PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Some fads worth reviving
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 8:26 AM
It's interesting how popular culture fads seem to always come back around: Bell bottoms, the Duncan Yo Yo, air hockey, roller skating, Hostess Twinkies and many more from the 1970s and '80s have had a resurgence of popularity decades later. Some, such as the eight-track tape player or leisure suits, haven't, for obvious reasons.
However, it's not always easy predicting popular culture - what becomes a staple of our society and what doesn't last. Even more difficult is predicting what will make a comeback.
A Big Wheels race in Spring Valley Saturday during the annual celebration, Ag Days, conjured up those thoughts as I hadn't seen one of those toys for a couple decades. A group of parents involved in early childhood family education (ECFE) decided to revive the race, which was held in the 1980s in Spring Valley. Some of those parents even participated when they were around 5 years old.
For those of you who don't remember, or are too young to have experienced the phenomenon, a Big Wheels is a type of tricycle with an oversized front wheel that rides very low to the ground. It was introduced in 1969 and became popular in the 1970s and into the 1980s partly because it was an inexpensive toy that consumer groups felt was safer than a traditional tricycle or bicycle.
Mostly, though, it was a cool, fun toy that enabled young kids to get around the driveway and even the yard as the big front tire made it very stable. A designer for Louis Marx & Co. reassembled the tricycle to handle like a racecar and it worked.
My children, particularly my daughter who was the targeted age in the 1980s, often used her Big Wheels at our house to zoom around in front of our house. It is important to note that these toys aren't meant for streets, and could be quite dangerous due to their low profile, but they are great for driveways, sidewalks and other areas under the supervision of adults.
My kids got older and I didn't really notice the disappearance of Big Wheels, although I remember the race ended at Ag Days because not enough children had their own units to participate. The company that introduced the toy went bankrupt in the 1980s and a competitor purchased the brand, but it, too, eventually went bankrupt.
Maybe the movie, "The Shining," is to blame. For those who don't remember, "The Shining" is a film based on a Stephen King novel that takes place in a deserted resort in the winter where a caretaker and his family deal with the isolation and the writer's block, which turns to madness, of the caretaker, portrayed by Jack Nicholson.
I remember that scene when the son takes his Big Wheels down the long hall of the resort to encounter a frightening vision. "The Shining" is a horror movie, but there is no blood or gore. It is a psychological horror movie that is scarier than much of what goes for horror movies these days.
Some of the scenes, such as the boy on the Big Wheels, still give me chills. The movie came out in 1980 and by the end of the decade Big Wheels mostly disappeared.
The timing is probably a mere coincidence as it's unlikely that consumers made the connection between the movie and the toy. More likely, the reason for the disappearance of Big Wheels was just inept companies that couldn't keep their businesses going.
It's nice to see them back, though. The Big Wheels brand was reintroduced under new ownership in 2003. In 2009, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame along with the Nintendo Game Boy, which was the first of a new wave of handheld electronics that captured the imaginations of youth and adults, as well as the plain, old ball, which has been around for centuries and includes various types such as football, baseball or rubber ball.
Big Wheels joins more than 44 others in the hall of fame, which is part of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y. Panelists of judges choose the items for inclusion in the hall of fame, which also includes the teddy bear, Frisbee and Barbie doll.
Criteria for selection include longevity, innovation, icon-status and how the toy encourages creativity or discovery through play.
Big Wheels doesn't have the longevity, but it seems to meet the other criteria.
It gets my vote.
What could be better in this age when we're trying to get kids active and outside than getting a toy that allows them to race around the yard?
Just don't let them take them down any long, lonely hallways in the dead of winter.