Unleash The Giant Puppets!

Need a job? Fancy working with your hands? How about this?

Looking for 3 puppetistas to man this giant creepy Romney puppet [pictured below] during the RNC (and beyond). No experience necessary. Must be able to tolerate extreme heat, humidity, chaotic and potentially volatile situations while staying in character and passionately raising hell. Also looking for 2 puppetistas to man a giant creepy elephant puppet as well. Contact me if interested. Serious inquires only.

Why is this puppet smiling?

This was taken from the “RNC Puppetista” Facebook page, a group which announces the following activities:

We will be brainstorming on what we can contribute to a few upcoming puppet & costume opportunities, including but not limited to:
– March on the RNC
– The Roving Radical Dance Party
– Shut Down Bain Capital

Why giant puppets? According to this history, “Puppets are immediate and authentic. Hewn from scraps of cloth, paper and duct tape, they are the quintessential tricksters–court jesters without the court, able to cross boundaries of both opinion and propriety, enabling us to critique society and government with handmade beauty and wit.”

Who better than an academic to tell us more about this. Let’s ask David Graeber, Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London (pdf).

WMB Why the giant puppets, Dave?

DG “As many activists have observed, the forces of order in the United States seem to have a profound aversion to giant puppets.”

WMB It isn’t just the police. They give me the willies.

DG “Often police strategies aim to destroy or capture them before they can even appear on the streets.”

WMB Why do cops hate puppets so much?

DG “Activists are puzzled as to why.”

WMB Did you ever talk to any police about this?

DG “The only extended conversation I ever had with police officers on the subject of puppets…was carried out while I was handcuffed—which if nothing else makes it very difficult to take notes.”

WMB Yet you have just written a 36-page, single-spaced paper on why cops hate puppets. You also theorize about why protesters enjoy breaking windows.

DG “Anarchists…render themselves anonymous and interchangeable…Hence the uniform black hooded sweatshirts and black bandanas worn as masks. The papier-mâché puppets used in actions are all unique and individual: they tend to be brightly painted…So on the one hand one has faceless, black anonymous figures…on the other polychrome goddesses and birds and pigs and politicians. One is a mass, anonymous, destructive, deadly serious; the other, a multiplicity of spectacular displays of whimsical creativity.”

WMB What does all this mean?

DG “[T]heir juxtaposition does, in fact, say something important about what direct action aims to achieve.”

WMB I see. How about the vandalism?

DG “Such acts are anything but random. They tend to follow strict ethical guidelines.”

WMB Is it ethical to destroy property that does not belong to you?

DG “Property destruction…is an attempt to ‘break the spell’, to divert and redefine. It is a direct assault upon the Spectacle.”

WMB What do the N30 Seattle Black Bloc say about this?

DG “When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights. At the same time, we exorcise that set of violent and destructive social relationships which has been imbued in almost everything around us.”

WMB What of your own opinion?

DG “Property destruction is a matter of taking an urban landscape full of endless corporate facades and flashing imagery that seems immutable, permanent, monumental—and demonstrating just how fragile it really is. It is a literal shattering of illusions.”

WMB Let’s get back to giant puppets.

DG “A giant puppet is the mockery of the idea of a monument, and of everything monuments represent: the inapproachability, monochrome solemnity, above all the implication of permanence”.

WMB How are these non-momuments made?

DG “There are brainstorming sessions to come up with themes and visions, organizing meetings, but above all,…with small teams in attendance, molding, painting, smoking, eating, playing music, arguing, wandering in and out. Everything is designed to be communal, egalitarian, expressive.”

WMB Didn’t Miami try to ban giant puppets, arguing that bombs could be hidden inside them?

DG “[This] failed, since it was patently unconstitutional.”

WMB Unconstitutional? But aren’t you an avowed anarchist, and thus disavow constitutions?

DG “[Puppets] embody the permanence of revolution. From the perspective of the ‘forces of order’, this is precisely what makes them both ridiculous, and somehow demonic. From the perspective of many anarchists, this is precisely what makes them both ridiculous, and somehow divine.”

WMB Thank you for joining us Dr Graeber.

9 Comments

  1. “When we smash a [giant puppet], we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds [anarchistic protest]. At the same time, we exorcise that set of violent and destructive [urges] which has been imbued in almost everything around us.”

    Gotta love ambiguous justification. Change a few words and it will serve any purpose.

  2. There is something profoundly pompous and silly about the whole thing. Puppets ain’t gonna bring down the machine. Yet the fellow holds a professorship at a major university! Once there was a time when revolutionaries actually revolted. O tempora, o mores!

  3. From http://web.archive.org/web/20091027110116/http://geocities.com/pract_history/puppet.html :

    “To sum up, the anarchic strains within puppetry and its attraction for those on the margins, is, on the profoundest level, an act of reclaiming one’s freedom. By manipulating little dolls (or even giant ones) and saying what one wants, puppeteering comes to symbolize the ultimate act of creation, the creation of a new world free from the obscene ravages of authority.”

    My grandson throws his teddy on the floor and says, “Wassat?” Clearly, he is, at 17 months a radical anarchist. I’ll have to keep an eye on him.

  4. And just who is the biggest puppet of all? Our Stay Puft Marshmallow President, of course, careening down the urban canyons smashing all those facades and veneers, strings pulled this way and that by various international terrorist puppet masters.

    PS — whenever some doofus like Dave waxes on about the horrors of private property, it’s time to loot his stuff to drive his message home. Meet the cardboard box under the bridge, Dave, your new egalitarian bedroom.

  5. Prof Briggs wrote:
    “… you have just written a 36-page single-spaced paper”

    In fact, Dr Graeber wrote the article in December 2005 which doesn’t really change very much, but in the interests of accuracy etc …

    It is always interesting thinking about responses to action. I definitely think breaking windows is wrong and am conservative enough to be glad the police take action against such acts.

    Demonstrating with large puppets, dressing up as turtles or vaginas – well each to their own, I suppose. Consciousness raising is an interesting sociological area.

    Dr Graeber is thought provoking as he asks why we have one emphasis concerning the behaviours of the Global Justice movement and a different emphasis concerning mass killings in war, profiteering, and exploitation.

    I am far more content with the existing order than Dr Graeber, but given the history of the world in the first 12 years of this decade – the hi-tech melt down, terrorist attacks, two massively expensive and inconclusive wars, a housing and monetary bubble whose creation and bursting has made some segments of society destitute and enriched others, while governments have bankrupted themselves and turned to China or oil states to fund themselves – I can understand why there are many people looking at the values and underpinning of our societies.

    I’m a pluralist – I find Prof Briggs’ expositions concerning per se series and the existence of souls as incomprehensible as Dr Graeber’s apologetics for property damage. But both are thought provoking.

  6. If the police actually take those puppets seriously … then the anarchists actually have a point. The government has hired lots of idiots.

    While reading nonsense from the “property is theft” brand of anarchist(apparently based on the theory that property rights require the State which, of course, means that everybody with property is on welfare), I realized the connection between gun control and socialism. In a society where you are unable to defend yourself, it’s easy to think that property requires the State whereas if you are able to defend yourself, private property is seen as something that precedes the State.

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