Why puppets?

17 Jun
Just a couple of weirdos

First off let me thank everyone. The direct shop is motoring along, the live streams always get a healthy number of viewers, and generally all is well in The Puppet Mines.

The other day on the build stream I had a young viewer who was only 12 years old and loved building puppets. I took the opportunity to tell them how happy I was that young folks are still getting into puppetry and let them know that was the age at which I also really got into building. Then when puberty happened the whole “puppet thing” didn’t seem cool anymore, and I let it fade away. Then literally 35 years later it came rushing back, and now look where we are. I have few real regrets in life, but letting puppetry lie dormant for so long is one of them. I urged my young viewer to be mindful of my experience should the same happen to them.

Thing is, puppets are a bit weird, right? We all know it. There’s a reason Jim Henson’s sense of silliness and the absurd meshed so well with puppets.  So why puppets?

We often hear sentiments along the lines that “in the CGI age, is puppetry even relevant anymore?”. And then of course a phenomenon like Grogu on The Mandalorian happens. It was said that they had originally intended to replace the puppet with CG, but Werner Herzog himself famously said “Don’t be cowards” because the puppet work was so good. Turns out Werner was right.

Puppetry is just one of many forms of animation, and all animation has a similar goal: imbuing a sense of life into something fictional. From cell animation to stop-motion, to 3D rendering, the aim is to take something created in the imagination and make it believable (within context of course). What sets puppetry apart is puppets are the only form of animation that shares our physical space in real time. Nothing else can do that.

That bypasses a whole layer of “willing suspension of disbelief” in the brain. We don’t need to imagine Kermit talking to someone, we know instinctively that he’s right there. As amazingly lifelike as CG has become, part of us knows that it can’t exist. As wonderful as The Hulk looks, we know that Robert Downey Junior is talking to a tennis ball on a stick.

As a result, many puppet characters work better as abstractions and caricatures. They represent foundational archetypes, simple, and direct. This may be one reason why people on the Autism spectrum find relating to puppet characters so easy – they are *immediate* and clear in a way that nothing else is.

Puppetry is literally one of the oldest forms of theater in the history of mankind. In one form or another, it has always been with us and always will be. There’s something to puppetry that allows us to express ideas in a way that no other medium can achieve.

Are puppets weird? Yep. And that’s a good thing. Not everyone gets to be weird. Embrace it.

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