Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Frank's post on the Timoney Puppet Scare says a lot about the way we live now, (pre-9/11 no less). I wrote a short piece about puppet theater both political and otherwise for a publication poet Alan Gilbert edits called FYI:
Here is the full link: a brief essay on contemporary puppet theater, "Profiling Puppets," in the New York Foundation for the Arts publication FYI: For Your Information NIFA, Summer 2002.
Here is the relevant thread from my article re: Frank's discussion:
Political Puppetry: 2000 Republican National Convention
The story of contemporary political protest and puppets can be told through the story of the Philadelphia RNC. Until books are written, documentaries made, and class action suits won, the mass incarceration of over 420 protesters should stand as an example of the sophisticated yet brute-force tactics, infiltration, and other actions taken against protesters and puppeteers at the RNC.
On August 1, 2000, demonstrators geared up to protest at the RNC. As helicopters circled above, the Philadelphia police force descended en masse upon a west Philly warehouse at 41st and Haverford Streets where activists were working, building, and storing puppets and other political props. All 75 people in the warehouse were arrested, and hundreds of puppets were destroyed by city officials who claimed that the puppets were "trash," although the police claimed they were "weapons."
Later that week, most of those arrested were still waiting to be arraigned or formally charged. (A brief four months later, in December 2000, the charges against the puppeteers would eventually be dropped for lack of evidence.) With helicopters overhead and swarms of bicycle cops and several hundred officers on the streets below, a parade of nearly 200 people gathered at police headquarters to march in protest of the arrests. At the rear of the marching protesters was one of the surviving puppets—a 14-foot money-green effigy of Uncle Sam. The puppet was wheeled by several protesters, and behind them was a clown wearing a rainbow afro.
Every now and again the clown spoke into his bullhorn. He had a commanding voice and embodied what is most winning and effective about current political theater—its atmosphere of spectacle and humor. The clown intoned the double entendre, "POLICE OFFICERS. CITIZENS. THE PUPPETS ARE IN CHARGE! I AM A CLOWN!" With the police outnumbering protesters at least five to one, the scene was all the more poignant, absurd, and brilliant when he called out: "ATTENTION! PHILADELPHIA POLICE OFFICERS. THIS IS A GIANT PUPPET. SURRENDER!"
Like songs, puppets are highly charged because they have the power to convey simple yet profoundly symbolic messages. Political songs may be to the late ’60s what political puppetry is to the late ’90s and early 21st century. The RNC, for example, set a stage where the passion and conviction of the puppetistas gave every deed the double significance of private gesture and public action. The harsh police crackdown on the puppetistas is an acknowledgment of the inherent threat and ability of puppets to convey these various messages.