Scoundrel Time

One million puppets (or more)

Take a look at this doll, said the puppeteer, indicating one of the many homunculi scattered onstage. Take a look at this doll and try to mistake it for someone you know, anyone made of flesh and blood, perhaps a friend or a relative. Take a look at this doll and try to mistake it for a neighbor, even for your father, the man you meet almost every day, whom you believe to recognize the color of his eyes, or the length of his arms. Try it for a few seconds and you will realize it is an impossible task. Because, no matter how hard you try, a doll can never be mistaken for a person made of flesh and blood. A puppet has arms and legs, has two eyes and one mouth, some even have beautiful hair and long beards, nails and joints, dimples in their cheeks and surgical scars. A puppet, however, cannot be confused with a person of flesh and blood, for we all know a doll is a doll, no matter how much it resembles a human being. Although made in the image and likeness of its creator, a doll is a doll and will never be a man, just as a man will never be God. I ask you to think about it, said the puppeteer, as he held the strings hanging from the lower part of the auditorium. I ask you to think about it for a few seconds. I ask you to consider mistaking yourself for one of these curious human models made of cloth and wire, as well as I ask, however, that you soon forget that I asked for all of this in first place. I’m not here to talk about a puppet, or doll, or marionette, but about a million (or more) of them.One million puppets (or more), said the puppeteer while unfolding the strings. Seen from afar, they behave like living creatures. Despite having no desires or ambitions, they do move – and it is important that they move in order to be perceived as living things. To move a million puppets, or dolls, or marionettes, it is not even necessary that one million puppeteers are involved in the process, said the puppeteer while extending the strings along the stage. It is enough to collect a large sum of money and acquire sophisticated machinery that emulates the joints of a human’s arms, as is known to exist in some developed countries. While opening a golden chest, the puppeteer said it is impossible to reverse the automation process initiated at the end of the nineteenth century. He said, while handling the upper limbs of a one-eyed doll, the machines are capable of almost everything and will soon be capable of everything. Some hospital machines already breathe for us, said the puppeteer while opening the back of the one-eyed doll. They already move and make decisions based on a series of complex simulations.

One million puppets (or more), the puppeteer said, while attaching the first string on the back of the doll, moved by hidden machinery, can be perceived as a real crowd of flesh and blood, especially if seen from afar, such as through the lenses of a television camera affixed to a helicopter hovering two hundred meters off the ground. The puppeteer said that this particular position, called a high-angle shot, is the most effective for the illusion to be successfully manufactured. That’s because the television camera would not be able to pick up the machinery hidden under the puppets’ garments, let’s say long, shiny, gleaming yellow robes that flicker with every movement of the gears. In order for such puppets to be perceived as a real crowd of flesh and blood, said the puppeteer while placing the puppet on the closed lid of the golden chest, it is necessary to establish the necessary conditions for the verisimilitude of one million people (or more) to move around in the streets dressed in long yellow robes. Once the robes are justified, the whole procession is justified, and the illusion can be considered a success. Therefore, it is also important that the puppeteer establishes a prior narrative. It is enough that the parade seems real in order to become real, for here we are not dealing with individuals endowed with complex characteristics, but with a faceless mass moving only in one direction.

Imagine, however, said the puppeteer, while his long hands controlled invisible kites, an outside observer setting himself to a close examination of this strange parade of a million or more puppets or things–individuals for all intents and purposes, lethargic or euphoric people–marching in synchronized compass, the rhythm of the hidden machines dominating the public space. Imagine this outside observer approaching the crowd and discovering at least a vestige of the machinery’s existence. An experienced puppeteer, like me, like all of you, hopefully one day, will not be let down by this minimal slip. It is enough that we recover the prior narrative that was offered as justification for the parade of a million puppets (or more) to the parade of real individuals made of flesh and blood. By recovering this information, the puppeteer explained while sitting in the golden chest next to the one-eyed doll, we convince the flesh-and-blood individuals who never marched in the fabricated procession, but who, observing it through the television cameras at two hundred meters off the ground, feel represented by all those people, whether puppets or not. Well, said the puppeteer while crossing his legs, these people become extensions of our dolls and defend their existence at all costs. You can see that from here on the puppets cease to be puppets and become avatars of real individuals who are contaminated by the prior narrative.

The puppeteer rose again and cleared his throat, which served as the first sign that he himself was someone real, and not just another puppet among so many other puppets that adorned the auditorium, even in the audience, as if listening to the speech of the one who created them in a clumsy workshop. One million puppets (or more), said the puppeteer, moving down the street on a warm afternoon. However concrete the evidence of secret machinery may be, the flesh-and-blood individual contaminated by the prior narrative will never admit the existence of such a miraculous mechanism. After all, to admit the existence of secret machinery is to assume that the crowd that represented him was no more than an army of puppets–and that would be the same as admitting the individual himself is only a puppet. Under what circumstances could a puppet discover he is a puppet?, asked the puppeteer. None, of course. For the puppet does not think and does not discover. This is also the reasoning of the flesh-and-blood individual: ‘If a puppet does not think and does not discover, then the fact that I am accused of being a puppet is false, because I think, and I discover, and I believe.’

What the flesh-and-blood individual fails to understand is that for all intents and purposes he is now also a puppet, for his thoughts and discoveries are of no use to those who have caused him this peculiar identification with an army of inanimate objects. All that matters to the puppeteer is the identification itself, or the fact that the flesh-and-blood individual is able to move, or mimic the movements of one million puppets (or more). As long as the individual associates his movements with those of the false procession, then the illusion will remain untouched. ‘If a puppet does not think and does not discover, then the fact that they accuse me of being a puppet is false, because I think, and I discover, and I believe,’ repeats the individual, without realizing that this reasoning is the very thing preventing him from seeing the fingers manipulating the strings above his head. It also fails the puppet, or doll, or marionette, to realize that he is never the center of the spectacle. When the curtains are closed, the puppet is placed aside, stored in a gold chest like mine, and then who takes the center of the stage to receive the applause but the master puppeteer, himself part illusionist and part dramatist, the man who dictates the rules of his model universe, whose words were reproduced over these sixty minutes by a disposable creature of cloth and wire.

The puppeteer said all this and returned to the center of the stage, where a spotlight illuminated him for thirty seconds while he gladly received his applause. As soon as the celebration ceased, the beam of light accompanied his walk to the chest. He lifted its lid using both hands and settled himself together with the one-eyed doll, and they both remained motionless. From the top of the stage came two gloved hands and closed the chest with an immense silver key. The lights went out. Nobody noticed the show had come to an end.





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