Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the ’90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
The first time I saw Toy Story, I was nine years old — and, like most viewers, completely changed and delighted. Not only was the movie novel in its shiny new use of computer animation, it also reaffirmed my (privately held) belief that toys were real and lived lives of their own when we weren’t around. And most importantly, it delivered one of the greatest dialogue exchanges (between two animated characters) in cinematic history — one that applied even more the older I got and the more entrenched I found myself in the gig economy.
Let’s set the scene. After successfully pushing Buzz Lightyear out the window following weeks of feeling replaced by him in the eyes of their owner Andy, Woody finds himself face-to-face with his nemesis while en route to Pizza Planet. After stopping for gas, the two come to blows and fall out of the car, ending up stranded with no concrete way back to the boy who loves them. Infuriatingly for Woody, this doesn’t really matter to Buzz because he doesn’t think he’s a toy. Woody, on the other hand, is aware that his survival and identity relies on his return to Andy’s embrace. Obviously, you can see the issue here.
“You are a toy! ” Woody finally screams at Buzz, who won’t stop referring to his “mission.” Buzz simply shakes his head.
“You are a sad, strange little man,” he replies, gently. “And you have my pity.”
At nine, I was enthralled with this moment. “Sad, strange little man” was the ideal description for anyone who dared cross me or question my tiny authority. (I was, and continue to be, a nightmare.) But in my 30s, I now realize the joke was on me: as an adult freelancer, I was just like Buzz, trying to manoeuvre around a world that knew the truth while I did not. I thought I was on a secret mission, while in fact I was always at the mercy of someone who could take it all away.
Of course, I’m sure the writers hardly had the 2020-era gig economy in mind as they mapped out the tale of a toy who comes to understand that being truly loved means never actually being replaced. But even now, the terrifying fear of discovering that you’re disposable hits you right in the heart as you watch, even if you’re no longer a sweet baby angel who spends most of the movie drinking enthusiastically from a collectable Toy Story cup.
From my early 20s on, my fear of replacement was palpable, especially as I began navigating the world of freelance writing. I, like Buzz Lightyear, considered myself special — a one-person show who was happy to hang with my peers, but insisted that the problems with our industry and with the increasing disposability of modern life wouldn’t touch me. I refused to see systemic issues as my own because I considered myself outside of the system altogether. I would hear my friends tell me about their difficulties with gigs and in freelancing, but I chose not to process it as anything other than their own personal challenges. I was scared to fail, so I refused to acknowledge the existence of failure altogether. I wasn’t a toy — I was real.
But deep down, I was also Woody: terrified of being replaced, and terrified of being forgotten. In my bones, I knew that the way we approached the gig economy was unsustainable. I knew it wasn’t safe or realistic to build a life of constant competition with my fellow freelancers, to expend inexplicable levels of energy fighting for few too few jobs that paid too little. I knew that so much of the workforce pouring into the gig economy would likely end in all of us becoming expendable cogs in the independent contract machine. I knew it wasn’t sustainable that our livelihoods could be cut off in an instant, and that our dreams and identities were being seen and treated as disposable, replaceable, and unimportant. And I knew I was slow on the uptake — that my friends had long been sounding the alarms, but that my denial was so strong that I’d doubled down on a path to inevitable crushing disappointment. So I told myself that I could outrun that reality if I micromanaged all possible outcomes. I believed I could fool the system into thinking I had a hand in controlling it. I was a sad, strange little (wo)man, convinced I was bigger than the reality that consumed almost every other creative person I knew.
Of course, like Toy Story‘s heroes, I was soon confronted by forces much bigger than my precious ego and type-A tendencies. By my early 30s, I was staring down the barrel of debilitating anxiety that was eclipsed only by a car accident and, eventually, our current pandemic. And with those wakeup calls came the larger-than-life revelations that how we’d been working had always been temporary — that jobs and positions disappear, that titles and workloads shrink, and that the future is scary and bleak and ferociously unpredictable. I had never been special or on my own secret mission. I was a toy.
Mind you, I’m a toy who continues to work as a freelancer — not only because I have no idea how else to professionally exist and am far too tired to learn, but also because I’ve abandoned the spaceship in favour of celebrating strength in numbers. Toy Story may have been about the radical acceptance that accompanies friendship, but it’s also about how quickly you can feel lost when you think you’re navigating the world all by yourself. Or maybe more specifically, when you look at the people you admire and like and think of them as the competition instead of as people who, like you, are just trying to get through the day.
In fact, Toy Story is a movie about not just love, but about friendship and the way relationships change the older you get and the more you understand the world around you. Over the course of 90-ish minutes, Woody and Buzz discover not only how important they are to each other, but that their value only increases when they’re no longer new and shiny. (After all, it is a true blessing when Andy writes his name on the bottom of their shoes: they become perfectly imperfect in this act of love.) They see beauty in the toys Sid desecrates instead of being afraid of them, and they realize that being part of a whole can be so much more worthwhile than revelling in one’s self-importance. By the end, Woody and Buzz become best friends, and the toys seemingly dismantle the hierarchy they adhered to at the beginning. Finally, they’re ready to face the future (and Andy’s new puppy) together — no competition necessary.
The gig economy still exists, but the relationship I had with it doesn’t need to. In fact, it shouldn’t. We may exist in a world that treats us as replaceable, but we’re the furthest thing from it. We’re creative, empathetic, unique, and brilliantly flawed human beings, and we offer much more than the sets of gifts we’ve learned to use as a means of earning grocery money.
The more we remind ourselves of this, the more we’ll come to see our friends, peers, and even advisories as human beings worthy of respect — and, more importantly, worth fighting for. By banding together to push back against the system, we can assert our worth and change the norms from within, rejecting the game we’ve been forced so long to play. After all, it wasn’t just Woody who brought Buzz back home from their Pizza Planet misadventure. It took a small army to break them free from the grasp of Sid and wreak havoc on the mind of a boy who had no idea his toys could find their own power.
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Gig Economy Platforms Market Size by Applications:
Some of the Key Questions Answered in this Report:
Gig Economy Platforms market report provides a comprehensive analysis of the market with the help of up-to-date market opportunities, overview, outlook, challenges, trends, market dynamics, size and growth, competitive analysis, major competitors analysis.
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Europe: UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe
When Netflix makes a show about Singapore food, it’s about this noodle or that soup but never about teh or kopi. Where is the love for the artisanal Milo Bomb? Where is the heritage walk for chin chow bandung?