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by on December 9, 2012

In lectures, we quite often seem to circle around to the topic of childhood and how children project emotions or personalities onto their cuddly toys. Bruce Hood, of the University of Bristol, said “We anthropomorphise objects, look at them almost as if they have feelings. The children know these objects are not alive but they believe in them as if they are.” and Elena O Smirnova, In her article ‘Character Toys As Psychological Tools’ states: “Children need character toys – toys that play the role of companion or partner – in the early stages of development of play. Young children (under seven years) are not yet able to establish distance from their playthings and hence identify with dolls and absorb their characteristics. For young children, dolls and soft toys become an `alternative self’, and in order to be a `good’ psychological tool, they should be open to a child’s inner world. `Interactive’ toys are quite different from this in that they have an independent life of their own. An observational study of 50 children aged 5 to 5½ showed that although they were intensely interested in an interactive toy, their play was at the level of simple functional play, and that the toy evoked no imaginary involvement and no play storylines, even though the children were clearly capable of these higher levels of play.”

Watching ‘Family Guy’, and the relationship between Stewie and his teddy bear, Rupert, shows an (albeit fictional) extreme case of this. Rupert is inanimate, but he becomes almost another character in the TV show, used as a device to allow Stewie to explain plots and emotions, but the bear is shown as Stewie’s confidante and best friend, also doubling up as a gun.

In Stewie’s sexual fantasies, Rupert has a human body (but still a bear’s head) – fetishizing the bear, something not normally thought about when considering children and their relationships with toys. In another episode, where Rupert is humped by Brian, the family’s dog, for several hours, Stewie is shown cradling the bear in the shower, washing him and “We can talk about it when you want to talk about it.. I don’t blame you” as though he had been raped.

We also talked about how our toys have an invulnerable quality to them, shown in this by the repeated repair of Rupert by Lois, when he loses limbs and Stewie comes to her for help. If our toys are ‘invincible’, through their ease of repair, is this what makes us so attached to them: that they cannot ‘die’?

In this scene, Stewie shoots Rupert (before planning to also shoot himself) in order to spare them a gruesome death.


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