I just ran across this post on my old blog, from September 2012. And it’s not a bad post, worth rereading. So here it is.
Sock Puppetry, or: Showing Off and Hiding OutThere’s this lovely term floating around the internet: sock puppetry. In case you haven’t run across it, it’s when people build themselves fake identities in order to make themselves (in their regular identity) look good. Say, for example, if I created multiple google accounts for myself, and then posted admiring responses to my own blog posts, that would be sock puppetry. (No, Steve made his own account, I had nothing to do with it. Excuse me? Who’re you to say that a bear with two-inch-wide fuzzy paws can’t type?)
But there’s another, subtler form of sock puppetry. Oh, perhaps it’s not technically called that. But I think it might well be. It’s when we portray one persona on the internet, but behind the scenes, things are really different.I used to do puppetry in high school. Marionetteering, to be exact (handling marionettes, string puppets). I have some photos from the first show I was part of, a production of Dr. Faustus – not Goethe’s classical piece, but one closer to Marlowe’s original. My character (see picture) was the Duchess of Parma (I both handled and voiced her; we recorded the play on tape and then moved the puppets to that soundtrack for the performance). She’s a beautiful, elegant noblewoman who does some heavy-duty flirting with Faust, but doesn’t really get anywhere with it. But I was also Helen of Troy, a speechless specter which is used by Mephistopheles to seduce Faust away from his impending conversion. And I was a silly-looking demon, who, at the beginning of the play, gets rejected in favour of Mephistopheles (being a much more sophisticated-looking devil, the latter was obviously better suited to Faust’s purposes. I mean, he had a silk-lined cloak – how could my sackcloth-clad character compete with that?). But really, literally behind the scenes, where we stood on a little walkway holding the cross bars over the miniature stage on which we made the marionettes dance, hidden behind the backdrop, I was an awkward, naive eighth-grade girl who had a crush on the boy who manned the sound equipment (I think for the most part he was unaware of my existence).
When you’re doing puppetry, you can hide behind the backdrop. On the internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You can, all at the same time, show off and hide out. You can tell people in the breeziest of tones about your latest wonderful project, and make yourself sound like you’ve got it all together. But meanwhile, your world isn’t nearly so cheery and bright. You’ve been fighting fatigue and depression for weeks (or not fighting it, as it were). You’ve been dumped by a friend whom you were trying to help. Your beloved kitten has vanished; he’s almost certainly become coyote bait. Your garden is going to pot (no, not weed. Just weeds. And the plants you liked died of thirst). Your remaining kitty, the neurotic one, has gone and pooped in your bathtub (fortunately, you weren’t in it at the time). And so on.
I think it’s interesting that the word “person”, or “persona”, comes from the Latin or Greek word for “mask, character in a drama”. We wear masks. We play puppets; whether sock puppets or string puppets, it hardly matters. I don’t know if we can get away from it, from presenting one persona in one place, and another one in another; the whole of us just doesn’t fit on that little marionette stage.
Internet sock puppetry is offensive because it is meant to deceive. But perhaps it’s possible to play our puppet personas without deception. I don’t think anyone who watched that production of Dr Faustus, back in 1981, was really under the impression that any of us were the characters we voiced and acted (well, if they thought that I was, in fact, a ten-inch-high Italian duchess, let’s leave them their illusions; they’re probably happier that way). Masks don’t have to mean deception. Sometimes they can even be protection. Sometimes it’s safer to hide behind the scenes, and the dusky lighting backstage can be comforting. So long as, at the end of the play, you step out from behind the curtain, and rejoin your friends and family who have come to watch you do your thing with the puppet on the string. So long as you’re not trying to deceive.
Life, the Universe, Showing Off and Hiding Out. Sometimes things are better on that tiny little stage.