Yesterday I went to a miniature puppet show in Brooklyn. Well, actually, eight miniature puppet shows in Brooklyn, at the Toy Theatre Festival at Saint Ann’s Warehouse. One of the pieces was truly spectular, several were well characterized by the phrase “oh, get over yourself already”, and the rest were somewhere inbetween: Interesting, not necessarily successful on their own terms, but containing some exciting ideas to mull over.
I realized after seeing all this puppetry, so soon after having seen Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, that I want to write a puppet opera. It’s really the only rational response, isn’t it?
During several performances I found myself sitting next to a young Vietnamese woman. We struck up a conversation, and afterward ended up taking the same subway back to Manhattan. Ikuko makes little zines, and she gave me one. Each zine is made by folding an ordinary piece of 8.5 × 11 paper into the shape of a little booklet with eight pages. You can print anything on the zine just by printing onto that one sheet – pictures, story, poetry. Ikuko’s zine was a self-illustrated story-poem that was really lovely.
The moment she gave it to me, I was suddenly struck by the anti-capitalist slant of these little zines, and the fact that this quality renders them virtually invisible. Generally speaking, anything in our society that does not make money for somebody is off-limits to mainstream media. The Soviet Union had Tass and Pravda, which operated under strict marching orders from the Soviet party, and we have CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, The New York Times, TIME and NewsWeek, and so on, which are governed by rule of what might be called the “American Politburo”: If it’s not likely to make money for anybody, it is generally not mentioned.
So anything like the little gathering I went to last week to make puppets, no matter how many millions of people might end up engaging in such an activity, is generally off-limits to American new organizations. After all, there isn’t really any way for somebody to make milllions of dollars from people sitting around making puppets out of spare socks.
Which is a shame, because making and giving away little paper zines is an act of pure joy: You just design them, print them, fold them, and give them to your friends. Anybody can get in the game – no need for capital investment, just flair and imagination. Of course if you know to look for them, the Web is filled with such things – but you have to know to look.
What would it take for a society to publicly celebrate such acts of individual creation through its broadcast media? I find myself wondering whether the idea of broadcast mass media and individual not-for-profit inventiveness are fundamentally incompatible. Could the former ever really celebrate the latter, or would that be a contradiction in terms?