Retro classic: celebrating the beanbag

Comedian David Smiedt takes An irreverent, but appreciative, look at the classic things that define you-beaut Aussie life
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There are a bunch of items that came out of the swinging ’60s and groovy ’70s that could best be filed under “it was a good idea at the time”. These include cheesecloth, the popularity of John Denver and beanbags. All three, however, stayed in our homes for decades, but it’s the last that was the hardest to get rid of.

Beanbags were a product of their era on many levels. Emerging from the wing-backed, upholstered strictures of post-war design, they embodied the loosey-goosey amorphous zeitgeist of the summer of love (and as it turns out, chiropractors). There was no better piece of furniture in which to expand your consciousness, ride your own unicorn and appreciate the Grateful Dead. Because man, you were like sitting on the floor, which is totally way more connected to the ground. Unlike sofas, which were so bourgeoisie.

Often, these patchouli-scented incendiaries of polyester spheres went from beanbags to been bags as they were passed on to children and occupied the corners of that other ’70s sensation: the rumpus room. Teens were especially enamoured with them as they were always good for that first pash – as two hormone-addled occupants could accommodate a beanbag with just the requisite amount of touching.

“This writer has been involved in entire relationships that were easier to get into and out of than beanbags.”

If no such company was forthcoming, one could use one’s newly acquired knowledge of year 8 physics to launch oneself at the bag, occupied by a sibling of lesser weight and guile, thereby sending them catapulting across the room in the opposite direction. And sometimes as far as the local X-ray clinic.

Once the beads had been crushed into microscopic dandruff, a refill was in order. This went down one of two ways: either spillage was so abundant that one was finding white spheres for months afterward. Or, an overzealous-type filled the bag to breaking point, in which case, one was finding white spheres for months afterwards.

As time went by, the beanbag went slightly upmarket with plusher fabrics and fillings made from diced pieces of foam. These were more luxurious and supportive, but they were generally heavier than that Jonathan Franzen novel you’ve been telling people you’ve been reading for the past three years or so.

Throwback Thursday: Bean bags are back!
(Credit: Illustration by Matt Cosgrove)

The enduring problem with beanbags, however, was, and continues to be, their centre of gravity. They are built lower to the ground than an All Blacks scrum half and just as unyielding. In other words, this writer has been involved in relationships that were easier to get into and out of than certain beanbags. Because these items of furniture don’t have a solid core, just getting up for a drink mid-movie requires serious exertion. Which is why they remain a mainstay for the herbally enhanced who can watch an entire series of House Of Cards in one sitting, or teenagers in a video game marathon of zombie slaughtering or whatever else passes for fun in a demographic that has the attention span of… hey what font is that? I like Courier New. My friend is a courier.

Ultimately, although the beanbag has some louche and bohemian pluses, its fatal flaw is that it robs inhabitants of their dignity on approach, exit and in use. And as the years roll by, many of us need all the dignity we can get.


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