Joe Lavin's Humor Column

The Amazing Furby Mania

December 1, 1998

Furby As many of you know, the hot new toy this Christmas is Furby, a lovable, talking, stuffed animal that looks sort of like a cross between an ewok and something your cat might cough up. Okay, maybe that's a bit cruel, but make no mistake about it. This is an ugly toy, but despite its ugliness, Furby is hot, hot, hot. Move over Elmo, for Furby has arrived.

Furby strives to be a talking pet with batteries. It's an interactive toy that can respond in many ways whenever someone tickles or pets it. Furby speaks in a special dialect of gibberish that is known as Furbish. Supposedly, Furby can learn English from a child. In reality, though, it is merely programmed to appear to be learning (much like me in grad school). It turns out that Furby only knows about 100 English words, so sadly any attempt to teach it dirty words will only be in vain -- a major design flaw if you ask me.

But despite this key drawback, Furby is still a remarkable toy. Thanks to Furby's constant chattering, imaginary friends are no longer necessary for the modern toddler. "Furby! It communicates with your child, so you don't have to!"

Most parents obviously know all about Furby, though I doubt many of them are reading this. Instead, they're probably camped outside Walmart waiting for the store to open at 5 am and put on sale its one Furby doll of the day. Lately, hordes of parents have been lining up outside stores in the middle of the night, and in at least two cities the police have been called upon to quell unruly crowds. Last week, outside a toy store in O'Fallon, Illinois, one woman even claimed she was bitten by another woman while fighting for a spot in line. Ah, Christmas! It's such an uplifting time of year, isn't it?

The parents, of course, have no choice. Children, after all, have decided that this is the one toy they must have -- or perhaps adults who work for Hasbro decided this and managed to program the children accordingly. At any rate, Hasbro is going with the time-honored "If you don't buy this, your kids will hate you, grow up bitter and estranged, and eventually turn to drugs when they become teenagers" marketing ploy, and it's working. At this point, Hasbro doesn't even have to run advertisements. Just about every newspaper in the country has an article this week about Furby, in which some parent says something like, "Well, sure I stayed outside Toys 'R Us all night and lost my both my feet from frostbite, but my little Matilda said she wanted a Furby, and darn it! I just sure as heck couldn't disappoint her. Any other parent would do the same."

It's like this every year. As I hear about parents scrambling after the hot toy of the year, I always wonder whether this is just some giant practical joke that children play on parents. Seriously, the kids can't really like Furby this much, can they? I half expect to turn on the news next week and hear:

"Tonight, a Dateline NBC investigation. Furby: lovable doll or sinister child plot?"

"Well, actually, I don't even like the stupid doll, but you know it gets my parents out of the house. This weekend, they had to drive to six states to find Furby. When they got home, they were so tired they completely forgot to make me do my chores. Wow! I can't believe they fell for this."

But kids really do like Furby, and they also like the games they can play with Furby, though none of these games is particularly challenging. For example, a child can play hide and seek with Furby. To do this, the child simply hides Furby and then has three minutes to discover where he or she hid Furby. Gee, it's always good to see that Furby is helping to develop children's cognitive skills. Personally, I think this game might be better suited to the Alzheimer's crowd.

Furby! Not just for your kids, but fun for Grandpa too: "Dang, where'd Furby go? I just had him a minute ago, and then I hid him, and . . . hey here are my car keys. Wait, do I still drive?"

Furby performs many other tricks. For example, it can do a little dance and provide evidence to the police when it witnesses two competing sets of parents kill each other in Toys 'R Us because it's the last Furby on the shelf. "Me see blue shirt guy shoot gun." It will say during the dance. If a police officer then rubs its tummy twice, Furby can even pick the killer out of a police lineup. Wow! It's an amazing toy.

And there are so many other tricks too. Rub its back twice, and Furby will kick the crap out of the nearest Tickle Me Elmo doll. And in some models, Furby can even memorize a parent's credit card number and use it to order other Hasbro products.

Actually, I'm joking about all this. There's no need to worry. After all, I doubt they'll try the credit card trick until at least next year. Yes, as the folks at Hasbro like to say, Furby will indeed amaze you.

The Furby picture came from here.

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