We’re away until January 3, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2016. Enjoy your holiday!
What was the Princess Diana Beanie Baby?
In the midnineties, my older sisters and I collected Ty Beanie Babies, as most of our peer group did. When I think of Beanie Babies, I think of the piles. Big piles saturated with every color and texture of fuzz, dotted with shiny black eyes and noses. They had a nice weight to them, too, a little heavier than stuffed animals. The pile became a classic image in the Beanie Baby mythos: the collector buried in Beanies. My sisters kept their collections (numbering several dozen) safely stowed in the pockets of over-the-door shoe organizers with plastic tag protectors and careful inventory lists, while I played with mine, ripping their tags off with abandon and allowing them, despite their Ty-brand prestige, to mingle with my other stuffed animals and dolls. Not that I had any objection to them as a commodity: I enjoyed collecting them, too, lining up at Pink’s or Hallmark—the two local authorized Beanie dealers in my New Jersey town—in anticipation of new releases. I read the trade rag, Mary Beth’s Beanie World. I called my local McDonald’s answering machine to hear which Teeny Beanies they were offering with Happy Meals. I searched in vain for rare, highly sought-after defective Beanies: a Spot with no spot, an albino elephant.
Today the Internet, with its relentless nostalgia mill, won’t let us forget how worthless our Beanie Babies have become. “Remember When Everyone Was Going to Re-sell Their Beanie Babies and Become Millionaires?” a piece on E! asked. I can’t help but feel vindicated by articles like these. My sisters were convinced that their Ty collections would be worth a lot of money someday; they had to be protected. But: a toy you don’t play with? It sounded dumb. It sounded dumb because it was dumb, and I somehow got that right—this at a time when I was wrong about many, many things. This at a time when I thought that Titanic was the most culturally important, most pornographic, longest movie ever made. (I had not actually seen Titanic, but I knew from my own careful taping that you could fit six hours of video on a VHS tape, and Titanic took up two tapes, so it had to be, like, twelve hours long.)
Still, I can’t escape some weird feeling about Beanie Babies: about the bizarre hysteria they generated and the prescience with which they foresaw the Internet as a vast archive for our personal ephemera and its emotional baggage.