Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Inanimated Or: Why I Am Crazy

We had to throw out our old home toaster recently. Something went wrong with the internal coils and it just started burning one side of the bread to a crisp while leaving the other side untouched. Looking back over its life, I would conclude it had a pretty impressive run. Seven plus years of flawless service is quite an achievement for a low end, no frills, white plastic outer shell, Hamilton Beech toaster. Had it held out for a little while longer it might have even outlasted the Kmart where I think it was originally bought. I'm sure whatever toaster we get to replace it will be just as unremarkably reliable at it's singular, specialized task of warming up slices of bread, with the occasional bagel thrown in. I really shouldn't pay this mundane domestic non-story any mind and give it about as much remembrance as a replaced light bulb or a tossed dull shaving razor. Unfortunately, as you can see I cannot, since I am part of the generation cursed to have grown up with "The Brave Little Toaster"

For myself (and I suspect more than a few other of my peers), that exciting animated adventure tale featuring a plucky little toaster and his misfit cadre of animate home appliances (Radio, Lampy, Blanky, and Kirby the vacuum) faithfully seeking to reunite with their beloved owner who was forced to abandon them years ago has instilled a sort of irrational attachment and nostalgia for the inanimate objects, particularly of my childhood. The film and its sequels (including one where they somehow end up on Mars!) combined with the movie's obvious progeny, the even more sentimental, emotionally loaded, "Toy Story" films (interestingly enough many original Pixar members worked on "Toaster") is likely responsible for cultivating more than a fair share of hoarders within my generation.

Of course we all have our mementos, heirlooms, and souvenirs that we all hang onto and which keep us connected to the past and fond memories; and there are times when a vintage item is actually better than a modern day version, but there are clearly limits. If an object has outlived its usefulness and a replacement is available, you should replace it without affording it the empathy reserved for a human being. I shouldn't feel a twinge of sadness as I see my broken toaster looking solitary and out of place in the outside trash bin. I shouldn't think it lies awake at night, shivering in the cold, staring at the empty sky, grimly pondering why it has been suddenly abandoned. I shouldn't imagine all the other kitchen appliances having melancholy conversations about their lost comrade and morbidly considering their own mortality. The new replacement toaster should not be characterized as an arrogant villain just because it happens to be newer and more advanced than the old toaster.

Whenever I start to get irrationally sentimental like this, I think back to one of my all time favorite TV adverts: the series of Ikea commercials from the 90s where the viewer is manipulated into feeling bad about the unfortunate fate of a household object and it then abruptly told by stern looking Swede that we are crazy for thinking that and you are better off replacing old, tacky items with new ones. It is true, I am crazy and Disney and Pixar are highly irresponsible for peddling such entertaining and memorable messages of consumer goods animism to kids at such impressionable ages. I should enjoy my new toaster, guilt free and perhaps buy a new floor lamp from Ikea.

For next week, in my continuing series examining the influence of animated films of my childhood in my adult life, I'll tackle the deep theological issues of mortality, the afterlife, and the existence of the soul raised by "All Dogs Go To Heaven".

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