Have you ever looked a rabid dog in the eye? It's frighteningly similar to facing down a parent reaching for the last must-have toy of the season. The bizarre truth is that toy fever can quickly turn normally rational people into crazed versions of their usual selves. After all, who wants to be the one to tell little Susie that she's the only tiny diva on the block without the latest and greatest American Girl doll? Not me!
Fad toys are also prime fodder for kid-on-kid scuffles. These hot toys simply incite a fervor among children and grownups that can get out of control in a huge hurry. Of course, the irony of it all is that most kids (if they're anything like mine, anyway) will be entranced by said toy for a few hours or days, at best, before ditching it in favor of some cheap household item, like a cardboard box fort or a pan and a wooden spoon. So take a cue from some of the following incidents and exercise self-control in the toy aisle, OK? Black eyes don't look good on anyone, especially those of us who frequent the bus stop or carpool line.
Elsa. If you haven't heard her name, you clearly don't live in the vicinity of little girls or even their parents, for that matter. The leading lady of the juggernaut Disney movie "Frozen," which is the highest-grossing animated flick of all time, has so saturated society that it's not shocking in the least that related merchandise has incited actual violence [source: Vary].
Demand for "Frozen" swag was so out of control at a store opening in Wales that grown women were witnessed "scrapping" over the dregs as inventory began to dwindle [source: Kelly]. Now, I've only seen the film one time, but I'm pretty sure that Queen Elsa would have frowned upon this behavior and told them to "freeze" and "let it go," already. It's simply gauche to tarnish the reputation of the good people of Arendelle, Wales, over some silly themed lip balms, right?
"Furby Frenzy Fueling Face-off" screamed an alliterative headline in 1998. Apparently, there was once a huge hole in the marketplace that could only be filled by a gibberish-talking electronic rodent-of-sorts. And Furby was just the thing to fill it. Once Wired magazine called it the hot toy of the 1998 holiday season, all hell broke loose.
There was an injury-inducing stampede at a Wal-Mart in Illinois; upended store displays and the trampling of fellow shoppers at a store in Denver; and verbally abusive shoppers at another Wal-Mart in Texas [source: Tooher]. Next time, it might be safer to stick with a gerbil or a small dog, since these popular electronic animal gizmos are clearly hazardous to a shopper's health!
The year was 1983. I was but a chubby-cheeked preschooler with only one item on her Christmas wish list – a Cabbage Patch Kid. I wasn't picky about gender, hairstyle or outfit. I, like all of my classmates, simply had to have this most epic of dolls. My father, being a rational man, thought he could just walk into a store and purchase one. He was met by one empty display after another, until he realized the direness of the situation. He began to immediately and uncharacteristically panic in fear that his only daughter would be devastated on Christmas morning. Fortunately, he was saved by my beloved uncle, who happened to pick one up a couple of weeks prior, "just in case." Come Dec. 25, I was elated to find Humphrey Vincent (Cabbage Patch Kids always have the most random names) under my tree, who quickly made his way into my heart.
By the time my dad got with the program, he'd missed the entire inventory, along with injury-inducing crowds and mayhem inspired by rabid Cabbage Patch wannabe-owners. A crowd of 150 knocked down an elderly man at a store in Miami Beach. In New Jersey, a pregnant woman was trampled by a throng while in Pennsylvania, one woman suffered a broken leg when an angry crowd got out of control [sources: Stephey, Associated Press]. The Cabbage Patch doll, with its soft pudgy cheeks and adoption papers, was the first toy to cause adults to behave worse than schoolyard bullies in their efforts to secure Christmas gifts for their kids.
My first, and likely only, Black Friday experience was post-Thanksgiving dinner, 2013. I naively wandered my way back to the Xbox 360 display at my local – wait for it – Wal-Mart, where I managed to snag a coveted game console. I then watched in disbelief as shoppers descended like locusts, narrowly keeping the peace under the watchful eye of gun-toting law enforcement officers. After taking a soft elbow to the ribs and scurrying away, I made haste for the less chaotic areas of the store.
My experience paled in comparison to the 20 or so Los Angeles shoppers in 2011, who were actually pepper-sprayed by a fellow Xbox-seeker. Several of them were injured in the ensuing melee [source: D'Innocenzio and Anderson]. Incredibly, the perpetrator paid for her Xbox and left the store, only to turn herself in to authorities the following day [source: The Week staff]. Talk about a serious case of buyer's remorse.
I grew up in the pre-Elmo era of Sesame Street and had children a decade or so after the 1996 launch of Tickle-Me Elmo, so I was completely befuddled by the avalanche of enthusiasm that gripped society upon the toy's release. Demand for this plaything, which giggled when you tickled it, so outscored supply that in-store arguments were commonplace and at least one New Jersey Wal-Mart employee sustained a concussion and broken rib when 300 customers rushed him for the last Tickle-Me Elmo in stock [source: Oloffson].
Still others capitalized on the situation and enjoyed a financial windfall, selling their prizes online for ridiculous markups. I'm still waiting for the episode of Sesame Street where the furry red monster rolls around in a huge pile of cash, 'cause you know he's been raking it in for quite a long time now! At the very least, he deserves a Rolex or something.
The 1990s will go down in history for producing several riot-worthy toys. Beanie Babies swept the world with their cuddly, squishy cuteness, precious names and potential as serious collectibles. People trolled stores to find the latest and greatest designs, and frequented McDonald's with abandon once the little guys were introduced in miniature version as Happy Meal toys. The toys sparked a riot in Ogden, Utah, with 60 people pushing and shoving before a story opened. Police had to be called in to calm everybody down [source: Bryson].Ironically the Beanie Babies never rose in value to be worth anything much in 2014 [source: Rush].
Still, some people must have thought they were worth going to jail over, as evidenced by a 2011 home invasion at knifepoint, when two teens absconded with six Beanie Babies belonging to a child, among other items. Both men were arrested and charged with multiple counts, including aggravated assault and robbery [source: Curtis]. Forget beanies – these guys were meanies!
Parents aren't the only ones who go a little bonkers over playthings. Schoolyard scuffles over Pogs became so rampant in 1995 that many officials adopted a "Zero Pogs" policy on school grounds.
In case you missed the boat, Pogs was a disc game that could be played in a variety of ways. Typically, the winner took possession of the coveted discs. This modern spin on the traditional marbles game first burst on the scene in Hawaii and quickly made its way mainland, where so many fights erupted over Pog trades, thefts and losses that the trend fell out of favor with teachers and administrators [source: New York Times]. Eventually, the hubbub died down among the children too, to the relief of educators and unskilled Pog-players everywhere.
What's the deal with furry robot toys that they incite so much fervor and zeal? Zhu Zhu Pets caused quite the ruckus during the 2009 holidays when they achieved the coveted "hot toy of the season" reputation. Designed to be unpredictable, adorable and interactive, these tiny robotic hamsters offered a dialed-down version of actual pet ownership.
Zhu Zhu Pets inspired adults to line up overnight for purchase, and caused so many arguments and fights at one Indianapolis-area store that crowd control had to be brought in to restore order [source: Associated Press]. Seriously, living, breathing hamsters cause less trouble than these little guys!
At 40 years old, Hello Kitty is still as hot as ever. Only she doesn't have a fantastic wrinkle cream or workout regimen to credit. Nope, the success of this global phenomenon continues to wow thanks to adorable products, marketing and tons of good old-fashioned hype. However, despite her appeal, she leaves a significant amount of damage in her wake. In 2000, seven Singapore-area enthusiasts were injured when a glass door at a McDonald's restaurant shattered under pressure of customers desperate to get their hands on Hello Kitty swag [source: Associated Press].
Fast-forward to 2013 and police had to be called in to quell chaos at another McDonald's in Singapore where the kitties in skeleton outfits went on sale. Even in 2014, online shoppers caused virtual damage by crashing McDonald's servers in an attempt to purchase cool new collectibles. Furious would-be shoppers trashed the chain and lamented their inability to purchase the brand's latest incarnations [source: Singapore AFP]. Hell hath no fury like a Hello Kitty buyer scorned.
Every generation of kids has at least one trademark accessory. Mood rings, slap bracelets and jellies have all come, gone and come back again because they appeal to the creative and colorful nature that children often embrace. Silly Bandz looked like regular rubber bands on the wrist, but off it, they returned to their original shapes of animals, musical instruments or symbols. In 2010, they changed the landscape of prepubescent fashion.
The trend started off innocuously enough. But soon kids were spending all their free time – and school time – playing with them, swapping them with friends or slinging them at each other. As a result, a number of schools banned the Bandz, probably upping their hotness quotient to even more impressive levels [sources: Stacey, Rochman]. Although they're still around in 2014, the fervor has definitely peaked and declined to more manageable levels.
Lego announced it is switching to a sugarcane-based plastic as part of its commitment to sustainable materials. HowStuffWorks looks at the change.
Author's Note: 10 Toys So Popular They Incited Violence
The mayhem surrounding toys may seem – and often is – out of control, but I can certainly understand why emotions run high for parents and kids. Looking back on my childhood, it's peppered with the indelible images of several of these brands, which provided a lot of great memories for a kid who didn't have a huge number of playthings to choose from. That said, commercially produced items are rarely worth fighting over. Keep the peace, people!
- Associated Press. "Hello Kitty frenzy..." Deseret News. Jan. 16, 2000 (Nov. 5, 2014) http://www.deseretnews.com/article/738647/Hello-Kitty-frenzy-leaves-7-injured.html?pg=all
- Associated Press. "Indianapolis shoppers fight over hot hamster toy." Fort Wayne.com. Nov. 27, 2009 (Nov. 5, 2014) http://www.fortwayne.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/JG/20091127/NEWS07/911279972?mytabsmenu=
- Curtis, Henry Pierson. "Beanie Babies swiped: Men accused of taking little girl's toys during armed home invasion." Orlando Sentinel. Jan. 27, 2011 (Nov. 5, 2014) http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-01-27/news/os-home-invasion-st-cloud-20110126_1_home-invasion-police-officer-victim
- D'Innocenzio, Ann and Mae Anderson. "BLACK FRIDAY: Record numbers of shoppers, sporadic violence reported." PostStar. Nov. 25, 2011 (Nov. 4, 2014) http://poststar.com/news/local/black-friday-record-numbers-of-shoppers-sporadic-violence-reported/article_8efd6d8e-1728-11e1-9331-001cc4c002e0.html
- Hartlaub, Peter. "12 must-have toy hits from Christmases past." MSNBC. 2014 (Oct. 4, 2014) http://www.nbcnews.com/id/40059786/ns/business-retail/t/must-have-toy-hits-christmases-past/#.VFrrSTEo4ic
- Kelly, Steve. "Let it Go – It's mine!" Mirror. Nov. 1, 2014 (Oct. 4, 2014) http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/let-go---its-mine-4549006
- Oloffson, Kristi. "From Tickle Me Elmo to Squinkies: Top 10 Toy Crazes." Time magazine. Dec. 23, 2010 (Oct. 5, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1947621_1947626_1947641,00.html
- Rochman, Bonnie. "Silly Bandz Banned –What's a Schoolkid to Do?" Time magazine. May 25, 2010 (Nov. 5, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1991797,00.html
- Stacey. "Silly Bandz rubber craze binds Bel Air." Bel Air News and Views. April 30, 2010 (Nov. 5, 2014) http://www.belairnewsandviews.com/2010/04/silly-bandz-rubber-band-craze-binds-bel.html
- Stephey, M.J. "Cabbage Patch Kids." Time magazine. Dec. 23, 2010 (Nov. 4, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1947621_1947626_1947588,00.html
- The New York Times. "To End Pog Fights, Schools Ban Game." March 22, 1995 (Oct. 5, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/22/us/to-end-pog-fights-schools-ban-game.html
- The Week Staff. "Walmart's Violent Black Friday: 5 'grim' incidents." The Week. Nov. 28, 2011 (Nov. 4, 2014) http://theweek.com/article/index/221861/walmarts-violent-black-friday-5-grim-incidents
- Tooher, Nora Lockwood. "Furby frenzy fueling face-offs." Providence Journal. Dec. 5, 1998 (Oct. 4, 2014) http://www.deseretnews.com/article/667247/Furby-frenzy-fueling-face-offs.html?pg=all
- Vary, Adam B. "'Frozen' Is The Highest-Grossing Animated Film Of All Time." BuzzFeed. March 3, 2014 (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.buzzfeed.com/adambvary/frozen-highest-grossing-disney-animated-film