Timmy is an average kid that no one understands
I am obsessed with this line. Immediately, it tells you everything you need to know about the themes of The Fairly OddParents and the character of Timmy Turner.
First of all, there’s the surface reading. Timmy Turner is completely normal and most of the kids watching the show should be able to relate to him. Nobody in his life gets him and what he’s going through, not just the adults, but the other kids too. Maybe he has a bit of a persecution complex. Ultimately this is how Timmy sees himself: nothing special, but struggling.
No one understands him? This must necessarily include himself, and not just due to the pure logic of the phrase. When someone complains “nobody loves me”, it’s primarily aimed at their relationships with other people, even when it betrays an underlying self-loathing or patronizing self-pity. Timmy is an average kid, which means not only are there plenty of kids just like him, but most of the kids in his life are just the same. If none of the kids understand Timmy, who is just like them, then we can assume Timmy doesn’t understand other kids either. How can we have this herd of people who are so self-similar, and yet fail to understand each other? In the first place they fail to understand themselves, and then fail to recognize themselves in others. Timmy is a self-centered asshole, and so are the kids who watch this show.
This isn’t just me being pedantic: The Fairly OddParents is an openly anti-kids kids show. Timmy explicitly shattered his parent’s hopes and dreams by being born. Then there’s the object of his father’s ire, the Dinklebergs, a pun on the acronym Dual Income No Kids. As the Fairly Odd Parents wiki puts it:
It’s implied that Mr. Turner’s resentment is rooted in jealousy over the financial success Dinkleberg has experienced not having to raise a son. For instance, Dinkleberg is shown buying expensive things and directly attributing them to not having a son.
Then, there’s the central mechanic of the show. To compensate for Timmy’s miserable life, he is given access to two fairy godparents, who are able to grant him any wish he wants within certain limitations (can’t wish someone dead, can’t interfere with true love, etc). It’s an exploration of what would happen if you gave an average kid incredible power and free rein to explore their desires. Of course, this almost invariably results in Timmy wishing for something vapid or selfish which inevitably backfires. I think Lacan would have loved this show. It’s about learning how to desire.
For Lacan, fantasy provides an answer to the enigma of Other’s desire. The first thing to note about fantasy is that it literally teaches us how to desire: fantasy does not mean that, when I desire a strawberry cake and cannot get it in reality, I fantasize about eating it; the problem is rather, how do I know that I desire a strawberry cake in the first place? This is what fantasy tells me. — Zizek
In a sense, the function of the fairy godparents is to manifest the fantasies of children in reality. As a show, The Fairly OddParents presents its viewers with an array of fantasies for them to learn from. By experiencing its viewers’ fantasies for them, the show simulates the self-exploration of desire for the viewer to develop their own self-understanding of it. This solves the problem posed in the first line of the theme song. Finally, someone understands.
Timmy is an average kid
That no one understands
Mom and Dad and Vicky
Always giving him commands
To go further with Zizek’s analysis of Lacan, we have to wonder about the role of authority in the show. Zizek presents us with the following paradox: “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is prohibited.” What this reversal of Dostoevsky’s injunction that without God, everything is permitted, means is that the less we rely on external prohibitions, the more we have to rely on internal prohibitions to limit our own enjoyment. Timmy’s external barrier to enjoyment doesn’t primarily come from his parents, who are generally neglectful, but from his babysitter Vicky.
Her really menacing behavior towards Timmy is one of the reasons — if not the main reason — that he has fairy godparents, and most of his wishes involve getting revenge, or simply getting around her.
It is precisely through this oppressive authority figure that the capacity for fantasy emerges. The primary desires Timmy develops are a result of transgressive fantasies aimed at escaping Vicky. Without Vicky, there is nothing to transgress, and therefore no need for the fairy godparents to assist in the exploration of fantasies and desire. Without Vicky, there is no show.
It is only a firm limit set up by some symbolic authority that can guarantee stability and satisfaction — satisfaction brought about by way of violating the prohibition, of transgressing the limit. — Zizek
It is in this sense that we can consider Vicky, or more precisely the possibility of overcoming Vicky, the object cause of desire, otherwise known as objet petite a. Timmy sees her as the primary cause of his misery, the ultimate obstacle to his enjoyment. Yet, despite having fairy godparents with infinite power, he never manages to get rid of her. This is because you cannot ever really obtain the objet petite a. As soon as you achieve one object of your desire, a new one emerges. It is by approaching this object, and not by achieving it, that Timmy enjoys. For Lacan, enjoyment is the satisfaction of the drive to desire, not the desire itself. In fact, the failure to satisfy desire is the aim of the drive, and therefore the cause of enjoyment.
So, the function of the fairy godparents can never be to eliminate or fully overcome Vicky, but rather to allow Timmy to continuously transgress her. We see this logic within many of the rules of wishing, even when they’re used by the writers as an excuse to keep the plot going in a certain direction. In fact, we can imagine the needs of the writers and the needs of Timmy as mirroring each other. If Timmy could merely wish for Vicky to die or Trixie to fall in love with him, then there’d be no more conflict to keep the show going. There would also be no more cause for Timmy’s drive: he would no longer have anything to desire, and thus no more enjoyment of this desire.
I have been writing this essay so far in the authoritative voice characteristic of psychoanalysis, as if I really know. Of course, I don’t. This has been an exploration of a rather silly line of thought, and mostly I have questions.
Is there a parallel between the way we tell stories and the way we deal with our own psychology? The writers do not need to know Lacan in order for their show to mirror his ideas if they reflect mechanics that naturally present themselves in our stories. This could imply either that stories follow similar rules to our own lives: we enjoy Timmy’s adventures and find them satisfying because they reflect our own internal needs, or it could imply that Lacan’s form of analysis follows rules similar to storytelling: the way he explains phenomenon in our life emerges from a psychology and culture that determines how we tend to describe everything. There’s also a third option, that Lacan is convoluted and vague enough that it’s possible to fit any number of narratives into his framework.
Is there something to be learned from Lacan’s framework that can be fit into our own lives? For one, I wonder if it’s important for people to find a stable object cause of desire. Why else do boy bands and idol groups place prohibitions on the romantic lives of their members, if not to keep stable the possibility that their fans may continue to desire them? Is that not their function above being a regular music group, to perform as steady objects of desire?
As always, I’d love to hear people’s thoughts in the comments. I’m not quite sure how much I agree with Lacan’s analysis, but it has been fun to apply it as best I can to a show I enjoyed as a kid. If these things were easy to understand, then we’d have to find something else to think about. For me, I think the fun of philosophy is in the endless speculation, without ever reaching a full resolution of the problem. What’s not to enjoy?