29 December 2011

Why do people use giant puppets in street protests?

His fur isn't the only thing that's red.
So, what's up with the puppets? When Occupiers do their thing, even in Lincoln, Neb., they always make sure to bring their puppets. They don't emerge spontaneously: the puppeteers and the costumes are coordinated in advance, at least to the same degree that a potluck is coordinated. Puppets aren't free, so somebody's funding them; at least one puppeteer draws money from a Kickstarter project. (The puppeteer in question is the notorious guy who wanted to get an MFA in puppetry and blamed the economy for his inability to get a job.)

Not being in the target audience for protesters or puppetry (except) (also except), it's unsurprising that the point is lost on me. But unlike other things that I don't get--Sex and the City, Miller Lite, Seventh-Day Adventism--I can't even see the appeal. Putting the puppets together is hard work, I'll grant; this video certainly suggests that there's planning that goes into each puppet.

But what is it supposed to mean? Why did this become the signature form of leftist protests? Even when Tea Partiers hoist their quasi-literate signs, I at least know immediately what they're for (white people) and against (non-white people). With the puppets, though, I'm not sure what the semiotics are. (Is the Statue of Liberty sincere or ironic?)

The best guess I can hazard is that the puppets are a manifestation of the self-reinforcing insularity of the protests. (This interview with a leading street protest puppeteer certainly suggests that the artists are severely out of touch with the apparent targets of their agit-prop.) Puppeteers communicate only with each other; the spectacle they produce is not the puppets, but the incomprehension of the audience.


  1. You are certainly ignorant to the history of giant puppets that transcend many cultures.