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John's Beanie Baby Column 04/26/97


     Okay, okay, calm down -- it's not _really_ a beanie baby
column.  But judging from the spillover into
figures, Beanie Babies are definitely the "Flavor of the Month,"
and perhaps the season.  When the young'uns (or even some
old'uns) get their desires up, there's no telling how far a toy
trend will go.  Heck, look at Cabbage Patch Kids, Power Rangers,
or even "Touch Me Inappropriately Elmo" -- none of these were
toys that I'd have thought were going to be million-sellers.
     Which just goes to show you why I write about toys, and
don't make policy on them, dreams or no dreams.
     Besides -- beanie babies?  I mean, really -- are these the
kinds of toys by which grown people should be transfixed?
     You betcha.
     Because the point here is that however much any one of us
might find a particular toy abhorrent, or maybe just terminally
vapid, that doesn't mean that the _next_ one of us might not be
completely head-above-heels agog over it.  Why, I know some hard-
core action figure collectors who -- gasp! -- are totally into
beanie babies.  Sometimes it's because of a spouse, or child, who
collects them.  But other times, it's just because some people
find the darned things...well...cute.

     Perhaps you're like me, sitting there thinking your beloved
virtual playground has been polluted by ongoing mentions of these
fuzzy little creatures.  And maybe you sit there like I did,
feeling superior, above it all, certain that such infantile
passions are something long gone, hailing with ever-attenuated
connection from your most distant past.
     If you can't tell, with all this in mind, the "comeuppance
express" was heading right for my door.
     It was such a small thing.  Just a little extra fillip of
adorability that I decided to add to Tracey's Easter Basket.
     A duck.
     (Somehow, I can't read those words without thinking of the
incomparable Graham Chapman intoning them, sonorously and with
unshakable certainty, when the villagers of a small medieval
hamlet -- no, not _that_ Hamlet -- are nonplussed by Sir
Bedevere's burning question of what else, besides witches, floats
in water... but that's a tale for another medium).

     And by the way, before I move further into the insidious
realm of plush ducks (boy, talk about euphemistic-sounding
phrases!), I want to note in passing my feelings about Easter
Baskets.  While I have discovered that they are fun, fun to give
as much as to get, I have to say that I was, in shopping this
year for the first time for same, appalled by the offerings of
"pre-made" baskets for Easter.
     Putting aside my poor memory, which just cannot recollect
where in the Gospels the Easter parade gets mentioned, or where
lurk psalms to cute little chocolate bunnies or hidden ovoid
treasures (must be some boring section where the ol' savior and
his cronies spend a bright spring morning wrestling around in the
tall mideastern grasses for sweet gooey surprises), I have to say
I don't mind the idea of Easter Baskets the way I mind most of
the supernumerary trappings of most holidays.  They're bright,
cheerful, harbingers of the season of new life -- and, for the
most part, mmmmm, they're edible!
     Nevertheless, the baskets to-be-had at the stores in San
Francisco were disappointing.  Just pitiful, really.  Why, if I
were one of those lame-ass Easter Baskets, hoping against hope to
be picked off the shelf by an eager parent, wishing to make some
wee tyke's Easter morning joyful, I'd be ashamed of myself.
     No, the only way to go, as I saw it, was to Make My Own!

     And I did, with great relish.  In fact, I daresay I had more
fun in assembling the goodies in Tracey's basket than she could
possibly have had in opening and devouring them later.  (Though
perhaps neither of us had near as much joy as the cats; more on
this later.)  And the piece de resistance, the crowning jewel of
that assemblage, was...
     ...a simple...
     Okay, let me put all my cards on the table.  It was much
more than a duck.  Egads -- it was a _ducky_.
     And by the time I got home with the basket, the ribbons, the
candies, and the fake grass (which, by the way, ended up being
the best feline Easter present a guy could imagine; the wee
beasties went absolutely cat-crazy in tearing it apart, clawing
it into shreds, chomping down on select plastic fibers...and
then, being cats -- which is to say being devoted to the
thwarting of human order whenever possible -- they made a great
delighted show of throwing up same, all over the dining room and
adjoining spaces.  Sigh...Happy Easter....), I had fallen for
this ducky.
     This soft, squishy, simple, bean-bag ducky.
     Fallen big time.
     Okay, so that is what it is.  Said soft mallard (said soft
John) now resides in prime of place in our bedroom, greeting us
on our way in and blessing us on our way out, his tiny bulk
folded somewhat ignominiously no matter how much we try to stand
him up straight.  But that's okay -- it's his nature.  His soft,
squishy, shifting, bean bag-y nature.
     From plastic Captains Courageous to plush ducks.  "Oy vey,"
as somebody's bubbie might say.

     But the real killer, as I realized only several days later
when McDonald's flowered the whole Beanie Baby craze into full
bloom, was that my prized and loved ducky was actually a Beanie
Baby _ripoff_!  A cheap mockery of what the rest of the world was
taking as the epitome of ooshy gooshy sweetness.  Oh, ignominy! 
A cloud of shame loomed on my horizon....
     But you know what?  I didn't care.  I _don't_ care.  I've
successfully resisted all temptations to join in the madness and
even begin collecting these true Beanie Babies.
     Because I love my little rip-off ducky, and wouldn't trade
him for the world.
     Not even if the world offered me a bald, be-tunicked
starship ducky with the number 1,701 stamped into its foot.  Er,
     Toy-joy really is in the eye (and hands) of the beholder.
     And my ducky and I want to be alone now.
     So there.

     You know, I was coming home from work Thursday evening,
riding the ol' "No. 1" California Street bus as it chugged and
huffed and wheezed its way up and down the hills of San
Francisco, thinking of little more than the salad that was
awaiting me at home, lost in gentle reverie and the pages of Kim
Newman's "The Bloody Red Baron" (a frighteningly good read, by
the way, though the ending is a definite letdown), when I noticed
a bespectacled young woman dressed all in black sitting towards
the front of the bus.  She toted several overflowing shopping
bags, but was otherwise unremarkable.
     Until she reached into one of her bags...
     ...and pulled out...
     ...a carded action figure.
     Now, it wasn't the mere existence of a carded figure that
stopped me in my tracks.  Er, jolted me in my seat.  No, it was
the sense of dislocation that swept through me.  I mean, here I
was on a late afternoon city bus, crowded with commuters -- and
down sits a pleasant young woman who pulls out an action figure,
like a plum from an eponymous pudding!
     For a moment, I couldn't figure out why I was so moved by
this display (it was a Cyborg Spider-Man, by the way, so it
couldn't have been the figure alone).
     And then it hit me.  The feeling that swept through me, of
stumbling onto a simpatico soul where I thought none would be,
was incredibly -- if distantly -- familiar.  Who'd think a
garden-variety bus-rider would happen to pull out an action
figure?  Well, who'd think a bunch of net-heads would have carved
out a warm open niche for same?  Indeed.
     I realized it was the feeling I got the first time I
stumbled into, in those carefree days before the
advent of
     It was a sense of shared joy, of finding community in the
unlikeliest of places.
     The sense of not being alone anymore.
     Which brings me to my point, reflectively speaking, which is
this.  I suddenly realized (yes, yet again) how much I take rtaf
for granted.  Oh, I know how much I _should_ appreciate it, but
it's only natural to forget that sometimes.  I mean, at first,
you spend enough time in a place, or with a group of friends, and
suddenly you find you can't imagine what life would be like
without it, or them.  But it isn't long thereafter that the
unique joy can seem to pall, to fade and return to the
background, and you aren't even actively aware of your ongoing
good fortune.
     So yeah, while there are plenty of people with agendas
differing from my own -- people who hang out in rtaf to talk
about toys I _don't_ collect, or to trumpet their unparalleled
status as toy mavens without peer ("you know, I was using the
word 'toy' long before anyone else, anywhere...."), or to argue
about cards, or packing ratios, or ethics...or even those who
don't hang out at all, and rather use the newsgroup as a platform
for unreading commerce (or worse), it is nevertheless simply
wonderful, incomparable, to have such a forum at all.  A place
where buddies from Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, Colorado,
New Hampshire, New York, and sure, California (not to mention
innumerable other U.S. spots, as well as points much further east
or west), can all nestle together and share our woes and our
glories, far from the madding crowds.
     I don't always read every message, or read it every day, but
rtaf is the cat's pajamas.
     Even if the cats sometimes throw up into 'em.

     Ahhh, Playmates Toys.  Do you know, that of all the toy
companies out there, Playmates saves me hundreds of dollars a
year?  It's true!  Not only have their mindless and contemptuous
marketing strategies lined my wallet with innumerable extra fives
and tens over the last eighteen months as a result of their
astonishingly vicious 1,701 "anniversary reward" to collectors,
in light of which I refused to buy all but one Playmates Toy (a
Vina, if you must know), but most recently, with the advent of
their outrageously demeaning and lying decision to scale _up_ the
production of ever more limited figures after promising never
again to do just that, they've saved me the cost of a
proctological exam to boot!
     Where did I leave those "thank-you" cards, anyway....
     You might ask, John, what do _I_ have to do to save money
vis a vis Playmates Toys?  Well, you know, the answer is so easy
it's dizzying:  pay attention.
     No, not to some arcane solution; just _pay_ _attention_ to
what Playmates is doing, because if you _do_ pay attention and
see their approach as the fan-hating, desperate, ugly thing it
is, you will be so repulsed, so sickened, and so dismayed (and
all quite appropriately and rightly so), you'll never buy a
Playmates Toy again, regardless of quality or art that might
inexplicably slip past the Archpriests of Mammon who rule the
Trek figure roost.
     It's actually such a very sad thing...on so many levels. 
First of all, it's just disturbing for a company to so blatantly
reveal their true (and ugly) face towards their intended
consumers.  I really have to ask why, if he knew he was going to
behave in this meretricious and offensively vile fashion, lying
to customers with pretty much every breath he draws, Jim Garber
bothered to change his name from "Joseph Goebbels" after the War. 
("Big" doesn't even begin to describe the extent of the lies this
man casually and with seeming glee tosses off to a once-loyal
collecting public.)  Ah well, a similar comeuppance to that of
those earlier days is rapidly approaching....
     And that's another reason it's sad:  Because I think it's
patently clear that Playmates' just-announced "strategy" (which
they will no doubt once again trumpet as a way to "reward"
collectors and keep "excitement" in the hobby) is a desperate,
last-gasp attempt to resuscitate a dying line.  If orders weren't
catastrophically down, there'd have been no need to fashion an
artificial demand-pumping device of having a recurrent trade in
ongoing limited figures.
     I have to view this as a final, auto-cannibalistic scheme of
purest desperation.  "If sales are down and our collecting base
is shrinking, let's pit those few fans idiotic enough to remain
loyal against one another in a regularly scheduled feeding
frenzy, maybe make some headlines, cause a lot of talk in the
aisles and on that pernicious and ignorant 'internet' thing,
throw raw meat to those wonderful 'scalper'-types who skew the
sales numbers and make our products seem irresistible -- at least
for those critical first few weeks after shipping -- and take the
money and _run_."
     'Cause let's face it, folks, we all know that this is a
dwindling and irreversible self-consumption; it's just like using
super-chemicals to wrench a few final harvests from a field
that's been furrowed and planted wildly without regard to
balancing the natural elements within.  Yes, you can squeeze out
one or two last crops, but you'll end up with blighted acres that
aren't useful for anything, or to anyone, for decades.
     Congratulations, Playmates; you've raised "biting the hands
that feed you" to a new art form.  I can only extend my best
wishes that your Star Trek-subgroup's unavoidable demise comes
with frightening swiftness, and that a good number of your top-
level "marketing" beauzeaus have the opportunity to be abruptly
and cruelly fired before the whole division deservedly comes
crashing down.
     Oh, hell, I know they're only toys, but you know what?  I
don't like being lied to, or jerked around, or treated with
obvious contempt, regardless of the subject matter.  I won't
stand for it from a politician (which is why I cannot listen to
any politicians), or a writer, a cabbie, a bartender, or a toy
     Does Playmates care about your feelings?  No.  Will they
listen if you call, or write?  Not really, and if at all, only
enough to promise their obedient they sharpen their
pikes and don their rubber gloves for yet another gleeful group-
virtual rectal probe.
     It really is very sad...because as with so many other
problems visited upon the collecting public through the
unrepentant and foolish catering to the secondary marketeers,
there's a simple alternate solution:  Charge a couple bucks more
on special figures, and use the extra profit to set up a mail-
order division.  That way, anyone who wants the product can get
it directly, without subsidizing the rapacious and venal efforts
of that all-too familiar coprophilic sub-strata of fan society,
the scalpers.
     If you care, I can only recommend that you stop buying
Playmates' toys.  And while you're at it, feel free to make it
clear to their _retailers_ that you're not buying 'em, and why. 
It probably won't do any good...but, coupled with down-spiraling
sales figures for Playmates Toys, it might hasten the company's
deserved degeneration.
     Oops -- what was I thinking?  They're already as degenerate
as they could get....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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