San Diego: America’s Finest Toy Story

I’m a fan of movies that tell a good story. The Disney Pixar Toy Story films are no exception and have been a source of shared humor with my 9 year-old son over the past several years. In particular, Toy Story 3, the most recent installment, was my favorite rendering of the lovable collection of toys and their triumphs, cooperation, in-fighting, and conflict resolution.

I am also a resident of San Diego, California, USA, currently the 8th largest city in the United States. It affectionately bills itself as “America’s Finest City”. I know this because it’s painted on the doors of San Diego Police cruisers. The individual currently posing as Mayor of the finest city, Bob Filner, was recently asked to resign by a majority of city council members and is the subject of a recall effort. He’s being sued (as is the city itself) by a former employee for sexual harassment and has been accused by several other women of similar untoward activity. The 70 year-old caricature formerly peddled his wares in the United States Congress before making city-level politics his pet project.

Granted, nothing has been proven in a court of law yet, but it’s certainly worth noting that Filner himself has publicly admitted to disrespecting women, having a problem, and acknowledging his need for help; that there is a monster inside him. Yet he’s stated emphatically that he will not resign. With whiplash-inducing speed, the old timer cited his rights as a citizen of the United States and invoked due process, a constitutional right that in today’s climate, has almost been reduced to an empty bromide. San Diego’s city charter does not allow for summary removal by the city council, so like all “great” politicians Filner has bunkered down and dared everyone to oust him.

Details of the accusations are consistent. Isolation, inappropriate physical touching, unsolicited attempts to kiss, and awkward, declarative statements expressing lustful desires that range from the benign to the utterly pathetic:

Your eyes are bewitching…
Anyone missing their copy of Cary Grant’s Favorite Pick-up Lines?

You’d work better if you weren’t wearing any panties
Egotistical, dangerously out of touch with reality, fill in the blank for yourself.

The detailed accusations–there are currently eight—illustrate the old timer’s inflated sense of importance and repulsive arrogance. However, the impetus for this post wasn’t even the salacious content of the accusations leveled; it was Filner’s own corny response following the first accusation:

“I’m a hugger…”

Really? So am I, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means. As a hugger, I’m offended that he so cavalierly included himself among the ranks of well-meaning huggers. When I first read his remark, I immediately recalled a line from Toy Story 3 uttered by Lotso, the large, stuffed, purple bear with a walking stick and a genteel, southern accent (nicely affected by Ned Beatty), upon first meeting Woody, the cowboy.

Lotso once belonged to a child and enjoyed a home, but as often happens with toys, he was left behind, abandoned on the side of the road along with Big Baby, a stubble-haired, disproportionately tall, creepy acrylic-eyed doll. Eventually, Lotso and Big Baby ended up in a daycare center where he established a caste system. The new uninitiated toys were subject to the abuses of the youngest children in the daycare while those inside Lotso’s circle remained protected. He micro-managed with an iron fist and enlisted Big Baby, a gang of robots, and a cymbal-clanging monkey, among others, to enforce the rules of his regime.

Of course, when he first met new toys, he’d smile, offer a warm greeting, and put his arm around them. Perhaps similar to the way a mayor might introduce himself to a new constituent or a new city employee. In Cowboy Woody’s case, he was treated to a massive bear hug and when Lotso safely returned him to the ground, he explained himself by saying

“If there’s one thing you should know about me, Woody…I’m a huggah.”

But the facade of a warm, friendly persona quickly gave way to Lotso’s true character and the lives of all toys who opposed him were made uncomfortable. With help from other like-minded toys, Woody eventually devised a plan to escape from the daycare and while most of the toys readily assisted the effort, there were those who were too entrenched to oppose Lotso. Perhaps not unlike a city council where, some, but not all of the members acknowledge their mayor has abused his power and proven he’s incapable of respecting other’s dignity. Some might be too afraid to oppose the mayor, so they remain silent. Some might even find it sufficiently courageous to simply admit a weakness. How did the oppressor become the victim?

In the film, Lotso refused to relinquish power. Even after the liberated toys saved his life and despite a clear opportunity to do what was best for all toys, he was still consumed by an unforeseen force. Played out, he might have blamed some sort of “monster” inside him, a sort of “toys will be toys” dismissal, but as the reasonable toys learned all too painfully, some stuffed, purple bears just don’t change. Evil really does exist.

It’s irrelevant which faction of toys Lotso and his enablers originated from. His unbridled selfishness and lack of respect for the other toys should have been unacceptable from the outset. Ultimately, some of the toys went down with him, but others (even Big Baby) discovered how delusional Lotso was and they jumped ship, eventually identifying with a constructive approach; mutual respect for all toys, no matter how long they’d been a resident of the daycare.

But in the end, Lotso was incapable of change and he ended up swallowing bugs as a grille ornament on the front of a garbage truck. I believe the character currently posing as Mayor of San Diego will eventually eat bugs too, but not before he mounts a protracted defense that will only embarrass the city and serve to demean the women who were courageous enough to speak out against him. Whatever his future course of action, he’s made it clear that he’s not really interested in serving the best interests of America’s so-called finest city”.

By the way, I hope Pixar produces a Toy Story 4. The characters are fantastic.

To construe as partisan the language woven throughout this post, would be a misreading. Politicians, irrespective of their stripe, are too often blinded by their own virtue to appreciate the fleeting nature of the worldly power entrusted to them. Unfortunately that power is perpetuated by an overabundance of forums for these self-servants to continually act out the lowest form of reality television. San Diego’s old man Filner just happens to be the flavor of the month.