- One way to approach this rebuttal could be to mention object attachment disorders/hoarding and how puppets spark that behavior at a young age
- People who struggle with this typically practice anthropomorphism (reflecting life onto inanimate objects-puppeteers do this all the time-it’s literally their job:)
- This disorder can lead to lonliness and feelings of detatchment
- “Object attachment can be thought of as constituting a protective factor (Rutter, 1985); although this inanimate object cannot provide reassurance, guidance or affection, its presence provides the child with a sense of protection.”
This is only an outline of my rebuttal-I’ve been having a rough time with it but I will continue to improve it! These are some ideas I have for the opposing side but if you have any suggestions on other points to bring up, I am open to anything! I apologize for its size-to be completely honest I have been struggling a bit but I am doing my best to stay on top of everything!
I completely admire your suggestion here that object fixation or attachment is a hazard that could be fostered by puppets in the theater, but we both see what a stretch that is. AND that it’s not actually a rebuttal to your own thesis. You say puppets put us in touch with our emotions in a way not available to live actors. Your rebuttal position says that fixation on objects in life may lead to, or is a symptom of, a mental imbalance.
I did a quick Google Scholar search for “emotion in theater” and found some things that are closer to your goal. Remember, we’re looking for experts that claim the opposite of your thesis. They say puppets and other inanimate objects can’t engage our emotions and therefore are of limited value in the theater.
Berthold Brecht, you may know, was deeply antagonistic to emotionality in theater, so he’s a good candidate for you to oppose. He made his characters so unsympathetic audiences couldn’t associate with them. (But they did anyway.) He wanted audiences to react emotionally but to the injustices and failings his characters represented, not to their plight. He viewed the sympathy of audiences for the sufferings of characters as false, even dangerous. The first few pages of this Journal Article “A Brechtian Model” should give you some good ideas.
The Gamelan Indonesian article doesn’t mean to refute your thesis, but it offers another angle to approach your premise. It chronicles the efforts of theater artists to ELIMINATE THE HUMAN PUPPETEER from the production by replacing her with a robot, and giving the puppet enough sound-sensing-and-reacting ability that it responds to musical cues on its own with appropriate dancing. That means audiences can respond to a physical object that appeals to their sympathies without immediate human agency at all.
The Gesture and Emotion article is a fascinating exploration of the theory that emotions are transmitted as well through hand gestures as through facial expressions. Puppets are, of course, notoriously limited in their ability to mimic human facial expression, but their hands can usually be counted on to make convincingly human-like gestures and are used extensively to evoke reactions like those we would experience watching a human express anger, frustration, or resignation with her hands.
Romeo and Juliet in Hades is probably too far removed from your thesis to be of much direct use, but it’s based on the development of an “interactive theater” software/game model in which computer programs learn to relate human gestures and voice patterns to emotions and to instruct their characters to react appropriately. It’s just another indication that as humans we are so HARD-WIRED to anthropomorphize that we simply can’t help seeing faces where there are none and to credit non-animate physical objects with emotions they do not themselves feel.
We are empathic creatures. We will always feel for the puppet despite knowing the puppet feels nothing. And we are less critical of the puppet that fails to evoke our emotions than we would be of an actor attempting the same thing, a difference that liberates our reaction from a critical filter. We are freer to empathize with the puppet than with the actor.
“Developing and Validating a Theater Experience Scale” looks really valuable to me. Again, it does not explore puppets directly, which does not invalidate its usefulness. Very intriguing is the list of attributes of the theater experience that it identifies:
They all seem like useful lenses through which to explore the puppet-audience relationship. Maybe most intriguing is the Authenticity question. We can always doubt an actor’s sincerity, but a puppet can’t be faking anything, right? The puppet is always naïve. Its presentation skill can’t distract us from the emotion we choose to project onto it.
You’ll also want to investigate a psychological phenomenon called “Theory of Mind.” Here are some youtube links to get you started:
I haven’t found the one I REALLY want. In it, babies invest emotional energy in sympathizing with simple geometric shapes that appear to be having difficulties accomplishing simple goals. They (and we too) interpret the mean triangle as deliberately frustrating the innocent circle’s wish to climb to the top of the incline, for example. It’s brilliant evidence that we cannot help ourselves attributing intentionality to physical objects. (We get angry at the hammer that pounds our thumb.)
Wow! This feedback is amazing and I cannot explain how much I appreciate it! I have been working through these articles and videos ad am finding some interesting viewpoints! As I keep digging into this, I will continue to write to you about what I am thinking and bounce some ideas back and forth. Thank you again for your help; it’s more than I could hope for and I am excited to keep exploring these sources!