The Not so Brave Little Toaster

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November 14, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

There are a handful of things out there that arouse a sense of fear and anxiety from me, ranging from the slightly horrific (horses), to the imperatively distressful (claustrophobia), to the full blown phobia (spiders).  There are two things though, above all else that are in a league of their own; these are the fears that I actively worry about, and am rendered helpless if confronted by them.  They’re both irrational, as there’s no real reason to worry about them in the first place, but what I’m most afraid of are 1) spiders, and 2) irreparable damage to my brain and/or testicles.  I have the worst case of arachnophobia out of anyone that I know, so much so that I can’t look at a picture of a spider without freaking out.[1]  And I don’t want anything bad to happen to my brain or balls because I consider my brain to be my strongest asset, and well…I like being a guy.

I’ll admit, I’m obsessed by the notion of my own fears, more than the actual object of my fear.  Anything that can elicit as strong an emotional response from me, is automatically going to be something that I’m irrevocably fascinated by.  If I wasn’t afraid of spiders, I wouldn’t give a shit about them at all; it’s only because I’m terrified of them that I’m fascinated by them, and find them to be incredibly interesting animals, despite my disdain for them.

There’s was one thing that freaked me out as a kid, that while not really scary, did make me feel uncomfortable and unsettling when I would see it.  It wasn’t anything noteworthy, or on the same level as spiders, and I had actually forgotten that it had freaked me out as a kid, until I saw it again a few weeks ago.  That thing was The Brave Little Toaster.

Not the movie itself, but there was one song in particular, “Cutting Edge”, that even though it didn’t induce terror in me, it was frightening to my 6 year old counterpart, just as it is unsettling for my 22 year old self to see now.  I had completely forgotten that it used to freak me out until I got that same feeling again when the song came on.  It was a sense that I had felt this feeling before, and immediately I remembered how “Cutting Edge” made me feel.  Not afraid, but uncomfortable, ill at ease, and slightly frightened.

Imagine if Prince decided to record a kid’s song, and that the music video would be animated by Gerald Scarfe, the man who drew the animations for Pink Floyd’s The Wall.[2]  That’s exactly what the song “Cutting Edge” is, a hyperkinetic and frenetic song with distorted and overwhelming imagery.[3]  When last I saw the movie, I understood the meaning of the song and to be honest, it didn’t put my mind at ease.  Granted I understand why the song made me feel uncomfortable as a kid, but now, understanding its meaning, it still leaves me feeling ill at ease.

The song itself is a thinly veiled, sarcastic response to the superficial nature of 80s society, with the recurring idea of “more, more, more” being a statement against the mass commoditization that began to occur in the 80s.  The theme of the song (and the movie too) wasn’t what freaked me out, it was the imagery of the new appliances like the computer, lamp, and telephone working in conjunction with the overwhelming, fast paced motion of the song giving me “more, more, more” even after I had had my fill.  Everything about that song made me feel unsettled.  These nightmarish fast paced images were being accompanied by lyrics that I had no idea what the fuck they even meant.  All I could comprehend was that a computer that looked like it should have been a prop in The Amityville Horror was attacking the toaster and his friends.[4]

The purpose of “Cutting Edge” is to show the changing face of technology and how consumerism is destroying the soul of humanity.  On the one hand you have the simple appliances, the toaster, vacuum, radio, and etc.  They are the innocent, slightly naïve, but overall good hearted and well meaning.  Contrast this to the new appliances, where it seems that each one has only one distinct purpose that satisfies some desire borne from want and not need.  There’s the computer, the ringleader of the bunch, who is logical, cold, and calculating.  He is the one who realizes that their Master is going back for the older appliances, and is baffled by this decision which breeds jealousy within him.  The computer is the most extreme manifestation of the human capacity for technology, something that is all thought, but no heart or soul.

The computers’ right hand man in this gang of asshole appliances is a more finessed lamp that sounds like he should be an enforcer for the mob, and sure enough he is the bruiser of the bunch.  There’s a stereo system that plays its music so loud that it overwhelms the old (annoying) radio.  This represents the follies of aestheticism, merely having something for how it looks or how it sounds as opposed to how well it functions.  The telephone is arguably the most important part of the group because she is the pinnacle of want.  Through her we can communicate with anyone at anytime.  To call our “dear old Uncle Emery” all we have to do is dial a few numbers, and it’s like we’re face to face.  Even if we don’t want to talk to somebody, the option is not only always out there now, but it’s never been easier as well.  Technology has become all about convenience, and that’s what truth behind all of the new appliances.  The Master has these things because it makes his life easier; he wants them, but he doesn’t need them.

The bridge of the song features a reference to visiting Brazil, saying that “you’d rather stay at home where the picture is clear, you don’t even have to go”, implying that technology can serve as a medium that is even better than the real thing.[5]  Why do anything such as experience the world, when we have mechanized voyeuristic proxies that can bring the world to us?  By making it easier to do all these things, we lose our humanity in the process.  That’s why the old appliances are inundated by the overpowering and all encompassing nature of the new appliances.  They’re used to feeling and humanity, especially the blanket, and to be confronted by these new and complicated, unfeeling machines was more than they could take.  When the toaster is confronted by the microwave and the blender, it begs the question of whatever happened to a nice piece of toast.  The answer is that we found something better and easier.

It’s only now when I look back on it, that “Cutting Edge” is actually supposed to frighten children by giving them much more materialism than they can handle.[6]  It’s the perfect mechanism to espouse fear in children.  All the animators had to do was make the new appliances look as sinister as they act, and noticeably distort them enough so that the exaggeration is still believable.  In “Cutting Edge” we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and it’s the bad guys who eventually overpower the good guys with their intensity and lack of humanity.  All they do is serve; as a result, the Master has no connection to them beyond what their role is, which is diametrically opposed to his relationship with his older appliances.[7]

More is a concept that is incredibly intimate with humanity; in fact it’s one of our most defining features.  “Cutting Edge” shows what happens when more is taken too fare, when more becomes “more, more, more”.  It leaves us in a very inhumane place because every desire we have will instantly be granted.  Even if it’s presents, cars, or information, we as people have a limit capacity for more; it’s just that kids have a much lower capacity.  “Cutting Edge” recognizes those limits and blows right past it.  That’s why The Brave Little Toaster freaked me out as a kid, because it made me realize that materialism can inextricably overwhelm us if we have more than we can handle.  It told me that I had a limit, and then it showed me the very breaking point of that limit.  As a 22 year old, I understand what the producers and director were going for with “Cutting Edge”; I just don’t think they had to give my nightmares to prove their point.

[1] The first time I saw a picture of a Goliath Spider was also the second time in my life that I had a panic attack.  Like I said, irrational.

[2] Both the album and the ensuing movie.

[3] I think part of my childhood unease with the song also came from the fact that I couldn’t even comprehend what the song was about.

[4] Based on the comments on youtube, I’m glad to say that I wasn’t the only one who was freaked out by this song.

[5] I’m on to you U2.

[6] To be honest, I think the overly 80s interior decorating would have been more than enough to scare more than a few kids.

[7] Another thing that creeped me out about The Brave Little Toaster is that the Master is way too obsessed with his toaster.


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