Friday, January 20, 2006

Bear or Not Bear: Fish Slippers

Once again, I turn my attention to the vexing question as to what precisely falls into the category "teddy bear." While I do not subscribe to a Platonic notion of an ideal Form teddy bear, I do --

Goofball: I object! I reckon that I'm pretty close to an ideal form of teddy bear.

Pudgie: I'm discussing Platonic Forms not --

Goofball: I'm soft. I'm furry. I'm adorable. I love cuddling. I can dance. I am an accomplished raconteur. My paws even make an adorable castanet sound when I clap my paws together. AND I've got personality to spare. Sure, I have my drawbacks, who doesn't? Some say that I too comfy and they can't stop cuddling with me. Guilty as charged. Others claim that I am too cute and I distract them from work. Again, I have to plead the Fifth. Aside from these drawbacks, I figure I'm about as good as a teddy bear can get.

Pudgie: Are you finished?

Goofball: I've had my say.

Pudgie: Good. For, as I was trying to explain, I do not believe there is one abstract archetype of teddy bear floating around in the ether to which all teddy bears strive. ... (pause) ... Hmmmm. I'm surprised that you haven't interupted me yet.

Goofball: Why would I? I'm not abstract and I'm not floating around in ether alcohol. I'm as real as real gets, baby. That is the best part about me. You can pick me up and cuddle. I have no problem with what you just said.

Pudgie: I can't decide whether you willfully conflated diethyl ether with ancient notions of the heavens or not. If I were a betting bear, I would guess the former, but this household never ceases to surprise me. To continue my thought, should there be no further interuptions, I do --

Wagsy: Um ... that's a bad assumption to make, Pudgie. People are always interupting my posts.

Pudgie: I see what you mean. Apparently, --

Wagsy: You know, for an empiricist, you seem to ... um ... miss a lot of the patterns around here.

Pudgie: I try to avoid contact with most of you for reasons that are now all too obvious. I also consider myself more of a pragmatist in the vein of William James and Hilary Putnam, rather than an empiricist in the tradition of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. I suppose that should make me adept at recognizing consistent patterns of behavior, as you suggest, but I retain some glimmer of hope that the maturation process will eventually take root in this household. The ability to follow a high level argumentative thread for more than three seconds seems to be a lost art.

Wagsy: Um ... --

Pudgie: Before you can interject anything further into my narrative thread, I would like to introduce the objects under consideration today.

Are fish slippers teddy bears?

Wagsy: Oooh, fish slippers. I hear they are very comfy.

Goofball: I don't know about comfy, but they crack me up.

Pudgie: The question is not the mirth value of fish slippers, but whether or not they constitute bears.

Goofball: No. Slippers are things you wear on your feet. You'd don't wear bears on your feet. Hence, the fish slippers are not bears. QED.

Wagsy: Um ... I dunno, Goofball. They have eyes. I'm not sure I could wear anything with eyes. Um ... especially on my feet. They would be looking up at me and I'd feel bad about wearing them.

Goofball: But people DO wear these fish slippers. I've seen it. You've seen it. Guests put on the fish slippers and begin to giggle about how silly they feel. Articles of clothing are not bears.

Pudgie: What about backpacks?

Goofball: What about backpacks?

Pudgie: Are backpacks bears?

Goofball: No. That is why they are sold in the school supplies aisle and teddy bears are sold in the family member adoption aisle. The canvas ones don't even look anything like teddy bears.

Pudgie: What about backpacks like this one?
Very cute teddy bear backpack from Gund
Pudgie: This backpack certainly passes the looks test.

Goofball: Wow. She's a backpack?! She's pretty cute.

Pudgie: I assure you that she is a backpack. I assume from your use of a gendered pronoun that you are softening your position that clothing cannot be teddy bears.

Goofball: Depends. Is someone wearing the backpack?

Pudgie: Possibly. For the sake of argument, let's say yes.

Goofball: Is the person wearing the backpack also storing things in her?

Pudgie: Sure.

Goofball: Gross stuff? Like food? Lunch meat? Yuck. I like singing about bologna, but I wouldn't want any bologna in me. I'm a lover, not a refridgerator.

Wagsy: Um ... I agree. I think it is a very cute backpack, but if it is storing food, then it isn't a bear. Um ... it doesn't seem very sanitary.

Pudgie: So the concensus is that food storage devices cannot be teddy bears by definition?

Goofball: You betcha! I'll take this argument a step further and back full circle to the fish slippers. If an object is used for something gross, then it is no longer a teddy bear. People put their smelly, stinky feet in the fish slippers and walk around the dusty floor in them. That is not the life of a bear, those are slippers!

Wagsy: Very forcefully said, Goofball.

Goofball: Why thank you. Not only am I a raconteur, I am a great polemicist.

Pudgie: Allow me to push you on this conclusion, oh Thrasymachus.

Wagsy Um ... his name is Goofball, Pudgie. Not Thra - mishma-ma-gish.

Pudgie: (sigh) Do you agree with the conclusion of our last discussion of teddy bear categorization that any plush toy loved by a person has the potential to be a bear?

Goofball: Yeah. That seems about right to me.

Pudgie: But suppose that a child loves the backpack. She hugs the backpack, has tea with the backpack, tells secrets to the backpack, and generally treats the backpack like a bear.

Goofball: Then the backpack is a teddy bear.

Pudgie: Imagine that the child loves the backpack so much that she takes it with her everywhere. Since the most convenient way to carry a backpack is to wear it, she wears the backpack using the shoulder straps.

Goofball: I don't see any problems so far.

Pudgie: Suppose further that she also uses the same backpack that she loves and hugs to carry school supplies. Perhaps even to carry a messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Goofball: Then she's not treating the backpack like a bear any more and it isn't a bear.

Pudgie: But if you are still loved, can you stop being a bear?

Wagsy: Um ... Pudgie makes a good point, Goofball.

Goofball: This is all cloud talk. No one loves their backpack AND uses it like a backpack. And you can't bring peanut butter into schools any more. You're operating in Cloud Cuckoo Land, oh philosopher.

Pudgie: Touchee, Aristophanes. I appreciate the allusion. Still, I must disagree with your point and offer a counter-example to your supposition that such a scenario cannot exist. Harriet's niece owns a backpack very similar to this one:
A handsome Olivia backpack
Pudgie: Harriet's niece loves the backpack, includes the backpack in important teddy bear social events, sleeps with the backpack at times, and still uses it to carry around crayons and other messy objects.

Wagsy: Oooh, it's true. It's true. Um ... I've never envied Olivia's life in that household. She gets a lot of wear and tear.

Pudgie: Since Olivia is loved, comfy and has identifiable facial features, one would conclude that she is a bear. Since she is loved even while being used as a backpack, she remains a teddy bear. Thus, one would conclude that your proposed criteria for bear-dom is deficient.

Goofball: Hold on there, buster. Wait just --

Pudgie: That concludes our discussion of bear essentialism for today.

Goofball: You can't end this post. I'm still talking.

Pudgie: I'm afraid that you are once again mistaken, my enthusiastic friend. Good night. I'm retiring to the study to read and listen to Bach.

Goofball: Wait! Don't end this post! You're cheating! I'm not done arguing yet! You don't use people you love to store peanut butter and jelly sandwichs! Besides, this post is about fish slippers not about backpacks! If you loved them, you wouldn't put your stinky feet in the fish slippers! Please don't end! I have more to say! Keep reading! I'll still --


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