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The Laughing Stock News Agency has confirmed that Teddy Bears of America (TBA) has banned Christian Grey, the 50 Shades of Grey Bear, from attending the annual Teddy Bear Picnic.
The limited-edition bear is part of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company's (VTBC) ongoing efforts to establish an edgier brand and please "Kids from 1 to 100." The bear is billed as an adult gift for those who want to "dominate Valentine's Day," and he comes complete with S&M paraphernalia, including a set of mini handcuffs.
But TBA is not impressed with BDSM imagery being so unabashedly associated with something as iconic and beloved as a teddy bear. At a closed-door picnic planning meeting earlier this week, organizers approved a letter that will be sent to Mr. Grey, care of the VTBC, asking him to stay away.
The theme for the 2015 picnic is "Guardians of Innocence" and Big Ears Teddy is scheduled to give the keynote address. This will be Big Ears' first public appearance since the Jian Ghomeshi scandal that made both him, and the phrase "hate sex," famous in Canada and left the country's public broadcaster reeling from the biggest public relations disaster in its nearly 80-year history.
Lots-o' says it's been a difficult past few months for teddy bears; many are still feeling the shock waves of what Big Ears has been through. Apparently, the Canadian drama has prompted bears from across North America to come forward and share stories of witnessing acts of sexual violence and degradation -- both consensual and non-consensual -- in their own homes.
"People underestimate how much behind-closed-door action Teddy Bears are exposed to and how deeply it affects them. We get left in just about every room of the house and people forget about us. There isn't much we don't see."
Lots-o' says this makes the bears "wise to the world" and less inclined to see a "harmless fun-and-games angle" on the volatile combination of sex and violence.
"There's nothing funny or harmless about normalizing sexual violence -- and what on earth does it have to do with Valentine's Day? You can't imagine how hard it is for teddy bears to sit idly by as we see more and more of our kids become addicted to pornography -- which is really sick stuff, too. These are not Merchant Ivory productions by any stretch of the imagination."
"One day our kids are playing with Lego on the carpet and, almost overnight, they're alone with a tablet or a smartphone and a Wi-Fi connection and are catapulted into a maximum stimulus world that leaves them incapable of recognizing what we would have once thought of as normal sex."
TBA is a non-profit children's charity governed by a celebrity bear board that includes Lots-o', Paddington, Yogi, Boo-Boo, Fozzie, and the somewhat reclusive Winnie-the-Pooh. Critics have tried to label TBA as a right-wing Christian organization, an affiliation which Lots-o' categorically denies. He wholeheartedly admits, though, that TBA is an "old-fashioned bunch o' bears" and they're not afraid to "take the moral high ground from time to time," but only if it concerns the welfare of children.
In response to the decision to ban Mr. Grey, the VTBC has threatened to pull its financial sponsorship for the annual picnic which is substantial. Lots-o' acknowledges this will leave the normally cash-rich planning committee in peril until a new sponsor can be found.
Both representatives from VTBC and the 50 Shades Bear declined to be interviewed -- the latter having tweeted the following from a posh L.A. Spa, where he was having a men's Brazilian bikini wax in advance of Friday's Hollywood premiere: "Who cares. I don't do romance and I sure as hell don't do picnics. They can take their tea and toast and shove it."
TBA sees both the 50 Shades of Grey Bear and the film as part of a disturbing trend: evidence of a society that wants to pretend it isn't deeply implicated in creating a dangerously paradoxical climate by upgrading BDSM from fetish-fringe to mainstream culture. The million-dollar question for Lots-o' is, "How can people blur the lines between what they say they're appalled by on the one hand, and what they relish as date-night fodder on the other, and then think they can make sense of that contradiction to the next generation?"
"Make no mistake," warns Lots-o', "the tectonic plates of sex and violence will continue to collide with painful consequences." He concedes that sanctioning Mr. Grey is a largely symbolic act that probably won't amount to much, but says, "The picnic is the only venue where we can stand our ground and say, enough! And that's what we intend to do."
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.