I recently become enamored with the podcast Everything is Alive hosted by Ian Chillag and is a series of interviews with inanimate objects. As I thought more and more about what I love about this podcast, I slowly realized that anthropomorphism and personification are everywhere and can make for some excellent creative products.
Perhaps it all started with Mother Goose and Hey! Diddle, Diddle. If we stopped for just a moment to think about this nursery rhyme with an adult brain, there is a lot going on here. Sure there is the cat musician and the laughing dog, but it gets really interesting weird with the astronaut cow and its superior leaping ability. However, the characters that really fascinate me are the dish and the spoon. What’s their story? It is a Romeo and Juliet kind of love? What does the fork think about this? There are so many questions that could be asked.
If we look at kids’ movies then we see a multitude of examples of how everything is alive. The Toy Story franchise is an excellent example of the secret lives that our toys live and through PIXAR magic we are able to take a peek at what happens to them when we are not around.
As we move forward in our schooling, we encounter personification as a literary and learn to wield its power in our own writing by studying examples in poetry like Fog by Carl Sandburg.
While the concepts of anthropomorphism and personification are by no means new ideas, the podcast Everything is Alive takes it to the next level. In each episode, Ian Chillag conducts an NPR style interview a la Terry Gross on Fresh Air with an inanimate object. The level of seriousness only serves to heighten the absurdity of the interaction. Each episode features a different actor playing objects such as a can of generic soda, a lamp post, a ballon, and even a single grain of sand. Ian Chillag explores how they got to where they are and delves into what their lives are like on a daily basis.
As I was listening to the episodes, it really hit me that many objects are designed to be consumable and that if we attribute to them human qualities then in order to self actualize they must willingly give their lives and be consumed. For other more permanent objects, they must endure incredibly long and stationary lives.
As I have been thinking about this podcast, it occurred to me that this would make interesting creative activity. You might start by introducing the idea to your students. I would recommend choosing a segment from an episode of Everything is Alive. While each episode is about 20-25 minutes, I do not recommend playing an entire episode for your students as they would merely try to emulate the formula. There is so much more fun and learning to be had by creating. Also, some of the episodes contain elements that are not entirely classroom appropriate. So, as with any media, you will want to preview and exercise caution depending on your students.
I recommend starting with objects located in the classroom. Think about what the lives might be like for a stapler, a paper clip, or a binder. How do they feel about each other? Are they friends, or is there bitter rivalry between them. Consider the life of a number 2 pencil. What stories would he have to tell? How does he feel about standardized testing? What is it really like to be sharpened? You could have your students structure this as an interview as with the podcast or even have it as a conversation between various objects. Students might write a script, record a podcast, or even conduct a video interview. By engaging in this type of activity students are able to develop the skill of seeing things from different points of view and are using multiple perspectives.
As I was thinking through this as a project idea, I was reminded of Ian Byrd’s idea of writing Academic Love Letters between objects from content that you might be studying or even between areas of interest. I suggested this idea last week when I was presenting at the UNCW AIG Conference and was delighted when I received this Valentine’s Day Letter from Harry Potter to Yoda from @AigMrs via Twitter.
If you have your students create anyone of the ideas in this post, I would love to see what they come up with. Remember Sharing is Caring!