Taking Ted Seriously
By Ashley Whitaker
According to existentialist philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, human beings are free. But, Beauvoir argues, women are often treated like they are not free. Rather they are treated like objects with essential natures, that are not free. In fact, we all experience objectification to some degree with societal and political barriers that inhibit our freedom.
Believe it or not, Ted 2 grapples with freedom and objectification. Ted’s moniker derives from his essential nature as a plush teddy bear that mysteriously comes to life. Miraculously, Ted has a bank account and credit card and has thrived as an employee for a supermarket. He even has a human wife, but when they attempt to adopt a child the state of Massachusetts declares that he is not a person. For all intents and purposes Ted is considered property in the eyes of the law.
Distinguishing property from personhood is Ted’s dilemma. Personhood isn’t defined by genetics. To be a person is to be a bearer of rights (no pun intended). Not all humans have always and everywhere been regarded as persons. Perhaps, then, a non-human could be a person, a bearer of rights. Ted can talk, so that’s a start in making his case. But Ted’s history of debauchery and disregard for human beings hurts his case. Ultimately, though, an act of heroism without concern for his own survival suggests that Ted experiences emotions and has the capacity to cultivate meaningful relationships. Ted is not just a pet, and he is not property.
Property lacks agency, the capacity to act autonomously and with freedom of choice. Lifeless pre-processed Teds do not speak or move willingly. They are predictable and unfeeling.
By contrast, humans are unpredictable and change with each interaction with the world. The same seems to be true for Ted. Ted absolutely possesses agency. In addition, he is capable of complex emotions including empathy. The case seems clear, then, that Ted is a person.
Not all persons, though, are considered fit to adopt children. In the movie Ted and his human wife Tami-Lynn take the surname Clubberlang and are allowed to adopt a baby boy. They name the child Apollo Creed. So Ted and his wife are persons, but are they fit to be parents? You decide.
Ashley Whitaker is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Saybrook University in Existential, Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology.
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