"I was pulled under, trampled—the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans [. . .] I was kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious."
Sounds pretty scary right? So what was it? Soccer hooligan riot? Controversial political protest gone awry? Student demonstration gone violent?
Or, a race for $28.99 worth of pulsating synthetic fur?
If you answered D, then congratulations. You're a witness to the soulless materialism of sheeplike 90s suburban parents. Yes, that right. Innocent unsuspecting shop clerks were trampled and concussed all for the unworthy cause of an overpriced, overrated toy. Something tells me that guy wasn't laughing nearly as much as these toys. Or TYCO, for that matter. I'm sure we can all imagine that journey to the bank involved a lot of uncontrollable giggling. And I mean all the way there.
Though I was a bit too old (and let's be real here, too cool) to have any remote desire for a Sesame Street themed toy in 1996, I was perplexed and amazed by the impact this single plaything had on our fair nation. Every couple of years or so, a toy comes on to the market that takes off in an unanticipated and astronomical way. While usually the trajectory of a toy's success is pretty stable, every once in a while one comes along that becomes an absolute hands-down no-two-ways-about-it must have item. As in we've got people trading black market kidneys for these things.
It also seems that once this path of toy-crazed destruction begins, it can not be stopped. No rational intervention of any kind seems enough to quell the unquenchable desire to one-up our neighbors. It became about the principle of the thing--or in this case, the lack thereof. People went completely insane, manic under the spell of owning the most coveted holiday item of the year. Congratulations, you Jiminy Cricket-less bastards.
The best part of the whole shebang was the Sophacles-level of irony hiding just beneath the surface. Elmo, as a character, was the ultimate prototype for sweet, kind, good-natured innocence. Never in a million years would he engage in any type of violence--he was a monster in name and bodily fluffiness alone. These were values people wanted to pass down to their kids. So much so, in fact, that they were willing to completely disregard these same values in their unbridled bloodlust for these toys. Smooth move, parents.
I'm sure if my parents had trampled some poor shmoe down at Toys 'R Us without so much asking after his broken bones and resultant disfigurement, I'd be pretty pleased. After all, I'd have Elmo as my moral guide. That pretty much makes up for it, right?
Too bad our Tickle-Me pal didn't offer much in the way of substance, or even any type of real underlying value. Take a look at the toy in question in its natural habitat in its depiction in the original 1996 ad:
What? Really? We're trampling people for that? That thing sort of...sucks. It's not really exceptional in any way. I mean, yeah, it shakes. Great. It laughs in a horribly irritating high-pitched tone. Remind me again why we all want one of these?
Oh, right. Because we're slaves to a competition-driven consumer society. I'd almost forgotten. I suppose if you really get down to it, the vibration was marginally high-tech for the time. It used similar technology to the type of feedback you get now on your Wii when you run over a penguin in Mario Kart*. It was kind of cute in a "I see this thing every day on TV but don't really need one in my own home" sort of way. It didn't seem to have all that much going for it substance-wise outside of the ample hype.
Keep in mind this was not the only Elmo doll on the market. There were dozens of others that for some reason or other had failed to become the almighty chosen one for the holiday season. That vibrating censor and voice chip was just the tipping point to drive this toy to phenomenon status. People who'd been lucky enough to buy one before the craze took over everything and everyone made out pretty nicely overall on the deal. These toys were selling in unofficial markets for upwards of $1000. I'm sorry, if you missed that, that sum was $1000. Given, this was the 90s and the economic climate was a bit less dire, but geez. No wonder people hate America. I blame Tickle-Me Elmo.**
Just like any craze, the hysteria subsided almost as quickly as it had crested. TYCO tried to quickly cash in on the brand by offering up a whole line of Tickle-Me Sesame Street friends, but it seems everyone had had just about as much tickling as they could take. It was time to lay the concept to rest, especially if we ever wanted our late-night talk show hosts to joke about anything else.
This was not, however, the last we saw of Tickle Me Elmo. In 2006, the 10th anniversary of the original release, Fisher Price unleashed TMX limited edition Tickle Me Elmo Extreme. Yep, extreme.
Okay, that one was too creepy, even for me? What's with the Cheaters/Cops-grade blurring? What exactly are they hiding? Let's try that one more time:
Nope, I was right the first time. Still creepy.
*What? I'm really bad at Mario Kart.
**Remember, if you don't buy a Tickle-Me Elmo, the terrorists win.