The Third Object and its Power to Transform the Mundane

As some of you may know, I’m in Arizona now for two consecutive conferences. The Fiancée couldn’t come along with me, so she got me to bring Piglet, and to take interesting photos of Piglet doing things while I’m in Arizona – all for the fun of amusing her while I’m away.

It seems like this is becoming a tradition for us. Last year, I went to China and did the same thing. A few months back, The Fiancée went to Hong Kong and did likewise.

Here are some photos of Piglet travelling to the United States. (I have something very interesting to say after the photos, so stay tuned!)

Piglet is ready to fly! As you can see, Piglet is a Citizen of Singapore!
Piglet reading the safety information card. Safety first!
Piglet fights jet lag with coffee!
Piglet looking out the window, saying: “The sky is so blue and beautiful. But I wished it were pink like me!”
What’s this? Pretzels on the plane? Piglet is pleased!
This little Piglet goes, “Om nom nom,” all the way to Arizona

Isn’t Piglet cute?

Anyway, what’s interesting about these photos is that Piglet functions as a “Third Object,” which mediates the content of the picture to the viewer, either to make things interesting (as in the examples above), or to function as a short-cut (or metaphor) to facilitate explanation without having to digress into a long story. (The first and second objects refer to the subject (viewer) and the object of interest in the photo.)

I could easily take photos of all these things without Piglet, and you’d be left with boring images of a passport, safety information card, remote control, seatbelt, and food. Without Piglet, those objects will be mundane, boring, uninteresting. You may look at it once, but you’ll forget about it. You probably wouldn’t be interested enough to find out what’s going on with the picture.

(Of course, I could stand in there and have photos of myself with those things, but then it would seem like I’m a narcissistic selfie freak. But of course, I’m not as cute or interesting as Piglet, so I’ll blend in with the rest of the mundane boring things, and the pictures will remain boring.)

Piglet’s presence in these images above mediates a certain significance and value to the viewer. Piglet – as the Third Object – effectively makes you want to stop and look at the passport. Sure, it’s a passport, but it’s a Piglet with a passport. You’re curiosity is piqued (pardon the pun). You want to know why Piglet is holding the passport, and why that passport is significant at all. In fact, it probably compelled you to read the captions as you want to make sense of it.  And though the images and captions revolved around my travel, Piglet – as the third object – mediates that and suddenly makes my boring 24 hour flight appear as though it was a fun-filled adventure of a pig in the air.

I have effectively communicated my boring 24-hour journey to you in a way that is exciting.

That’s the power of the Third Object, the power of Piglet.

But this particular soft toy of Piglet has another interesting dimension. As you can see, Piglet has no mouth. Though Piglet has eyebrows, these brows are very subtle. It increases the efficacy of Piglet as the Third Object.


Because characters without any mouth or eyebrows cannot effectively convey any particular emotion. This emptiness allows the viewer to impose his/her own emotions onto such characters, thus adding a richer dimension to the character. Hello Kitty is a famous example as to why it’s so popular. People can relate with Hello Kitty because she has no mouth, no eyebrows. And so it seems that Hello Kitty is always feeling what you are feeling. She can relate to you, sympathise with you, and in many ways, understand what you are going through.

Something similar is happening here with Piglet. The lack of a mouth and the non-obvious eyebrows allow the viewer to impose their own emotions onto Piglet. As the mediating Third Object, the viewer doesn’t just see a passport or a packet of peanuts, but the viewer also perceives the added dimension of emotion. Piglet looks excited, Piglet looks happy, etc. Whatever expressions or feelings you are perceiving Piglet to have – all that is coming from you – and that’s only possible because Piglet has no expression!

It’s very Buddhist, by the way. Because something is empty, it can be filled with everything.

This is why many people have commented that Piglet is so expressive in these photos. Great job Piglet! Great job!

So yes, that’s the power of the Third Object. Why not give it a try? It’ll certainly make your photos look very interesting.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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