Late in January 2016, the Internet lit up with stories about a new object to provoke emojis of either delight or distaste: Fugglers. From Business Insider and Techinsider, to Australian Women’s Weekly and ScaryMommy; from Reddit and Twitter, to Buzzfeed, BoingBoing and Gizmodo, the Fugglers, toothy plush creations of Louise McGettrick took over newsfeeds with their otherworldly unworldliness. Fugglers have been around since 2010, though, according “The Fuggler Story” link, but Mrs. McGettrick’s following has increased especially this year (http://www.fuggler.com/the-fuggler-story.html).
As a fan from years ago of the bug-eyed, snaggle-toothed Spongmonkeys of Quizno’s sandwich ad fame (www.rathergood.com), and as an aficionado of all that is not “supposed” to be cuddly but still evokes a coo and a squeeze, I was immediately enchanted by Fuggler Style when I first saw it in 2015. With realistic-looking “human” teeth set into soft, amorphous faces with similarly realistic acrylic eyes, the Fugglers juxtapose intense detail with chibi style forms and colors. Each character design balances aspects simple and intricate, low-key and intense, soft and sharp, candy colored and biological.
By crossing the familiar cuddly toy shapes as with images of “body parts” familiar from a completely different context, the Fugglers go further than the similarly soft, amorphous Ugly Dolls of the 2000’s. The trend of the fin de siècle “scary-cute” or “creepy cute” objects in dolls, figurines, art toys, decor, and dress continued deep into the teens. Yet the Fugglers stop short of the gore and fatal attraction of Mori Chack’s Gloomy Bear. Fugglers, like the wonderful “Ladies, Control Yourselves” bro lounging in his briefs and five-o’clock-shadow, reflect our own awkwardness back to us with an indulgent smile.
So, the Fugglers are homely yet homey. If Freud wrote that “What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich,” Louise McGettrick gives us a canny representation of the Uncanny, where the unheimlich (sometimes translated as un-home-like, un-homely) becomes again the heimlich, once again at-home.
Some of the Fuggler homebodies, tighty-whities notwithstanding, can verge at little closer or a little further away from fearsome, depending on what context–or how much pointiness–McGettrick gives a character. In what I should mention as a spoiler to those who prefer to avoid one of the greatest of Uncanny characters, the ventriloquist dummy, a particularly fluffy Fuggler was paired with the “Abomination,” a dummy whose facial features seem to have been enhanced with veins and hints of decomposition (posted on the Fugglers’ Twitter page). Meanwhile, the blue bunny-like Fuggler “Twins” (who “have always been trouble), the “Teal Staring” Fuggler, and the sunny yellow “Smile” Fuggler bounce back across the Uncanny Valley to elicit giggles.