I know taste in teddy bears varies widely. I, for one, am partial to stuffed pandas, since that was what I had as a child (“Kathy,” named after the dear friend I met in third grade who remains a great friend and someone who inspires and delights me). My brother had a beige bear named (I think) Ollie.
Both my children have bears. Mookie, a polar bear, went all the way to the University of Pennsylvania with my daughter. Kobe, my son’s panda, joined the family courtesy of Kathy, who bought him while my son battled scarlet fever at age 18 months.
The gold standard, though, is a brown bear, originally inspired by an American black bear killed in Mississippi by President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt in 1902. The story is distasteful. Roosevelt hunting party captured the bear after it slowed after being chased by dogs. With the president elsewhere, they other hunters clubbed the bear and lashed it to a tree to await his return. According to historians, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, believing this was unsporting. Others did.
Much like former vice president Dick Cheney almost fatal duck shoot became an opportunity for political ridicule, the incident spawned a Clifford Berryman cartoon. Two companies — one American and the other German, Stieff — began making “Teddy’s bears,” and the toy quickly became a nursery staple.
All this to show that this particular toy does have a political history. So much the sweeter, then, is this story from Belarus. According to the Washington Post, President Alexander Lukashenko “has sacked two of the nation’s top defense officials after two Swedish advertising agency employees piloted a light plane into the country’s heavily guarded airspace, dropping 879 teddy bears decked out in parachutes
and slogans supporting human rights.”
The incident took place on July 4, and may have been related to the American Independence day.
From the Post:
Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, the two Swedes behind the stunt, said they wanted to show support for Belarusian human rights activists and embarrass the country’s military, a pillar of Lukashenko’s power.
“Hopefully, we’ve made people more aware in the world and that there will be more people supporting Belarusian people,” Frey said.
The Swedes’ yearlong preparations involved learning how to pilot the three-seater Jodel aircraft and purchasing the plane. They financed the €150,000 ($184,500) cost of the stunt with their work in a small advertising agency.
The pair said they were inspired by similar protests staged by Belarusian activists, who have at times arranged plush toys in such a way that they appeared to be protesting the regime.
“Our campaign was a campaign in support of that. An airlift in support of the teddy bears, from teddy bears around the world,” Mazetti said.
According to the Associated Press, the Swedish company previously staged other protests by by burning up stacks of cash and setting up a fake sex-school in Austria.
I know that some toys have been identified as products of abuse, among them once made in sweat shop conditions or by child labor. Can you think of other children’s toys drafted into the human rights cause?