Peep show with chicks and bunnies

The favorite marshmallow Easter candy Peeps inspire more than a sweet tooth – they’re art!

by Sara Nicole Miller

Easter: It isn’t just for Jesus anymore. In fact, it seems as though the iconographic carpenter from Nazareth has officially been one-upped (on the anniversary of his own death, no less) by an animal made entirely out of marshmallow and sugar – the Peep.

Peeps Diorama Contest Entries
WHEN: Saturday through April 21st
WHERE: Bell Museum of Natural History, 10 Church Street S.E., East Bank
TICKETS: Free to University students, General $3-5

In 2004, Pioneer Press reporter Richard Chin – bored and hungry for an interactive feature piece – pitched a story to his editor for the Easter Sunday edition of the paper: a Peeps diorama contest. Every spring since, they have held the contest, to astonishing success.

Now, for the second year in a row, an array of this year’s Peeps Diorama Contest entries will be on display at the Bell Museum.

These little sugary critters embody the pinnacle of preservative-ridden American foodstuffs. Not only are they delicious (to some) and microwaveably explosive and malleable (to others), but ever since they were mass marketed by Just Born Confectionaries in the 1950s, their sugary-stale culinary bravado has transcended the traditional boundaries of American food lore.

Chin has gotten a kick out of the hundreds of entries: Many of the dioramas have their roots in Blockbuster movies of the time, such as “Dreamgirls” and “Brokeback Mountain.” According to Chin, a lot of contestants craft and create literal spin-offs of the candy’s brand name signifier – they get a lot of Village ‘Peeple’ and Peep Shows. Everything from the Wizard of Oz to Willy Wonka to the historically obscure 1666 Great Fire of London (as described, according to Chin, in the Diary of Samuel Pepy’s – pronounced ‘peeps’). A Peep-ified edition of MySpace (“PeepSpace”) was also entered.

One entry even ventured to attempt a “Twilight Zone”-esque blend of existentialism Fordism; they created an assembly line factory that made Peeps run by Peeps workers!

According to Chin, he judges the dioramas based on the creativity and aesthetic accessibility of the entries. Some might be incredibly well-crafted, but it isn’t completely clear as to what pop tidbit the diorama is referring.

For example, two of this year’s diorama entries, which looked magnificently similar to scenes from the book “Goodnight Moon” and retro puppet animation classic “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” turned out to be depictions of a murder scene from “Hound of the Baskervilles” and the infamous Donner Party slaughter, respectively. Even with a slew of compliant Peeps as character props, the contest still proves that appearances can be mighty deceiving.

The candies possess two qualities that make them prime candidates for all the gore and glory of the pop-culture diorama phenomenon: As spring chickadees and bunny rabbits, they’re easy to personify, and they possess a fabled indestructibility. “There’s a lot of violence with the Peeps (entries); Peeps being eaten by sharks, crucified, decapitated. There’s something about them that incites violence,” Chin explained.

The first place prize this year is quite modest, but also very appropriate for a Peep-obsessed populace: a toothbrush.

“But this year, we’re upgrading. We have a musical toothbrush, so you can hear the music from inside your jaw bone,” Chin laughed.

Amy Weiby, a sophomore mathematics student at the University, had heard of the contest last year and, come spring of ’07, decided to give it a go. Weiby plays mellophone for the University marching band, so in her diorama, she decided to pay homage to the totality formation closest to her heart.

“The block ‘M’ is such a tradition for Minnesota, so I thought it would catch their attention,” she explained.

Her diorama is a tabletop depiction of a football field, complete with a gigantic American flag, head blobs for fans in the stands and a quasi-turfed field with a huge maroon ‘M’ and 50-some instrument-wielding Peeps. Weiby slimmed the Peeps’ ‘M’ formation down so she could make it realistic with a minimum number of Peeps. As a result, she had to shave off whole sections.

“I don’t know if they’ll care, but I didn’t make any baritones,” she laughed.

Although Weiby isn’t sure why Peeps have taken on such a magical aura in the hearts and minds of both capitalists and Christians alike, she admited there is something adorable in creating a Peep-infested scene-scape.

“It’s just about seeing the Peeps in a different way,” Weiby said. “And basically they’re just sugar, so what’s there not to like?”