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I Can’t Stop Putting Googly Eyes on Stuff (and I’m Not Alone)

Photo: Courtesy of the author

My habit for years has been to stockpile googly eyes of all sizes. Mostly I slip the tiny ones into cards as a little surprise to the recipients. There’s also a quarter-sized pair I left in bed with my boyfriend last year, the night before we eloped, that has been floating about our apartment ever since, like a traveling sight gag.

There’s never a question of what to do with googly eyes. Recall the 2013 SNL skit where Christopher Walken glues googly eyes onto his cactuses and ferns. “They’re like real eyes!” Walken explains, adding that he needs to know where he stands with his houseplants. Last summer, it was how Bonnie created the anti-hero of Toy Story 4, a spork that gains consciousness (and an existential crisis) after the kindergartner mods it with popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and googlies.

They’ve always been around, but now they’re everywhere. In mid-March, the satirist Audrey Burges ordered a bulk pack of googly eyes: “It’s about to get real anthropomorphized in here,” she announced. About that time, the NPR producer Lauren Migaki tweeted “A social distancing decorating tip: while stocking up on TP, make sure to check out the craft aisle for some googly eyes.” Googly eyes are “necessary quarantine supplies,” someone agreed. An Amazon customer in Missouri ordered melatonin and received a pregnancy test and a bag of googly eyes instead. “Not even upset to be honest,” she said, adding that they’d be “going to good use during this.” A few weeks later, SNL writer Melissa Villaseñor tweeted, “I’m so close to getting googly eyes and putting them on my furniture so they become friends.”

I’ve seen googly eyes pop up on Roombas, on KitchenAid mixers, on record players, on booze bottles, on oat milk cartons — even on images of the coronavirus itself. Raquel D’Apice, comedian and a former writer on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, put them on a cluster of dog hair and now has a recurring bit on Twitter about the lives of her anthropomorphized dust bunnies.

“A huge round of applause to whomever is putting googly eyes on trees in Scotstoun — they fairly cheered up my jaunt around the block,” the BBC broadcaster Joy Dunlop just tweeted. “[S]omeone put googly eyes on a bird of a paradise I walk past every day. [D]oesn’t get much better than this,” New York Times creative director Nathan Reese similarly praised. “Have I been in quarantine for too long,” a marketing consultant asked her eyeballed iced coffee, “or is it just an enduring, immutable truth that googly eyes make everything better?” (And if regular googly eyes are too … plastic for you, consider a highbrow leather sticker version from designer Anya Hindmarch, who has been making googly-eyed luxury goods for years.)

“This is the perfect time for eye-bombing,” Kim Nielsen told me. In 2012, she and another Copenhagen designer coined “eye-bombing.” They defined it as “the art of sticking ‘googly eyes’ onto an inanimate object in the public sphere, in a way that cleverly lends the object the appearance of a living creature.” Nielsen has said that we can recondition our cities by activating creaturely fixtures such as bollards and gas nozzles — sometimes it just helps to look around and pretend that a friendlier world is staring back.

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I Can’t Stop Putting Googly Eyes on Stuff (I’m Not Alone)