I know Zac Bissonnette from his brilliant COVID reporting, so when he said that writing about the Beanie Babies craze helped him understand the roots of COVID mania, I decided to read The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. I mean, just the title itself is brilliant.
I had no idea about the Beanie Baby bubble before reading the book. To me, Beanie Babies are cute plushie toys that Klara loves. I didn’t know that back in the 1990s people collected these plushies and paid hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for $5 beanies.
Bissonnette’s book explains how the craze came to be and what drove the prices for the extremely cheap toys so high. It’s a fascinating story. And it does explain a lot – and I mean A LOT – about the mentality of people who fall for these hoaxes, be they plush toy or COVID-related.
What I didn’t like about an otherwise stellar book is that Bissonnette really hates Ty Warner, the inventor of the Beanies, and gives too much credence to a jilted girlfriend who, like all spited exes, detested Warner.
I see no reason to blame Warner for anything. He did invent a great product, and the book explains in detail how what he did was really innovative. He didn’t consciously start the bubble but once the bubble was there, of course he enjoyed the profits. Who wouldn’t? If any of us made a $5 product that people suddenly started reselling to each other at $500 and hoarding, would we say no to billions in profit?
After the bubble popped, Ty Warner went into real estate and made some good money there. He didn’t lose everything in crazy speculations or turn into a drug addict. Save for some tax evasion issues, there’s nothing anybody can blame him for. As much as Bissonnette tries to portray Ty Warner as the devil, it is unconvincing.
A great book, though. I’ll never see another beanie baby the same way. And did you know that all the main manufacturers of plushies had really shitty childhoods? They would also get attached to their products in very intense ways. It’s precisely this maniacal love for tiny plushies that made Ty Warner accidentally stumble into one of the greatest bubbles of all times.