By Loryn Stone
Alvin and the Chipmunks is a long-time pop culture phenomenon, created in 1958 by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (better known by his stage name David Seville). He was a stage performer and singer who brilliantly realized if he recorded himself singing and played around with the pitch and speed, he could make himself sound like, what he interpreted as, singing chipmunks. After he recorded and released a wildly successful record in 1959 called Let’s All Sing with the Chipmunks (featuring the explosively popular song “Christmas, Christmas, Don’t be Late”), the merchandise demands rolled in and along with that came, you guessed it, cartoons!
And cartoon shows they have, as the Chipmunks have been consistently on TV since 1961 through the present. In fact, as of this writing, there have been three incarnations of the show made. First, we had the original show, The Alvin Show (1961-1962), the 1980s reboot Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983-1990) where they indeed “come back with style, and a CGI version stylized as Alvinnn!!! And the Chipmunks (2015-present) where again it’s been acknowledged in the theme song that it’s been a while…but fortunately…they haven’t lost their style.
But after watching the shows (all of them, because yes, I’m a big fan) a few times over the last 30 years, I started noticing a few things popping out at me. Things in the Chipmunks universe that seem to appear repetitively, in patterns, almost like a universe was building on top of itself in visible layers. A large number of science-fiction themed episodes featuring time travel, notions of death, and casual inventing were coming back in each of the series. Sure, to the casual viewer these ideas might look harmless and “self-referential”. A tongue and cheek show with a sense of humor and a couple of time-travel episodes.
But to me, it was abundantly clear- Alvin and the Chipmunks exists in a time paradox. There’s no other explanation. And if you ignore the direct-to-video movies and the CG live-action movies where the chipmunks are hyper-realistic rodents, it’s easy to see the evidence. The evidence being that each subsequent incarnation is not simply a reboot or a remake of the previous series. No- Alvin and the Chipmunks is paradoxical evidence of the past, present, and future exist all together. But first-
Before I delve into the proof of the Time Paradox, I’m going to provide a little of information to help lay down which sort of paradox we’re dealing with. To put it in the simplest terms, a time paradox is a phenomenon that occurs when a world exists not in a linear space, but in (as I touched on before) a layered one. Alvin and the Chipmunks has many examples within in the actual events of the shows, that’s we’ll touch on shortly. But other paradoxes apply to the characters’ behaviors, like how Dave Seville and Alvin both seem to be on the brink of insanity at all times. This might be due to the repetition compulsion.
Repetition compulsion can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event. He or she will repeat the event or its circumstances over and over again, which essentially traps them in a cycle of never-ending trauma. Sometimes, memories and feelings associated with the event can even infiltrate dreams. For people who experience repetition compulsion, they cannot escape one awful moment in their life because they keep reliving it. Sigmund Freud touches on some of these ideas in his 1919 essay The Uncanny, discussing effects that result from instances of “repetition of the same thing,” linking the concept to that of the repetition compulsion. He includes incidents wherein one becomes lost and accidentally retraces one’s steps, and instances wherein random numbers recur, seemingly meaningfully He also cites the uncanny nature of Otto Rank’s concept of the “double.”
Another applicable paradox in the Alvin and the Chipmunks universe is Polchinski’s Paradox. Joseph Polchinski is a contemporary theoretical physicist who has a paradox (in lovely alliteration) coined in his name. Theoretical physicist Kip S. Thorne explains the Polchinski paradox in his book, Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy:
“Take a wormhole that has been made into a time machine, and place its two mouths [each located at a black hole] at rest near each other out in interplanetary space. Then, if a billiard ball is launched toward the right mouth … with an appropriate initial velocity, the ball will enter the right mouth, travel backward in time, and fly out of the left mouth before it entered the right … and it will then hit its younger self, thereby preventing itself from ever entering the right mouth and hitting itself.”
This paradoxical idea is very evident in Alvin and the Chipmunks because each version of the show is just slightly different from the previous one – like a time-traveling billiard ball knocked off its course.
So, how do these fairly complex ideas apply to three reincarnated series (that are just different enough from one another) about singing chipmunks over the course of multiple decades?
From Singers to Celebrities to Students
The Alvin Show is very insistent upon the Chipmunks’ roles as singers and music makers. Taking it a bit further, Alvin and the Chipmunks not only bumps the boys up to international superstars, but turns the series into a slice-of-life show about school and family. But when ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks starts, the musical themes are all but dropped in regards to Alvin and his brothers. Dave is still a musician (though arguably an unsuccessful one), but there’s no mention of the boys as a band until a Season 2 episode called We’re the Chipmunks Otherwise, the show focuses on school antics, but heavily revolves around science experiments, dreams, and augmented realities, all proof of the paradox the characters exist in.
The Layers of Insanity That Are Dave Seville
Alvin and the Chipmunks existing in a time paradox is evident starting with sexy bachelor, Chipmunk foster Dad of the century, and overall loose cannon Dave Seville. Starting in the 1960s, Dave Seville was a pleasant stage musician and manager to three singing rodents. Fast-forwarding to the 1980s, Dave’s “dad role” was upped and the crazy increased by 75%. This Dave Seville doesn’t so much sing with his sons anymore, but is instead drowned in their spotlight as a washed-up, if not failed studio musician (the episode Dave’s Wonderful Life is essentially about him not bringing home any money). And, lastly, the 2015 iteration of the newly Aladdin-faced Chipmunk daddy treats the viewer to a younger, angrier, unhinged crazy man who peppers his tantrums with moments of loving concern for his three sons.
Why is this relevant? Because, in order for something to exist in a paradox, or through a wormhole, it has to be just different enough to knock its previous existence off-course.
Meta Moments and Merch
In the 2015 version of the show, Alvin and his brothers are not rock stars. However, in the second episode of the new series, Principal Interest, Simon is shown punching in a laboratory access code on a keypad to the tune “Witch Doctor,” a smash hit song from the Alvin and the Chipmunks record from the ’60s. In the same episode, when Alvin is hiding from Dave so he doesn’t have to go to school, he’s hidden among a pile of Alvin dolls. The same dolls make another appearance in the episode Alvin’s Wild Weekend where he and Dave go to a carnival together, play a game, and win – what else – an Alvin doll. But if the chipmunks were never a band, and never recorded “Witch Doctor” and never hit it big… why would that tune or the dolls have reason to exist? Unless, of course, they were celebrities… on another plane of reality.
Blasting Through Time
The series is very open with the fact that Simon Seville (the one with glasses and my favorite Chipmunk) has scientific knowledge that transcends that of the greatest scientists that have ever lived, especially considering he’s a chipmunk. The 2015 series focuses on his laboratory pretty often, where he fiddles with all kinds of gadgets in lieu of making music. Maybe nerds are cooler than musicians in today’s society. Regardless, there were two episodes in the 1980s series that used time travel.
First, in the episode Back to Dave’s Future, they go back in time to help their music-failure dad write a song that will, in the future, be a hit (though he can’t remember where he got the inspiration for the song). And in the episode Back to Our Future, the Chipmunks from the 1990s go to 1957 to hang out with their “Witch Doctor” singing counterparts. While the episode was made during the “Chipmunks at the Movies” shtick, when the series was at its leg of existence, the show still unabashedly screwed with the space-time continuum and had the old Chipmunks existing with the new ones, before the old ones jump in a time machine and go to the awesomely bodacious 90s, but the new ones stay in the past to help old Dave write a song, but old Dave doesn’t understand the new ones’ rock and roll edge. Meanwhile, new Dave doesn’t understand what’s wrong with his boys, the Chipmunks from the past because THEY’VE NEVER HEARD OF MICHAEL JACKSON!
Woo…that’s a lot to take in.
The Augmented Reality
These are episodes where a character believes his reality or self has been changed, like Alvin the Angel. The idea of someone walking around thinking they’re an angel (IE: DEAD) is utterly ridiculous unless you already live in a world where the impossible is known, therefore showing that the characters are aware of their paradoxical existence. In the episode Theodore’s Life as a Dog, Alvin is convinced that Theodore has become a dog after eating a biscuit for the same reasons as the angel episode.
Then there’s Alvin, Alvin, Alvin!, where everyone tries to show Alvin he’s scum by dressing and acting like him. At face value, this might seem like a cheeky attempt to teach Alvin a lesson by showing him how immature and overwhelming his behavior is. But why doesn’t Alvin just roll his eyes and tell everyone to knock it off, or go do something else? Why is he so frantic to change everyone’s behavior back to themselves? The time paradox comes into play because if past, future, and dead versions of the self can all exist together, what’s to stop overlapping versions (such as everyone becoming Alvin) from coming through the proverbial portal? Alvin thinks everyone has lost their minds because the effects of the paradox are at it again, but this time, it’s mixing up all the brains, bodies, and personalities like a sort of mush pile.
In What Ever Happened to Dave Seville? a wax statue is made of Dave because of a musical achievement. Naturally, the boys think he’s been changed to wax because that just makes way more sense. They accept his new form of stasis without question before dragging his body around like they’re in Weekend at Bernie’s. Lastly, in the 2015 episode Wax Dave, another wax Dave statue shows up, this time more horrifying that the original thanks to CGI animation. The boys think that Dave has been dipped in wax and try to get him to the hospital. The body falls into a river and when the chipmunks try to dry him off, he starts to melt. (See, this is where the trauma as mentioned in the paradoxes starts to apply)
Clones, Dreams, And Science Machines
While the 2015 series doesn’t have any overt time-travel episodes, there are other paradoxical measures in duplication. Double Trouble shows Alvin using one of Simon’s cloning machines and creating a second version of himself that wreaks havoc all over town. The episode wraps up with a simple “it was all a dream” discovery, but that doesn’t excuse the paradoxical theme that was presented in front of the viewer for an entire episode before the writers copped out, unsure of how to end this nightmare without overtly admitting the clear paradoxical loop.
Similarly, in 1980s episode The Incredible Shrinking Dave, Dave drinks a shrinking solution that Simon’s created. The boys lose him and go on a shopping spree with his credit card before Dave wakes up to find it was all a dream. But isn’t it all being a dream just more evidence of a time paradox, further showing that the world that Dave Seville and the Chipmunks exist in is simply multiple planes of overlapping realities? Who’s to say that shrunken Dave isn’t the tiny seed that will be planted into the head of the new Dave Seville for the 2015 layer in the paradox? And as the 80s show’s final episode and sign off, they did an episode called Funny, We Shrunk the Adults Thanks to one of Simon’s inventions, the adults have been shrunken and havoc is reeked around the house.
Death Can End It All
The very last paradox applying to Alvin and the Chipmunks is the Grandfather paradox, which poses the question: If you go back in time and kill your grandfather (preventing your own conception), how can you be alive today to go back in time and kill your grandfather?
With clear examples of time travel, augmented reality, scientific freedom, and characters losing their grip on reality, is there a way for all of this to stop? Is there any way off this paradoxical ride? There is – and the answer is death. Alvin is very quick to turn on Dave when he thinks his own dad is trying to flirt with a woman he likes, declaring the gloves are off and admitting that he, Alvin, is crazy. This happens twice in fact, once in the 80s series, where Dave and Alvin duke it out because of a woman, and again in the 2015 version when Alvin thinks Dave is after the school principal (whom Alvin stalks inappropriately, as pointed out by Brittany Miller of the Chipettes).
And in the episode Alvin’s Wild Weekend he insists that Dave go on a thrilling adventure with him, in spite of Dave’s screams and fear of his own safety. Alvin doesn’t care, because after 50+ years stuck in a time paradox, maybe – just maybe – it’s time for the ride to end.
(Which I really hope it doesn’t, because my life is better when they’re back with style.)
You can find Loryn wallhacking through a wormhole on Twitter.
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