Hula Hoop Hoopla

The first time I heard Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” was at a classical music appreciation workshop at Rutgers. The instructor, a Music Professor, played a clip from the Coen brothers’ “The Hudsucker Proxy” that featured a creative interpretation of the history of the hula hoop, one of the simplest toys ever sold and marketed—a hollow ring that can be twirled around the waist while performing a motion similar to that of a Hawaiian Hula dancer.

Although varieties of the hula hoop had been known to Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the modern multi-coloured plastic version was born in 1958 and demonstrated to befuddled children in California playgrounds. This salesmanship resulted in a fad beyond imagination, with over 100 million hoops sold in the first year itself. The film version predictably employs a more artistic license, and offers a humorous lesson in the vagaries of demand and supply.

By a series of backroom machinations in “The Hudsucker Proxy”, the fate of the new chairman of a fictional toy company is closely intertwined with the success of hula hoop sales. As the toy fails to take off despite steep discounts, a store owner throws out his entire stock into a back alley. Miraculously one of the hoops takes a life of its own—escaping out into the sunlight and rolling through streets and sidewalks of an anonymous small town until it stops at the feet of a young boy playing truant from school. As the boy takes his first tentative step into the circle and discovers his natural talent, other students returning from school are awed by this spectacle and rush to the toy store as sales (and retail prices) begin to soar.
While the incredible voyage of the lone hoop is evocative of a vintage Dunlop tyre advertisement that stops before an unmindful child, scenes of hoop trundling are still commonplace in rural towns, where a child may be seen rolling a hoop (typically a bicycle tyre) along the ground  with the aid of a stick. This game had acquired notoriety in Victorian London because of injuries caused to horses and pedestrians’ shins, and a high-profile campaign to eradicate the practice was initiated by Charles Babbage, the father of the modern computer.
The question is how much longer will today’s children be satisfied by the likes of hula hoops and flying discs (also known as Frisbee, which was invented by the same company that popularised the hula hoop). In an age where touchscreens have become ubiquitous, virtual versions of yesterday’s toys are available on mobile phones and one can foresee a future where the simplicity of these games would no longer be experienced in reality.
Hula hoop, hula hoop,
Everyone is playing
With the hula hoop.
Look at them spin
Trying to win
Anyone can play from three
To a hundred and ten.
Oh, what fun to see them rock
And to see them sway
Trying to keep the hula hoop
From slipping away.
If you rock when you should sway
It would fall to the ground
Then again, once again,
Spin it round and round.

Georgia Gibbs, The Hula Hoop Song