On today’s episode of “things I never thought I’d read with my own eyes,” people are lusting after the sexy Smokey Bear balloon from Thursday’s Macy’s Parade. Why, you ask? I can’t even begin to fathom, except that some people have just been inside for too long.
It’s not that Smokey Bear isn’t sexy. He hasn’t worn a shirt for 78 years, for crying out loud. He’s a blue jeans man through and through. But, really, the balloon though? According to some people on social media, the balloon is really what’s doing it for them.
“Why is Smokey Bear trying to look sexy?” wrote one Twitter user. Another wrote, “Since when is Smokey Bear Zaddy bait?” in a sentence that is almost completely incomprehensible to me, an Old Millennial. I suppose if I had to guess what people are going for here, Smokey Bear is kind of attractive, in a way that makes me question a lot of things about myself. The balloon, though: not hot.
First of all, he’s lumpy. Second of all, the eyes are weird. Third of all, compared to Smokey Bear’s signs and ad campaigns, the balloon is nothing. You want to see a sexy bear? Check out Smokey’s 1951 redesign where he gains a shovel and a stronger, more masculine look than his initial 1944 design.
Overall, Smokey Bear is a cultural icon, but if we ask him, I think he would brush off his newfound sex symbol status. What’s important is what he stands for in terms of fire safety. You can’t contain a forest fire on sex appeal alone, after all.
A Brief History of Smokey Bear, from Fire Safety to Sex Symbol
Smokey Bear burst onto the scene in 1944 with a more cuddle, storybook bear look. His first ad featured him in his signature blue jeans and ranger hat pouring water from a pail and giving the artist a cheeky little look. The text that goes with the ad reads, “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires.” This was before his iconic catchphrase, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” This would eventually change again in 2001 to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” to put more emphasis on preventing unplanned fires and not prescribed burns.
He was redesigned in 1951 with a less soft look. In the 1960s, Smokey even had his own ZIP code where people could send mail, according to a report from NPR. As for his Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon, that debuted in 1966 while promoting an NBC special called “The Ballad of Smokey Bear.”
Smokey returned for the 1972 parade, and made a total of 16 appearances before being retired in 1981. In 1993, he was brought out of retirement for the first time in 25 years to celebrate Smokey’s 50th anniversary. He again went into retirement in the balloon warehouse. Then, in 2019, Smokey was resurrected once again, and people were ecstatic to see him in the parade. He’s been in every parade since 2019, and hopefully will continue to remind the millions of people who tune in that “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.”