful, combining the abstract feel of a crazy quilt with the thoughtful combination of colors that go into any work of art.

6. Toss Them

Throwing teddy bears can be cathartic, and it's for a good cause. The teddy bear toss is a tradition at hockey games in some areas of Canada and the United States, particularly around Christmas time. Spectators are encouraged to buy a teddy bear and bring it to a hockey game to toss on the ice. The bears are gathered up and given to hospitals and charity toy drives. Shown is the teddy toss at a Calgary Hitmen game in 2005.

7. Dip Them in Tar

Italian artist Mattia Biagi moved to Los Angeles and became fascinated with the La Brea Tar Pits. That led to sculptures made by dipping objects in tar. Teddy bears aren't his only objects covered with tar, but there are several of them.

8. Knock Them Down

Teddies stack themselves up and you knock them down. The game is simple, but your destructive nature causes mayhem for the poor toys!

9. Turn Them Inside-out

Zurich design studio Atelier Volvox created a collection of plush animals using old donated toys. They removed the skins, reversed them, and re-attached them inside out! The results, called Outsiders, are recognizable but somewhat creepy.

10. Disembowel Them

The Circus of Disemboweled Plush Toys includes, but is not limited to, teddy bears. They are displayed in the manner of a carnival sideshow, as if they were freaks of nature. View the entire collection at your own risk. The horror!

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10 Fun Facts About Play-Doh
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As any Play-Doh aficionado knows, September 16th is National Play-Doh Day! Let's pay tribute to your favorite modeling clay with some fun facts about the childhood play staple that began life as a cleaning product.

1. IT WAS FIRST SOLD AS WALLPAPER CLEANER.

Before kids were playing with Play-Doh, their parents were using it to remove soot and dirt from their wall coverings by simply rolling the wad of goop across the surface.

2. IF IT WEREN'T FOR CAPTAIN KANGAROO, PLAY-DOH MIGHT NEVER HAVE TAKEN OFF.

When it was just a fledgling company with no advertising budget, inventor Joe McVicker talked his way in to visit Bob Keeshan, a.k.a Captain Kangaroo. Although the company couldn’t pay the show outright, McVicker offered them two percent of Play-Doh sales for featuring the product once a week. Keeshan loved the compound and began featuring it three times weekly.

3. MORE THAN 3 BILLION CANS OF PLAY-DOH HAVE BEEN SOLD.

Since 1956, more than 3 billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold. That’s enough to reach the Moon and back a total of three times. (Not bad for a wallpaper cleaner.)

4. IT USED TO COME IN JUST ONE COLOR.

Photo of child's hands playing with Play-Doh clay
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Back when it was still a household product, Play-Doh came in just one dud of a color: off-white. When it hit stores as a toy in the 1950s, red, blue, and yellow were added. These days, Play-Doh comes in nearly every color of the rainbow—more than 50 in total—but a consumer poll revealed that fans' favorite colors are Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Garden Green, and Blue Lagoon.

5. FOR QUITE SOME TIME, DR. TIEN LIU HAD A JOB SKILL NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD COULD CLAIM: PLAY-DOH EXPERT.

Dr. Tien Liu helped perfect the Play-Doh formula for the original company, Rainbow Crafts, and stayed on as a Play-Doh Expert when the modeling compound was purchased by Kenner and then Hasbro.

6. YOU CAN SMELL LIKE PLAY-DOH.

Want to smell like Play-Doh? You can! To commemorate the compound’s 50th anniversary, Demeter Fragrance Library worked with Hasbro to make a Play-Doh fragrance, which was developed for “highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood.”

7. HASBRO RECENTLY TRADEMARKED THE SCENT.

Anyone who has ever popped open a fresh can of Play-Doh knows that there’s something extremely distinctive about the smell. It’s so distinctive that, in early 2017, Hasbro filed for federal protection in order to trademark the scent, which the company describes as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”

8. IT CAN CREATE A PRETTY ACCURATE FINGERPRINT.

When biometric scanners were a bit more primitive, people discovered that you could make a mold of a person’s finger, then squish Play-Doh in the mold to make a replica of the finger that would actually fool fingerprint scanners. Back in 2005, it was estimated that Play-Doh could actually fool 90 percent of all fingerprint scanners. But technology has advanced a lot since then, so don’t go getting any funny ideas. Today's more sophisticated systems aren’t so easily tricked by the doughy stuff.

9. IT HOLDS A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME.

Unsurprisingly, Play-Doh holds a coveted place in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It was inducted in 1998. According to the Hall of Fame, “recent estimates say that kids have played with 700 million pounds of Play-Doh."

10. YOU CAN TURN YOUR PLAY-DOH CREATIONS INTO ANIMATED CHARACTERS.

While Play-Doh may be a classic toy, it got a state-of-the-art upgrade in 2016, when Hasbro launched Touch Shape to Life Studio, an app that lets kids turn their Play-Doh creations into animated characters.

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To Have and to Have Snot: A History of Madballs
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Steven Leung via Flickr

When art school dropout Ralph Shaffer was hired by American Greetings to illustrate greeting cards in 1964, the 23-year-old was tasked with depicting delicate flower petals and hopping bunny rabbits. Every now and then, presumably to break the monotony of sentimentality, Shaffer would draw the rabbits being hung by a noose.

These morbid doodles didn’t make it to store shelves. Rather than offer him psychological counseling, the company decided to redirect his energies toward an eccentric squad of talent dubbed Those Characters From Cleveland. The company subdivision was responsible for creating intellectual property like the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. In the 1980s, it was also charged with designing a line of toys that parents would find appalling and boys would find irresistible: Madballs. By the end of 1986, more than 10 million of the decapitated grotesqueries would be sold.

Those numbers weren't surprising to anyone who had done a little market research. One of the few guarantees in the volatile toy industry is that boys love to be repulsed. Beginning with Slime in the 1970s—a gooey green gel that resembled infected snot—kids could always be relied upon to embrace things that would make most adults heave.

In 1985, Topps released the Garbage Pail Kids series of trading cards, a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids featuring revolting characters. Their immediate success was noticed by American Greetings, which had cornered the cute market with Care Bears but had never tried to appeal to booger-loving boys on the other side of the toy aisle. Sensing an opportunity, Shaffer, artist James Groman, and the rest of the think tank conceived of a line of squishy rubber balls with ghastly faces and names like Slobulus, Deathbreath, and Swine Sucker. Instead of a two-dimensional illustration on a playing card, kids would have a tangible object to torment their parents with.

Madballs debuted in February 1986 with a retail price of $3.99 apiece. The balls flew off shelves, emptying displays at Toys"R"Us and capturing newspaper headlines that attempted to rationalize such purchases by asking psychologists why protruding eyeballs were a selling point.

“Children find gross toys fun because that’s sort of where they are developmentally,” Brenda Baker, a psychologist based in Michigan, told The Morning Call in 1987. “These toys aren’t gross to them. They’re fun and funny.”

Because of their irregular shape, Madballs didn’t offer much in the way of actual bouncing. Instead, they were collected and displayed like morbid little trophies or used to antagonize siblings and adults. One boy, 7-year-old Chris Herter of Detroit, told The Morning Call he enjoyed rolling them down the laundry chute of his house. His mother, Libby, referred to the spheres as “gawd-awful.”

Although the toys were popular, they weren’t always welcome. Several schools prohibited them from being taken into classrooms because they were a distraction. One Madball, dubbed “Crack Head” for having a fractured skull, was renamed “Bash Brain” due to concerns people might think the company was poking fun at the drug epidemic burdening communities.

By September 1986, AmToy—the division of American Greetings that made these playthings—had successfully expanded Madballs into licensing, including Trapper Keeper folders. Bright Ideas, Inc. said Madballs outsold their Miami Vice products when it came to educational supplies. Direct-to-video cartoons, comics, and other ancillary merchandising followed. AmToy even released a line of action figures: When squeezed, their heads would spring into the air. AmToy also conceived a line of Blurp Balls that would spew a projectile when triggered. Among the characters: Up-Chuck Yeager.

An assortment of Madballs, still in the package
freeshippingtack, eBay

Madballs remained a popular seller through 1988, at which point children began to tire of sculpted vomit and decaying plastic heads. The line fizzled out, and remained largely dormant until a 2006 revival by Art Asylum, a licensee heavily into pop culture nostalgia. Dubbed Sickballs, the revitalized line attempted to compound the ick factor by having bodily fluids ooze out of orifices when the balls were squeezed.

Since then, Madballs have undergone a series of relaunches. Just Play releases grab bags of the characters at regular intervals, and KidRobot recently issued a line of Madballs designed after horror movie icons like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. Gross-out nostalgia is alive, well, and still drooling.

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