In their unassuming ubiquity, stuffed animals have proliferated in our everyday, postindustrial lives. But their ascent to this status depended largely on the processes of industrialisation, urbanisation and commodification. They embody important aspects of the colonial and post-colonial encounter in their material, psychological and geo-political roles. Ideologically, stuffed animals defy historicization: While they, as a commodity form, have a discernable history, which Walter Putnam imparts in the following, individually, stuffed animals are inscribed with meaning by their owners and in their act of acquisition. They are, Putnam argues, a fetish of our own making, and a fixation that provides no easy solutions.

Stuffed Animals: Transcultural Objects in the Bedroom Jungle

Walter Putnam

We are drowning in a sea of identical details...Mickey Mouse is the Antichrist...Times Square has been blown up by 10,000 smiling stuffed animals...Don't shop, children, save your souls.

<1> These preachings are from the gospel according to Reverend Billy, spiritual leader of the Church of Stop Shopping (qtd. in Kalb). For several years, Reverend Billy has been waging a guerilla war in Lower Manhattan against the likes of Starbucks and Disney, including agit-prop performances where he brandishes stuffed animals atop tall poles like skulls adorning savage palisades. His inversion and subversion of these multivalent emblems of consumer culture reinforce the anti-consumer message he delivers in our era of late capitalism and globalization. His conspicuous utilization of stuffed animals highlights the manner in which these ubiquitous and inconspicuous creatures live in the realm of the parodic and the serious. With Reverend Billy's cautionary words in mind, I would like to chart some of the strands that will help us to understand the unique place and position of these unusual creatures.

<2> Stuffed animals [1] reside in the seams of our contemporary Western world where they pose a predicament, a predicament of culture. Their widespread success stems in large part from their uncanny ability to straddle several major cultural and historical fault lines. Stuffed animals are able to inhabit multiple fields and to traverse borders and boundaries. Indeed, their ability to infiltrate human spaces points to the ways that cultural boundaries are more permeable than is widely imagined. They are like membranes: they leak. Whether real or imaginary, lines and borders tease the subject into a desire for passing over to the other side, for knowledge of a field of difference. Living animals exist in closed fields where they are rarely allowed to move into adjacent spaces. Historically, they have been assigned status and station on the basis of identities determined according to human criteria. The racial and sexual tensions of the late eighteenth century led to a narration of nature that included the classificatory schema that developed into the natural sciences [2]. Animal identities were a function of a purported animal nature that was a source of great interest and perhaps even greater misunderstanding. Most animals were essentialized through taxonomic schema that captured and enclosed them, thus preventing contact with other species. They have since been observed, represented, hunted, harvested or protected on one side or the other of a largely arbitrary dividing line drawn according to human economic and societal interests. Across the divide from fixed identities, the ability to inhabit multiple spaces allows for a provisional ambivalence that blurs some of the more rigid and stultifying categorizations that have been devised. Real animals, constrained by their fixed identities and potential danger or inconvenience, cannot easily move beyond the confines of the spaces they inhabit. Paradoxically, it is our most highly constructed avatars of the animal world that enjoy the greatest ability to travel and to reside practically anywhere. One of the most flexible of these species is the stuffed toy animal.

<3> In an unobtrusive and seemingly natural way, stuffed animals have taken up residence among humans. They rarely attract notice precisely because they are so ubiquitous. The teddy bear has become so familiar that it is used both to comfort children or persons in distress, just as it has furnished ideal camouflage for smuggling bombs past unsuspecting airport security agents. Existing in a world of in-difference, they succeed marvelously as infiltrators. Although stuffed animals wear their identities on their sleeves, they hide out best in the open, in plain view for all to see. It took the likes of the National Security Administration to detect the potential security breaches posed by Furby (Rather). It took the likes of Jerry Falwell to detect an insidious homosexual plot behind the Teletubbies (Reed). Under a previous administration, it didn't take President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair long to turn their attention from matters of international concern to the fate of Winnie the Pooh (Thomas). Stuffed animals pop up in the strangest places. I will argue that it is their undetermined status that makes it possible for stuffed animals to play in multiple fields. Their phenomenal success can be attributed in large part to their very lack of definition and to their indetermination within our most widely recognized signifying systems. They come not from a family, nor from a community, nor from any social or cultural unit, but rather from a means of production. They embody the industrial system from which they emerge. A single animal can stand in for an entire line, class or family. Acquisition of the material object that is the stuffed animal therefore implies buying into the system that it subtends. Rather than functioning as a metaphoric substitute for a real animal, whether wild or domestic, the stuffed toy animal refers most immediately and directly to nothing more than itself as a product of the psychic, social and economic system that brought it into existence. They thrive in the commercial and psychic spaces of modern Euro-American culture where consumers find them irresistible. This circular, closed system of endorsement by acquisition follows the path traced by industrialization and commodification over the course of the past century.

<4> Stuffed animals do not belong to a field of difference because they come from nowhere. They have little or no intrinsic value. They prefer to dwell rather than to travel, yet they must circulate in order to acquire value before taking up residence among humans. Are they then post-modern or perhaps even post-colonial subjects leading nomadic existences detached from stable cultural and political identities? To what race, class and gender do they belong? Or could it rather be that they can belong to any category we choose for them according to a liberal, democratic model of cultural mobility and social inclusion? These are some of the questions I would like to ponder. Toys typically reflect the tastes and values of their owners. Animals become highly charged signifiers when they are assigned status and position based primarily on human considerations. The Nixon pandas, Shamu, Smokey the Bear, and most sports mascots exist in human social and political orders as much as they exist in the wild. The animals are rarely represented for themselves but rather for their ability to convey a message for humans. From the political standard-bearer to the literary character of fable or allegory to the bedtime companion, animals are regularly invested with meaning and power. As stuffed animals move from the public to the private sphere, they validate a domestic order based on affective, family-centered values. Their subversive and disruptive character diminishes, like that of their live counterparts, when displaced from the wilderness to a domestic r╚gime. Stuffed animals must therefore be sufficiently neutral in order to receive the widest range of possible meanings: psychological, historical, economic, cultural. Their clandestine subjectivity also deprives them from the serious consideration that is reserved for more animated species.

<5> Stuffed animals are hybridized objects and, as such, challenge notions of purity and authenticity that emerge in discussions of living animals, especially when considering taxonomic classifications and questions of origins and authenticity. Unlike a hunting trophy that the taxidermist immortalizes as a token of man's domination over nature, stuffed animals are objects without a lived past. It is rather their owners, most often children, who invest them with meaning. Teddy bears perform in the affective and emotional realm yet they carry some undeclared cultural baggage that must be unpacked and inspected. Although they are widely collected, stuffed animals rarely become museum pieces because they do not belong to a category that is readily identifiable as art. According to James Clifford's outline of the art-culture system, objects exist in one of four zones or in traffic between two or more of these zones: 1) authentic masterpieces; 2) authentic artifacts; 3) inauthentic masterpieces; 4) inauthentic artifacts (223 sq). Following this schema, teddy bears would seem to exist as commodities in the fourth zone although only certain bears merit collecting for their historical or artistic value. As industrial products, the time and circumstances of their origins have only occasionally been valorized; a vintage Steiff bear can acquire considerable market value among serious collectors. In general, it is nevertheless their moment of acquisition that stands out as more important than their place of origin. The gift of a teddy bear marks the beginning of its lived history more than the date of its manufacture. Their important affective value lies with their owner and not with their market value. Stuffed toys are not made to exist outside of human contact. They depend on their human sponsors for their identities, indeed, for their very existences. It is a further irony that their proliferation during the past century corresponds to a growing public concern for the disappearance of real wildlife. This irony did not escape the satirical online journal, The Onion, which ran a mock report in 2001 titled "Stuffed-Animal Biodiversity Rising," noting that the rise in this phenomenon "has been made possible by humans' growing interest in environmental issues." Stuffed animals have spread across the globe in response to an anxious sense of degradation and depletion in nature that is countered by the collecting of incalculable specimens in the bedroom zoo or safari park.

<6> Dressed in their furry, cuddly coats, stuffed animals re-appear in altered form made acceptable for modern consumption by a series of transformations that allow them to inhabit our social and cultural spheres. They embody the dynamics of dominance and subordination, the same logic that has unleashed considerable energy in the taming and domestication of the colonial subject, whether it be subaltern natives, wild animals, or women and children of the Victorian era. Stuffed animals are soft and malleable, designed to fit into a system rather than molding the system to accommodate their sizes and shapes. They have been miniaturized so as to make them less threatening or intimidating to their small owners. They have been neutered or created un-sexed and are not allowed to reproduce outside the confines of third-world sweat shops. They have been removed from all natural habitat in an attempt to dissociate them from nature construed as wildness. Any nature that remains in them has been made static and innocuous; however, their symbolic charge remains enormous. Every toy lion, giraffe or elephant acquired by a child (of whatever age) metonymically re-enacts a symbolic possession of the fragment of empire from which it originated. Once out of Africa or Asia, the stuffed animal can be recontextualized at will by its owner who re-enacts the dynamics of colonial domination at every play session. Stuffed animals have also become highly fetishized through the operations of commodity capitalism. In an interesting reversal, they return to haunt the West which had scorned fetish worship by natives, yet which recommodified it either as art or as an object of worship or veneration fabricated by industrial capitalism.

<7> One important question, and perhaps the most difficult to answer, remains the stuffed animals' relation to the real animals that they are supposed to represent. What is the relationship between a teddy bear and a real bear? Do the imperatives of mimetic reproduction apply across such distances and gaps? Do real and stuffed animals function in different ways within a given economic, social and scientific system? Is the opposition "real vs. fake" even valid since stuffed animals have taken on an autonomous cultural existence that also attests to them as being "real imitations"? Any answer to these questions must be based on the premise that stuffed animals are first and foremost industrial objects that possess a different genealogy than domestic or wild animals. As copies born not of natural but of mechanical reproduction, they closely follow the development of modern commodity capitalism. They are designed less to represent wildlife than to evoke its appeal to human imagination. Of course, artisans and artists from prehistory have sought to reproduce animal life in a symbolic capturing of the beasts around them. From the caves of Lascaux to the clay or stone figures made by primitives and modernists, animal likenesses or essences have abounded in humankind's representational practices. This aesthetic record of nature's abundance is designed above all to underscore the close connection between model and work of art. Representations of animals were long judged according to their resemblance to the original, thus privileging mimesis in the transfiguration of nature. Their totemic value has given them magical, mythical significance. The copy is supposed to resemble the original (or the spirit of the original) in order to capture the real and to convey the essence of the subject depicted or of its possessor. The distance from the real can be measured by a return to the origins of one of the most emblematic of all stuffed animals: the teddy bear.

figure 1: Clifford K. Berryman's cartoon from the Washington Post (© 1902, The Washington Post
Reprinted with permission)

<8> The ur-teddy bear was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt's famous hunting trip to Mississippi in 1902. Legend has it that the great white hunter was not having much luck that November day; however, when presented with a bear cub on a leash that he could have easily shot at point-blank range, Roosevelt magnanimously spared the cub, thus preserving both the cub's life and the ethic of hunting as sport. Thanks to Clifford K. Berryman's famous cartoon in the Washington Post [figure 1], the anecdote quickly spread around the country. The bear story created a huge wave of popular interest that the burgeoning toy industry of the late 19th century was quick to capitalize on. The first stuffed bear is reputed to have been made by Rose Michtom and diplayed in her husband's New York shop window [3]. It was an overnight success and Morris Michtom, a Russian immigrant, obtained permission from Roosevelt himself to call them "Teddy's bears." Michtom went on to establish the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, a pioneer in the manufacture of teddy bears in North America. A transnational cultural phenomenon was born.

<9> Throughout the nineteenth century, German manufacturers had been the recognized world leaders in the toy industry. From the toy bears on wheels, they expanded to the production of stuffed toy animals for which they utilized mohair plush, a new fabric woven from the wool of angora goats. The German firm founded by Margarete Steiff had been making plush toys for several years when the teddy bear craze erupted in the U.S.. She quickly became a leader in the manufacture of high-quality models using a patented joint system and sporting the classic button in the ear. Early Steiff bears remain collector's items today and regularly fetch thousands of dollars at international auctions. Demand was so great during Roosevelt's second term (1905-09) that the Steiff firm had to expand its production facilities three times to supply its customers. These were also known as the "bear years." At its peak, the company employed over 2,000 workers, predominantly women, and annual production rose phenomenally from 12,000 units in 1903 to 975,000 by 1908. This latter sales figure has not been topped since. American, British and French firms, both big and small, entered the fray as the teddy bear industry burgeoned into a multi-million dollar market of global dimensions.

<10> Donna Haraway has followed the path of Teddy Roosevelt leading to what she calls "Teddy Bear Patriarchy." That direction converges at the New York Museum of Natural History where dioramas and taxidermy reconfigure notions of exhibition, eugenics and conservation. Roosevelt, whether through hunting trophies or stuffed bears, lent his name to masculine constructions of wildness and to the narration of nature. The wilderness was a privileged site for white, male supremacy to assert itself. Haraway goes on to point out: "Nature is mystery and resource, a critical union in the history of civilization" (22). This equation could also describe animals which have served as both food for thought and food for consumption. The real wild animals hunted by Roosevelt and others had to be killed before they could be reconstructed through taxidermy and exhibited in the dioramas of America's museums. This staging of nature brought the wilderness within the confines of urban space and under human control while subtly suggesting that 'real' nature required yet more domination. Conservation of natural resources, even outside of nature, required a freezing of the metonym that every scene of wildness implied. Haraway argues that the turn of the century witnessed a sense of threatened degradation that expressed itself as an assault on masculinity. "Theodore Roosevelt knew the prophylaxis for this specific historical malaise: the true man is the true sportsman" (38). The reconfiguration and narration of the wilderness could only be accomplished on a grand scale commensurate with the vast expanses that were the frontiers of late nineteenth century civilization. These spaces were often emptied of indigenous natural species in order to be better occupied by explorers and colonizers. Once the great outdoors had become a recreation area for weekend adventurers and summer vacationers, the desire grew to bring nature indoors where people increasingly lived, worked and played. The stuffed animal grew in large part from this displacement. Anyone could own a fragment of nature with the added advantage that the take-home version could be manipulated and touched and played with.

<11> Is the teddy bear a toy or a doll? Within its miniaturized dimensions, it has many of the anthropomorphic details and ludic potential of a doll, yet its frame of reference points to the outdoors and to the wilderness rather than the indoors and the home. The gendering of space in turn-of-the-century Euro-American culture made stuffed toy animals suitable for play among boys, contrary to the traditional doll that connoted the female world of the household and domesticity. The site for play sessions nevertheless remained more likely than not the feminized interior spaces of the home rather than the great outdoors, even if the animals themselves were more readily associated with hunting than with baking. Play with stuffed toy animals under mother's supervision would have extended to sessions involving both boys and girls. Boys thus engaged in simulated manly activities under the watchful maternal eye rather than in the traditional father/son apprenticeship role. This subtle subversion of codified gender roles went unnoticed in the face of the immense popular success of these animal simulacra. They slid quickly and quietly into the seams and folds of middle-class Euro-American culture through their uncanny ability to suggest a world that was increasingly remote and exotic to their owners. Their very existence lies not in the displacement from wild animal to stuffed animal but rather within the self-contained and self-regenerating world of human-made, industrialized culture. In the face of an increasingly technologized world, and urban nostalgia for a pre-industrial state of nature, it is ironic that the connection to the natural world was, for many people, through this patently unnatural representative.

<12> Stuffed animals are first and foremost industrial objects. As such, they bear an increasingly distanced relationship to their hypothetical models, not unlike the correlation that one might discover between an original work of art and its mechanical reproduction. Walter Benjamin has defined as "aura" the essential quality that withers in the work of art when it is mechanically reproduced. He poses the question in terms of origins: "The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced" (221). While it is doubtless true that the original teddy bear sought to reinforce a sense of historical authenticity, the teddy bear's "aura" withered quickly. Early owners of stuffed teddies were no doubt pleased to inscribe their prized possessions in a genealogy that led back to the Mississippi bear cub. The authentic bear, however, quickly gave way to its many imitators as it disappeared behind the avalanche of industrial reproductions that altered in some significant ways the animal's essence: notably, its size, sexuality and origins. The teddy bear was narrated into a fictional existence just as it was written out of history, flexible enough to be the hero of popular song and lore from Bing Crosby to A.A. Milne, from Paddington to Smokey to Care Bears. The authentic and original specimen grounded in tradition increasingly gave way to the object produced only in order to be reproduced. Stuffed animals took on a life of their own.

<13> The reification of the work of art bears many similarities to the status attributed to wildlife: unique and irreplaceable specimens whose origins come from a higher genius. Benjamin supposes a qualitative hierarchy between original and copy: "Mass production, which aims at turning out inexpensive commodities, must be bent upon disguising bad quality....The commodity is bathed in a profane glow" (quoted in Apter 7, n. 16). The reproduction, a mass-produced object destined for mass consumption, thus represents a degradation of the hypothetical original, a lesser version of an inimitable original. The unique object retains a mystical aura that is a function of its display value whereas the mechanical reproduction no longer has that aura, according to Benjamin's argument. His analysis thus reifies the creator at the same time that it promotes the creation. Donna Haraway has commented that the diorama reflects a unity that presupposes the underlying Judeo-Christian myth that nature has an author (35). In this tradition, God made all the animals. Inversely, stuffed animals can be considered "authorless" except as products of an industrial system which stamps a birth certificate on every article: "Made in China." Works of art, like animals, are venerated because they embody qualities that escape common technique and tradition. The hands of the artist or artisan are supposed to produce unique, original works. Inversely, each specimen in the stuffed animal family is designed to be identical to the entire lineage, any single bear a suitable substitute for any other specimen on the shelf. Contrary to other animal species "made in nature" where reality is an overarching concern, stuffed animals are altered in order to be rendered appropriate for consumers. Not only are they significantly reduced in size but they lose those elements most likely to threaten their young owners: claws, teeth, sexual organs. These transformations correspond to a larger practice of domestication that characterizes the 19th-century social evolution from a rural, agrarian world to an urban, industrial one.

<14> Domestication of animals is a familiar process, one that lies at the heart of human civilization. It involves the displacement and recontextualization of a species for utilitarian, generally economic or ideological purposes. Whether as barnyard animals or as pets, these domesticated animals have evolved in close proximity to the human sphere. In order to gain admission, they had to be made less wild and less dangerous, more disciplined and more docile. The logic of domestication extends to the miniaturized animal whose principal reason for being is its malleability and adaptability as a play companion for little human people. Stuffed animals had to be transformed into acceptable companions for members of a society who were themselves being transformed into useful, disciplined subjects of cultural and economic value. In these transformations, their animal nature had to be cut out of them and replaced with stuffing. Hollowness is, of course, a dominant trope of modernism found in the likes of T.S. Eliot's "hollow men" and Conrad's paper mch╚ Mephistopholes. Furthermore, unlike their "real" stuffed cousins from the taxidermist's shop, teddy bears have been reduced in size, thus allowing even their smallest owners to dominate them in physical stature and power. Of course, they do not retaliate against mistreatment by biting or kicking or clawing as might their real counterparts when subjected to the rigors of child's play. Finally, they don't speak back, making them the perfect silent victims of human domination. This apprenticeship in power also leaves open the door for entry by young children into the symbolic and imaginary realms that they pass through on their way to adulthood. Emptied of their natural markers of identity, overdetermined stuffed animals are ready to be filled with the projected dreams and desires of their human owners. They undergo a second stuffing. If "aura" there be surrounding the plush giraffe or bear, it must be in the affective realm where commodities circulate in less stable spaces and take on psychological and social meanings beyond their immediate usefulness.

<15> Stuffed animals such as the teddy bear are material, industrial, human-made objects that become commodities through operations of circulation and exchange. The classic definition of the commodity comes from Marx: "an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another" (199). Like most theorists, Marx is evasive about the dynamics of human wants, needs and desires. He nevertheless goes on to inscribe this special category of objects within regimes of value: use-value and exchange-value, which are dependent upon the quantity of labor incorporated into the object (202). Value is attributed to an object as it moves through the mysterious and magical spaces of human symbolic manipulation. The commodity becomes a fetish through the very operations of assigning value. The mystery of an object's value moves along the lines that connect subject and object, infusing the object with elements of the animated subject and, inversely, reflecting within the subject the contours of an object's undisclosed nature. This obsessive interplay characterizes the human fascination for the teddy bear both as commodity and as fetish. Commodity fetishism becomes a question of value within an enigmatic and elusive framework that Marx likens to language: "Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language" (218). As a fetishized object, the teddy bear responds closely to the ambivalence that lies both in language and in things. They contain at one and the same time the affirmation and the denial of their nature, a wish to believe that they are not real and a fear that they might be.

<16> The political economy of 19th-century industrial production would seem to yield several insights to the stuffed animal phenomenon so long as one does not quibble too much about the distinctions between types of value and regimes of production. As we have seen, the industrial production of stuffed animals coincided with the expansion of the manufacturing sector necessary to the development of the toy industry. From a system of artisans engaged in a craft of limited scope, industrialization brought about the large-scale production of commodities which could be reproduced in infinite quantities. Industry seemed to have realized the dream of abundant and bountiful nature along the assembly lines of modern factories. Toys were among the earliest commodities to be mass-produced. Their imaginative appeal was both psychological and cultural, filling gaps in the rapid transformation of society that characterized the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The ability to mass-produce goods made the teddy bear widely available as an object that was both affordable and abundant at a time when nature was an increasingly problematic concept. Their proliferation depended directly on the industrial output to satisfy consumer desire among a class of urban dwellers increasingly distanced from natural habitats. The nostalgia for lost wildernesses and disappearing frontiers brought with it the lure of surrogate possession and ownership through substitute, symbolic objects. Nature, at the turn of the century, was increasingly portrayed as a hostile and menacing environment, attractive yet foreboding, in danger of disappearing behind the urban culture of industrial capitalism. For animals, fear of nature led to subjugation and eradication; nostalgia for nature led to reincarnation and commodification.

<17> Stuffed animals increased in popularity with the shift in domestic regimes from the "bare necessities" of austere, puritan d╚cors in the earlier nineteenth century to the more highly-charged and heavily-laden interiors of middle-class, turn-of-the-century Europe and America. Urbanization and industrialization were determining factors in this move. There are no empty spaces in nature. Blank areas on the map were being filled in by exploration and colonization which provided strange and unusual objects from far-flung places that found their way into display cases and curiosity cabinets. This obsessive and insatiable commercial and psychosocial desire for objects contributed not only to anthropology but also to consumerism and fetishism. These objects fueled a desire for knowledge and possession, although most often through the symbolic operations of metaphor and metonymy. Desire for a fragment or remnant of the natural world meant that animate as well as inanimate objects infiltrated the modern urban centers that were rapidly forming in Europe and North America. Just as "vacant" lands were being explored and occupied, empty interior spaces were being filled with knick-knacks and other decorative objects of mass production, including dolls and stuffed animals. Ownership of the cherished unique, hand-made object gave way to the proliferation and accumulation of multiple, serial products. Individuals came to desire possession of their own plurality of objects in their own homes rather than having to go out to admire the singular object that belonged to the collectivity. Teddy bears lived in homes, not museums or zoos. Displays of plenty and excess were signs of economic prosperity for the upwardly mobile middle class for whom luxury was defined by acquisition of consumer goods in excess of needs. The irony of this industrial model lies, of course, in the fact that the laborers who produced the consumer goods were also the consumers whose wages went to purchase those same goods.

<18> This historical transformation profoundly altered the human relationship with animals. Desire for the representation exceeded admiration for the original. A distanced yet authentic animal could increasingly be replaced by a stuffed version which could easily be purchased by the increasing class of consumers. As the animal in nature receded behind the modern, industrial cityscapes, the caged animal and the stuffed animal came to occupy center stage. Ironically, at the very moment when the greatest distance from nature seemed to be taking hold, the most feared animals were introduced into urban centers and domestic spaces. The metropolitan zoos that grew up over the course of the nineteenth century brought exotic species from the empire into the hearts of European and American cities. At the same time, the stuffed version of wildlife found its way into the most cherished and guarded of spaces: a child's bedroom. Of course, in order to gain admittance, it had to leave its animality at the door. It became less an animal and more an industrial product, especially for a population which had less and less direct contact with the animal world. Rather than engaging people in the shared experience of viewing the same animal in the company of other people such as occurs at the public zoo, a stuffed animal allows a single child to command a virtual Noah's ark of animals right at home. In a sense, this private menagerie replicates the oldest of human/animal relationships which was the aristocratic privilege of ownership that was the prevalent model until the French Revolution. And perhaps the last vestiges of royalty have survived in a certain privileged status attributed to children in modern Euro-American culture. A child's bedroom is his castle, a domain over which she or he rules as absolute master.

<19> Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, has analyzed the accumulation of large quantities of non-essential goods according to the concept of "conspicuous consumption." He theorizes that the acquisition of goods in excess of what is needed for survival identifies the consumer as a person of means because she or he is able to afford the luxury of waste. Evolutionists have more recently suggested that certain attributes do not directly contribute to survival but rather signal greater viability in the process of sexual selection. The peacock feather would be one example. Geoffrey Miller writes: "Evolution is driven not just by survival of the fittest, but reproduction of the sexiest" (2). Luxurious and non-essential objects not only must be acquired but they must be displayed as part of a mating ritual. While this argument has far-reaching implications that go beyond the scope of this article, it helps shed light on the vexed question of the raison d'═tre of the stuffed animal and its relationship to living animals. While history contains numerous examples of ornamental animals, the human/animal relationship has largely been characterized by domestication or capture for utilitarian purposes. Humans have historically used animals for their own survival or comfort or convenience. The representation of animals was quite often segregated to the domain of imaginative or symbolic practices such as religion, art or literature. On the other hand, the stuffed animal belongs to the category of the superfluous object whose survival depends on its ability to acquire social and psychological currency to counter-balance its very uselessness. It marks a distance from the real and the utilitarian. It confirms the ability to acquire and accumulate large quantities of objects that, while they doubtless carry some very significant symbolic baggage, can neither be eaten, nor skinned, nor milked, nor yoked. Their deeper appeal lies in the fact that they have kinetic and tactile qualities that real animals, even most pets, do not possess. They hold unlimited imaginative and creative potential, hence their ability to adapt to all areas of human endeavor, from the sports mascot to the medical team to law enforcement to education.

<20> The frenzied consumerism that developed around stuffed animals created an economic and cultural dynamic that led to the ironic distancing of consumers from the very objects they sought symbolically to possess. Consumer goods function as markers of social and economic differentiation. Purchasing the rarest and most expensive item on the market is designed to set one apart either as having more refined taste or greater purchasing power than the average consumer. The teddy bear appeared at a period when industrial expansion and social transformation converged with the arrival in North America of large numbers of European immigrants. Across the boundaries of national origin and cultural differences, integration into the American system was most often achieved by espousing the widely-shared values of consumption. A generation of largely European immigrants bought into the American dream by adopting a goal of socio-economic mobility based on the large-scale acquisition of consumer goods. Cars, refrigerators, electronics all followed this path. The omnipresent and ambivalent stuffed animal did not constitute an obvious rung in this ladder. To the contrary, the desire to possess the same stuffed animal as thousands and millions of other consumers might better be termed "unconspicuous" consumption. It is the very banality of the stuffed animal that allows consumers to establish a vast network of anonymous but connected individuals who share common desires and tastes. This mark of middle-class values emphasizes uniformity over originality and consumption over creation. Rather than fixing a position on a hierarchical socio-economic ladder, consumerism establishes lateral connections that affirm middle-class affiliation. Acquisition replaces production, reinforcing the notion of a found rather than a made universe where goods are readily available and widely abundant without the perceived inconvenience of work.

<21> One might provisionally argue that possession of an industrial simulacra is an expression of longing for the unattainable original, not unlike the teddy bear that stood for the bear cub that Roosevelt spared, or the Mona Lisa poster that reproduces the painting from the Louvre. In that sense, the teddy bear might be the post-modern animal par excellence [4]. Through the processes of hybridization and reassembly, their identities evolve rapidly and adapt to pressures and tensions emanating from the marketplace instead of the fields and forests and oceans. Stuffed animals are not subject to identity politics in the same way that natural species are. They present an infinity of variable shapes and colors and features. Stuffed animals are constantly being recontextualized and accessorized not as the primary player in an animal drama but rather as playthings or extensions of a human field of action. These objects act on human subjects in a way that gives them an uncanny sort of agency and further inverts the traditional subject/object opposition. Although they belong to a system with its own logic of production and distribution, their real impact is in the consumer arena. Anyone who has spent five minutes in front of a toy display knows the seductive and irresistible appeal of these furry creatures. Their very existence represents to the consumer a validation of the system of consumption from which they emerge. Unlike the domestication of real animals through representational practices, the stuffed animal rarely attracts the artist's attention. Their preferred sphere of existence is rather the system of consumer objects that find their way into the domestic and affective realms.

<22> After circulating, the stuffed animal likes to dwell. Whereas taxidermy involves the reconstruction and preservation of a supposed pure and authentic specimen restored to its natural state, stuffed toy animals largely escape the dictates of referentiality. They come from nowhere. Their meanings are a challenge to the very category of meaning as it derives from genealogy and evolution. Because stuffeds are not the objects of science in the way that real animals are, their status relies on commerce and the exchange of symbolic values. They circulate so well as gifts because of their malleability and versatility. They are variable and moving signifiers able to express a wide range of messages from giver to receiver. As gifts, they constitute an extension of the giver that is passed along to the recipient through an act of symbolic transfer. Human invention allows for infinite quantity and variety in the conception of the teddy bear. They will never be included on the endangered species list. Consumers thus acquire an original specimen that cannot be found in nature yet which evokes or even reproduces a natural type. Because their meaning is never fixed, they evolve easily during the operations of transfer and displacement. They embody the promise of meaning without ever fulfilling our desire to know exactly who or what they are. Being a commercial product, the reproduction momentarily satisfies our desire in the present yet it only defers our satisfaction to a later time.

<23> Serial production functions in tandem with serial consumption. Quotas set by Ty Beanie Babies, for instance, artificially make these products rare and highly coveted by young consumers who learn the rules of supply and demand and come to equate rarity and uniqueness with value. Desire thus becomes temporally inscribed, momentarily appeased yet never fully satisfied. If mass consumption of mass-produced stuffed animals satisfies consumer desire to possess an animal without most of the inconveniences of having an elephant in the bedroom or backyard, it also assures that the desiring subject will keep coming back for more. A child's psychic investment in a stuffed animal, unlike with a household pet, is undermined by the immanent presence of an abundance of objects that are interchangeable. The stores are full of new and different creatures for all seasons and all occasions. What birthday, anniversary, illness, homecoming or departure would be complete without a stuffed animal? As gifts, they witness and commemorate life events, from the most momentous to the most insignificant. It is increasingly unusual nowadays for a child to bond with one and only one stuffed animal when there are so many seductive rivals that respond to so many emotional and social situations. Acquisition of a stuffed animal thus responds to a desire for multiple and unlimited possession while validating a system in which that desire will only be momentarily satisfied, deferred to a future time when it can be rekindled by the latest craze of marketing strategy.

<24> Cycles of repetition seem ingrained in the fetishized commodity. Anne McClintock has commented in a related context: "Fetishism became a Victorian scandal, in part because it flagrantly rebutted the idea of linear time and progress. The fetish -- embodying, as it does, contradiction, repetition, multiple agency and multiple time -- exemplifies repeatable time: time without progress" (188). So the fetish returns. In their quality as material objects within social and libidinal economies, stuffed animals have been widely fetishized. William Pietz has established in great detail the history of the concept of the fetish as it emerged from what he characterizes as the "cross-cultural spaces of the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" (5). Two aspects of this early history interest me here as revealed in the way the concept was forged. First, the Portuguese word "feiti┴o" connoted a magical relation between primitive peoples and objects, often with some idea of the superstitious or the irrational. Second, the term has deeper roots in the Latin adjective "facticius," or "manufactured." The term, "fetish," thus connotes a made object invested with some meaning beyond its strict materiality. The early traders along the coast of West Africa, confronted with radical cultural difference, were eager to establish economic exchange values for goods with local populations. The discourse of mercantile capitalism did not easily translate into the economic value systems practiced along the coast. The Europeans were frustrated by their inability to understand and to fix exchange values. These operations seemed arbitrary and random, posing a predicament of economic and cultural importance. The early manufactured objects traded between Europeans and Africans thus incorporated religious, economic, social and cultural meanings that exceeded their materiality. The European fixation on value was equaled only by the fascination that the apparent worship for objects held in the exotic cultures they encountered. "Fetish" meant superstition and magic, perversion and indeterminacy. The fetish filled the European lack of knowledge and understanding of these cultures through a concept that remains slippery and leads to the fetishization of fetishism. Displacement of animals to European spaces plays itself out as a return of the very fetishistic worship that was condemned during earlier periods of contact. Their commodification transformed them into accessible objects made locally for local consumption. Europe unwittingly introduced into its most central spaces, whether urban or domestic, the objects of its greatest fears and desires.

<25> As objects become commodities through social investment of meaning and value, they elicit desire and take on symbolic capital. The mystery and ambivalence surrounding products causes them to function as fetishes and it allows fetishism to reside as a concept in these obscure objects of desire. Marx's notion of "commodity fetishism" nevertheless ends up in a rather nebulous realm where he advises recourse to the "mist-enveloped regions of the religious world" (217). He insists that "the fetishism of commodities has its origin [Í] in the peculiar social character of the labor that produces them" (217). Marxist theory was especially intent on the production and distribution of commodities in the value systems of capitalist societies especially as a function of labor. Jean Baudrillard has extended this concept to include the symbolic exchanges that matter in a value system where consumers are faced with myriad choices and where the "real" and its imitations are often confused. Preference for the simulacra over the original became a pivotal notion in Baudrillard's discussions of postmodernism. Sigmund Freud, in the early years of the 20th century (coincidentally, the "bear years"), saw the fetish in the context of male sexual anxiety over castration. The fetish was an object that replaced and compensated for the realization of sexual difference, characterized by the female lack of a penis. That anxiety is instinctively displaced to some object having a situational relationship to the phallic location. In this case, fur would substitute for pubic hair. In that respect, the unsexed stuffed animal stands out by its conspicuous lack of sexual organs. This absence could easily be seen to point out castration anxiety, especially to the male child playing with the stuffed animal. The theory betrays its own deep anxieties about male subjectivity, desire, reality and the narcissistic relationship to objects as marks of difference. Fear and anxiety on the one hand, attraction and desire on the other, are the poles within which the fetishized animal gravitates. The use of fur and the tactile, kinetic quality of the stuffed animal make them sexualized fetishes in addition to their being commodities. They also fill a gap in meaning between their human owners and their object status. The puzzling, mysterious relation between peoples is therefore doubled by an equally puzzling and mysterious relation between things. It is the crossed translation of those terms relating to people and to things that produces commodity fetishism. Circulation and exchange produce the value of a commodity such as a stuffed animal rather than the object inherently possessing that value. The obsessive and repeated desire for the object transforms it into a fetish, especially as it becomes invested with meanings that are repressed.

<26> I would like to turn for a moment to D.W. Winnicott's theory of the transitional object. It seems to me capable of accounting for the stuffed animal in the privileged domains of "playing and reality," to echo one of Winnicott's titles. His theory of child development examines the relationship that a young child establishes with objects as a bridge to the real world. Rather than considering the object as being temporal, Winnicott places it in a spatial context. The transitional object is what replaces the object of first relationship, usually the mother's breast, as a child discovers the existence of an external, real world made up of things. The discovery of a world beyond the mother and distinct from the child's being contributes to the formation of autonomous subjectivity. The primal object, the breast, belongs to a given universe that can be apprehended through touch. Manipulating objects, whether for pleasure or not, is an essential phase in a child's apprenticeship of reality. The magical ability to believe in a world that just appears alternates with a set of objects that beckons to be transformed by the hands and imagination of the young child. The transitional object, such as a stuffed animal, bridges the two worlds. According to Winnicott, imagination becomes especially active when the object "magically" obeys the child's wishes, providing the child an initiation to agency and willpower. Because it is made and not given, the object then must be invested with meaning. Play becomes the privileged mode for learning about reality, especially for exerting power to craft and move about that reality. Interestingly enough, Winnicott specifically mentions stuffed animals as transitional objects that can be substituted for the mother's breast. They become increasingly important as the breast is replaced by other objects in the weaning process. In his theory, objects may or may not become fetishized. The transitional object may or may not become eroticized. According to Winnicott, transitional objects are generally meant to be discarded when no longer needed rather than obsessively hoarded or collected. While this may be true of the child's blanket, we know that this is not the case with stuffed animals. Beyond their tactile and kinetic appeal, they embody an imaginative potential that is also an apprenticeship in power and discipline. As I have argued throughout this article, stuffed animals are not as neutral as most people assume, at least in the cultural sphere. They might also have a distinct appeal to boys who find a socially acceptable play toy that fulfills some of the functions of a doll without violating some of the societal taboos against boys playing with a traditionally girl's toy.

<27> The question that I would like to ponder for a minute is the following: what happens when the transitional object, such as a stuffed lion, tiger or bear, is also a transcultural object? Does it matter that the object substituted for the most primal of objects, a mother's breast, has emerged from a different cultural space? How can it not be significant that the earliest animal figures in a child's life, alongside pets or farm animals if such exist in the household, is probably a stuffed version of wildlife, probably taken from a colonial space of reference? Despite the fact that barnyard and domestic animals can belong to the bedroom zoo, a quick walk through the toy store will demonstrate the popularity of lions, tigers and bears. These tokens of imperial expansion have found their way back into the very centers of power in a movement that can best be called the "return of the repressed." The proof is in the stuffing. Indeed, the very material used by British teddy-bear manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s was kapok, a cotton-like material that was lighter, softer and more hygienic than wood shavings, cork or horsehair. Kapok was harvested from the seedpod of the tropical tree Ceiba Pentandra and acquired within the Empire's colonial trading system (Cockrill 10). In order to make them acceptable as nursery and bedtime companions, stuffed animals have been made to undergo the important anatomical modifications I have discussed. In altering size and in removing claws, teeth or sexual organs, these operations squarely locates the control of nature on and within the body. This manipulation is also a symbolic mutilation that will seem less striking when it is practiced on living creatures, human or non-human, later in a child's life. The declawed cat or the gelded horse flow from this early apprenticeship. Animals thus become for the child objects that can be modified at will, whether anatomically or culturally. As historical narratives become a part of the child's universe, she or he learns that these seemingly docile animals actually have real counterparts in distant and exotic places called Africa, Asia or Mississippi. The stuffed animal therefore becomes re-encoded with the layers of historical discourse that tell of colonialism, conquest, slavery, extermination, conservation, endangered species, ecological devastation and other not-so-natural disasters.

<28> One need only observe the micro-politics deployed when children play in order to realize that stuffed animals are made to perform scenes that the evening news would report if they occurred in the "real world." The cultural assumption that children and animals go so well together relies not on any idea of species jumping but rather on the belief that they are both of primitive intelligence and devoid of reason. This Victorian vision of children and animals has had far-reaching consequences in the realm of education, among others. Stuffed animals, being inherently mute and dumb, can be made to say anything their young masters wish. Because of the symbolic capital represented by the stuffed animal within the human sphere, the transition then becomes a larger issue than the weaning from mother's breast to teddy bear. It teaches important lessons of power and control over the other, allowing a child to develop notions of ambivalence. How can the same animal be both a playmate and a meal, a companion and an article of clothing? This makes the body into the site of that apprenticeship and the power relationships established between child and teddy bear depend overwhelmingly on that imbalance. Because they can be made to move and mimic, stuffed animals allow imaginative simulations that play out scenarios of dominance and affection that will recur in later life. They are made to perform in the ritualized spaces of a child's real and symbolic universe. Winnicott argues convincingly that the external object must be internalized in order to retain its appeal and impact. The ability to replicate the outside world and to make that outside world obey one's desires is a strong part of this learned behavior. The stuffed animal is malleable enough to allow for the creation of a true interpersonal space bridging the child's internal and external realities. Play is the merging of those two spaces and the stuffed animal is what facilitates the passage between them. The object is there, seemingly emerging from nowhere, willing to become the possession of the child. The lessons learned from childhood play with animals, especially stuffed ones, cannot fail to have an impact on his future cultural and ideological positions of the child become adult. And they are too much fun not to be taken seriously.


[1] I use the term "stuffed animal" to refer to toy animals such as the teddy bear and not to taxidermy. [^]

[2] On this subject, see Londa Schiebinger's Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). [^]

[3] This historical account of the teddy bear is indebted to Pauline Cockrill's The Teddy Bear Encyclopedia (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993). [^]

[4] Steve Baker's excellent book The Postmodern Animal (London: Reaktion Books, 2000) explores this notion in detail, especially in the areas of philosophy and art. [^]

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