Figure 8: The Toys of Black Friday Past

Today is the day to kill or be killed on the soon-to-be-blood-drenched battlefields of Black Friday.  What will desperate parents be throttling each other for this year?  Wii U?  Skylanders Giants?  The Sewer Lair Playset?  Something on store shelves will undoubtedly be responsible for a lot of black eyes on this day after Thanksgiving, 2012, so while we wait for the security camera footage to start filtering onto YouTube, let’s take a look back at some of the Holy Grails of Holiday Shopping from years past.

Before young yuppie children could ignore their Math teacher via their very own smart phone, kids clamored for the Japanese import “virtual pet”, Tamagotchi, which made it’s way stateside in 1997.  Noteworthy for featuring the convenience of a keychain and the annoyance of a co-dependent girlfriend, Tamagotchi allowed the user to feed and care for a digital creature, without all the hangups of actual living, breathing pets.  These days, why bother with a lame low-res piece of Japanese junk when you can have  a real-life baby and be featured on 16 and Pregnant?

Nintendo was at the back of the pack when it came to the next-gen consoles, as the Gamecube lagged behind both the Playstation 2 and X-Box.  However, when the classic gaming company introduced motion-sensor technology which would separate the gamer from the couch, the Nintendo Wii became one of the most sought-after tree trimmings in the winter of 2006.  It wouldn’t be long until the high-definition offerings of the Ps3 and X-Box 360 would once again eclipse the Wii’s candy-colored SD graphics, and both Sony and Microsoft would later introduce their own motion sensor gimmicks, but for a few months, the Wii was the belle of the ball.

If Teddy Ruxpin were re-released in 2012, he’d have an iPod jack in his butthole and he’d sing Carly Rae Jepsen songs, AMIRITE?  But the 1985 Teddy Ruxpin was a true treasure of the analog age, allowing kids to insert a cassette into Teddy’s back, prompting him to tell you about one of his adventures as you read along.  Bless the poor kids whose parents weren’t quick enough to snap Teddy off of store shelves that holiday season, and were instead forced to settle for his pal Grubby the Caterpillar.  Only thing was….Grubby only worked if connected to Teddy Ruxpin.  It’s kinda like how David Spade wasn’t funny after Chris Farley died.

In another instance of paving the way for the future, Nintendo was the first to release a portable, handheld console in the Gameboy, which made its way into 1 million US homes the Christmas of 1989.  Sure, it didn’t have the color screen of the Atari Linx or the Sega Game Gear, but the ability to play Tetris for 12-hours straight on one set of batteries more than made up for the black and white (more pukey green) graphics.  Gameboy would become one of Nintendo’s longest running franchises, giving birth to the Gameboy Color and the Gameboy Advance.  Nintendo’s latest portable offering, the 3DS, offers the ability to download your old Gameboy and Gameboy Color games from Nintendo’s Virtual Console.

No one expected 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope to be as big as it was (except George Lucas, apparently), and action figure licensee Kenner was caught with their pants down, unable to produce toys for the blockbuster in time for the Christmas season.  In a stroke of marketing genius, Kenner offered the Early Bird Certificate Package, a promise of a four-pack of figures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and Chewbacca.  Young Star Wars geeks awoke on Christmas morning to find, essentially, an empty box under the tree.  Call it an IOU from Santa Claus.  Kenner sold a buttload of empty boxes, and Star Wars action figures would go on to be one of the biggest toy licenses in history.

What looked like a background character at a bootleg Showbiz Pizza stage show would go on to be the top selling toy of Christmas 1998.  Furbies sold out before a single interactive animatronic abortion rolled off of the assembly line.  Furbies are notable for being one of the first toys to send stressed parents to the internet second market, reselling for upwards of hundreds of dollars.  Furbies are also notable for having minds of their own and waking up terrified children in the middle of the night.  Furbies are probably not remembered as fondly as the Gameboy or the Star Wars action figures.

The PS3 was the last of the latest round of next-gen systems to roll out, and thanks to the Playstation brand and a built in Sony BluRay player (a relatively new technology at the time), lines wrapped around electronic stores on the date of release.  PS3 purchases were limited per customer, depending on the retailer, but even one new Playstation 3 could garner you 300% profit on the secondary market.  This was the early adoption of the early adopter.  In the grand scheme of things, the PS3 would take second fiddle to the versatile X-Box 360, but don’t tell that to the parents that shelled out $599+ that Black Friday in 2006.

Let’s get this out of the way.  The words “Tickle Me Elmo” are more likely to show up in a deposition these days than toy store shelves.  Feel better?  Alright.  The 1996 Tickle Me Elmo craze can be looked at as the genesis of the Black Friday Trample-thon tradition.  Maybe it was the innovative technology showcased in the Tyco toy.  Maybe it was the popularity of the Elmo character.  Or maybe it was a combination of media attention, short supply, and vicious consumerism that made Tickle Me Elmo the product synonymous with holiday shopping hell.  No matter what, those old enough to remember receiving one on X-Mas day have probably since outgrown their Elmo phase.  And those that are young enough to still play with a toy like Tickle Me Elmo are going to be too pre-occupied when Elmo starts to sound weird sooner than later.

Let this be a cautionary tale to those braving the hordes on this Black Friday.  No toy is worth bloodshed, and certainly not worth the after-market markup if you’re not lucky enough to find it at retail.  That is, if you don’t care that your kid is going to get teased and ridiculed for not having the hottest new toy.  Maybe invest in some karate lessons, though, just to be safe.



Filed Under: Figure 8

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who ARE these people!?

Jason Knize, K-Nice if you're nasty, is a co-founder of, resident News Editor, and one-half of the World Tag Team Champions, The 11th Hour. You can usually find him in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy...The PoP!ulation Forums.


Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Tad Tarbell says:

    funny, I never received a single one of these things (the PS3 being the only exception, and I got it for Christmas 2010), but I did get karate lessons for nearly 10 years…

  2. Jason Knize says:

    Goddamnit…I spelled Nintendo wrong…

  3. Tito Cruz says:

    Nice list. Did the Cabbage Patch dolls just miss the cut?

Leave a Reply