Gifting the Bear and a Nostalgic Desire for Childhood Innocence


This article examines twentieth and twentyfirst century adult relational interactions with the teddy bear toy. It describes the association between the teddy’s mythological origins and its infusion with a commoditized sentimentality that provides adults with a nostalgic return to an imagined personal and social time of childhood innocence. This analysis further details how the ‘gifting’ of teddy bears to adults and children in response to social or personal crises denies possibilities for meaningful human interactions and social change. Each and every human being at one time or other has wanted a teddy bear to give them friendship and companionship (Andrews 2004, 1). Fig. 1 (Bumper Picture 1920, 3) Imagine a child holding tightly onto a teddy bear. The bear’s face wears a comforting smile; the child’s shows openness and peacefulness. This is an iconic image that from the early twentieth century has symbolized the toy’s assumed protective innocence shielding the otherwise vulnerable innocent from real or feared harm. The line drawing shown here, from a 1920 children’s picture book, reflects this illusory simplicity. Produced by instilling emotional labor in adult products (Hochschild 1983, 160), this commoditized compassion is constitutive of the adult teddy bear culture that by the 1920s, privileged the toy as a redeemer of individual human frailty and of human social failings. Unlike children’s fantasy, the dominant beliefs and values of this adult culture are governed by an emotive sentimentality that depicts the teddy bear as possessing real feelings toward humans. Thus, as a result of the creation of the teddy bear as emotive subject, the ideology of teddy bear culture sees the

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@inproceedings{Varga2010GiftingTB, title={Gifting the Bear and a Nostalgic Desire for Childhood Innocence}, author={Donna Varga}, year={2010} }