Author's note: I appologize for the delay, but I have edited this work so that it does not have the initial, abrupt ending. My apollogies for not posting the edited work first. Much love- Sam
Originally, I was going to write an essay on malls and the allure of consumerism. Without a steady job, I often find myself conducting field research on consumerist behavior. I mentioned before that I am trying to avoid chain restaurants, but I am also trying to avoid conglomerate megastores… “trying” being the key word here. This is hard to do when one is faced with only working one day a week and I often don’t have the money to buy the $45 sweater at the local store versus the $5 sweater at Any Shop, USA. At any rate, consumerism fascinates me, much like how it fascinated Andy Warhol. By no means am I a shop-a-holic, but I can’t help but admire the way people are addicted to these grand shopping centers. I could write about my frequent mall walks and how I observe people going to identical shops with identical goods with identical prices with the perceived differences in quality. But then I stopped in front of Build-A-Bear.
Nostalgia swept over as I stood by the entrance, heavily guarded by the two familiar bear solider statues. I had a Build-A-Bear turtle as a kid (named Zippy for its removable shell, complete with zipper compartment). Although much remained the same, I could spot a few differences. As always, BAB had outfits based on the newest movies, namely the Avengers. The isles were unchanged: 1) Choose Me, 2) Hear Me, 3) Stuff Me, 4) Fluff Me, 5) Kiss Me, 6) Kill Me, 7) Take Me Home (wait, I think I mixed those up. Maybe it was all that U2 playing in the background at the mall…) Anyhow, the only thing that really took me aback was the animal selection itself. The absence of retiles must be noted; a glorious absence. By that, I mean there were no turtles, no frogs, NADA! I was appalled. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but notice the addition of My Little Pony characters (from Hub’s “Friendship is Magic”). This came as no shock to me, considering how BAB likes to cater to what kids like these days. I have no problem with MLP, considering I myself am a brony, but I couldn’t help but laugh to myself: Build-A-Bear is Magic!
Wait a minute. Magic? Build-A-Bear? Holy shit, why didn’t I notice it before?! Anyone who has played any kind of RPG in their life will know exactly what I mean when I say that BAB is a manifestation of wizard’s work station. This shop is teaching children the basics of becoming a well-rounded wizard, a Builder if you will. Don’t believe me? Let me lay out some schools of magic and go through them for you.
This is the obvious one. Anyone who has played DnD or Pathfinder knows about wizards who specialize in the art of conjuration. This is when a wizard can summon or create particular objects/tools. Often, conjurers are used in the party to create shields or barriers in combat. However, conjurers are also known for creating golems, creatures made from any one object. Golems can be made from anything: mud, grass, wood, metal, fire, water, semen (yes, this exists in the DnD erotica guide), bugs, or anything else you can think of. Flesh golems also come to mind, but I’ll get to that in a minute. In BAB, you or your child create these fluffy golems; you are their god. You pick out the de-fluffifed corpse, you give it a heart, you re-fluffify it, you give it a function (based on clothes), you name it, and you use it however you see fit. The function, here, is the key. Have you ever noticed the kinds of outfits you can put on these golems? They are all professions, including the Superheroes. They all can be used to make your own adventure party.
Doctor/Nurse outfits= Clerics
Solider/Police outfits: Fighter, paladin
Cheerleader outfit: Bard
Superhero/ College outfit: Mage/Oracle/Wizard (College= wisdom, intellect bonuses)
To reiterate, you, the Builder, are god to these golems. You have given them purpose. Granted, golems tend not to be too smart, usually they are incapable of speaking. However, BAB uses other schools of magic to counteract this minor flaw.
The outfits may or may not give your golems the ability to carry out the functions they represent. However, when confronted by enemies, your golems do not necessarily have to do anything else but intimidate. Even when your party is outnumbered, you can conjure these golems with the illusion that they are more than just animated stuffing. Illusion is my personal favorite school of magic, and it plays a big part of BAB’s sales. Ever realize that all stuffed animals are just dyed fabric with glass buttons meant to be interpreted as eyes? Of course you have. But when you see Hello Kitty or Twilight Sparkle, your suspension of disbelief is broadened. Illusionists are not only able to manipulate how they are perceived, but they can cast spells that make others believe the world around them has changed. They can make you see Twilight Sparkle in all her glory; what’s more is that they can make you hear her, too…
As I mentioned, one of the isles at BAB is titled “Hear Me”. If you are willing to pay an extra $4-$8, you can have a pre-recorded message inserted into your golem, via a heart-shaped device. This is something that you, the Builder, must chose in advanced to place in your golem. Anyone who has played DnD or Pathfinder will tell you the pains of planning out spells for a day. Here, we have an example of a First Level spell that can be used at will (taking up 2 of the Zero-Level slots, if the DM/parents allow it): Ventriloquism. While the golem may not be able to talk on its own, you can give it a temporary voice to distract potential enemies. But what if you don’t want to simply cast the illusion that you can alter your surroundings? What if you don’t have that extra $4-$8 bucks? Well, you still put a heart in your golem when fluffification occurs. And then you can alter fate as you see fit.
Now this is a realm of RPG wizardry that I never dealt with much. However, having a turtle with a fabric heart in my youth, I am quite familiar with BAB’s exposure to the art of divination. Much like reading tea leaves, the future can be interpreted with the heart you place inside your golem. Store clerks encourage youngsters to “wish upon the heart”, mainly for pre-teens who want Jonny to ask them out on a date. However, this is not entirely a deception: looking at entrails in a tried and true method of predicting the future. Granted, the cheesiness of wishing for something is a bit overwhelming, but it’s a good place to start if you want your young’un to learn this kind of magic.
Some of you may be wondering, “Gee, this is all fascinating, but what about Evocation or Healing magic?” Well, from my studies, BAB does not teach much in either field. I guess the clerks at the “Stuff Me/ Fluff Me” stations can be seen as healers of sorts, but there are virtually no evocation elements anywhere in that store. Also, I haven’t talked much about the workers too much and their function. The magic they teach is well rounded, but all basic. Any advanced wizard can teach the basics of other school of magic and still be specialized in one field. Build-A-Bear workers are in fact specialized, but it’s a little hard to pinpoint unless you see the signs. You have workers who understand the body of each golem you create. The have an abundance of fluff and hearts (both mechanic and fabric), that are completely functional for bringing these creatures to life. Innards, hearts, and the body: these materials had to have come from somewhere, yet they are usable out of their original places. It takes skill to preserve these parts, and this skill comes from the art of necromancy. Think about it: you are taking lifeless beings and animating them using a variety of skills. You are essentially creating flesh golems, a conjured creature solely made by necromancers. It was at this part of my train of thought that I decided to leave the store. I didn’t know who could have been listening.
So what, exactly, should we make of all this? After all, this is getting pretty dark for a children’s toy store review. And what should we do about the My Little Pony and Hello Kitty and Iron Man franchises mixing it up with our Build-A-Bears? This is nothing like the BAB from my youth and the youth of my peers. My advice: embrace the changes and laugh. Much like how we have Disney Theory or reinterpretations of retro television, it’s never a bad thing to take something and turn it on its head. The reboot of MLP had some negative feedback from nostalgic fans, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Heck, even “Cupcakes” (a fanfiction of MLP FiM that’s very dark and gruesome) is an interesting take on the show. Any review you watch of old movies is going to alter your perception of it, and that is no different than watching it being remade by Hollywood. So what if Build-A-Bear is selling out to big-name TV and movies? So what if I took something from my childhood and placed it in the warped world of roleplaying? That’s what keeps it us hooked to things and the places we buy them. It’s not about what’s inside the box that keeps us coming back; it’s the fancy, new wrapping paper or free gift that comes with it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some re-imaginings that aren’t very imaginative (Mr. Peabody, I’m looking at you) and there are some crossovers and sell-outs that only serve the purpose of making money (“Moves like Jagger”, for example, was nothing more than a ploy for people to watch The Voice). But we shouldn’t approach these things with closed minds; instead, embrace them for what they are and make fun of them if they’re bad. So to all you Doll Masters out there: go to Build-A-Bear sometime in the near future! You’ll never know when a golem may come in handy. Or you can be like me and just want to make a snuggly, wuggly friend.
The word "fluffification" is inspired by the game Naughty Bear, licensed by X-BOX.
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