Sunday, June 27, 2004

PINOCCHIO, Anarchist

Every classical liberal and libertarian should read the Adventures of Pinocchio. It’s a much darker story than the Disney movie, and well worth the time. Written by a disillusioned republican anti-monarchist, Carlo Lorenzini (AKA Carlo Collodi), a Tom Sawyer-like character emerges without any particular morals, roving through a corrupt world , aided by a talking cricket ("I refuse to leave this spot ... until I have told you a great truth.") and a blue fairy who helps in his process of self-discovery. The Blue Fairy may be a version of the Virgin Mary, according to your interpretation. Disney's version of the Talking Cricket, named Jiminy Cricket may have been Jesus Christ (Jiminy Cricket is a clear allusion to JC in American culture), but makes the Disney version a Protestant version of the tale. There also seem to be an evolution of one of the main charaters into an evil Jewish gypsy, which may be antisemitic, or perhaps even taking to task the Jewish dominance of the major movie production companies at the time of the development of the Disney Pinocchio. Walt Disney was not antisemitic, and the characterization may simply have been a commonly used plot element, like many of the other changes that were made in the story line. Even following Disney's death years ago, Disney Studios has been famous for Americanizing myths and fables, much to the chagrin of those from where the stories originated.

Lorenzini’s story hearkens back to the radical puppetry which was condemned as seditious in earlier ages.

Adventures of Pinocchio begins slowly, with a simple beginning as a tale told to children:

How it happened that Mastro Cherry, carpenter, found a piece of wood that wept and laughed like a child

Centuries ago there lived--

"A king!" my little readers will say immediately.

No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. It was not an expensive piece of wood. Far from it. Just a common block of firewood, one of those thick, solid logs that are put on the fire in winter to make cold rooms cozy and warm.

He starts, not with kings, princes and princesses, but with a lowly, poor woodworker in Italy and some ordinary wood. His piece of wood has life within it with no control save for its own, doing this and that, going here and there, metamorphosing into different entities in its journey toward humanity. Often reminding me of a teenager, changing its nature from one creatire to another, searching for what is the right thing to do and not thinking about right and wrong but what is the next fun thing to do. Pinocchio battles authorities of all kinds, from family, church and state.

Pinocchio is a living spirit within a log with the dead wood trimmed to bring his life out of its confinement. The creation is a puppet without strings, with no master. A child in the Disney story, but more of a teenager in the Adventures of Pinocchio. Why does Lorenzini use a puppet as the main charater in the story? Here we come to some interesting themes historically. Kerry Mogg says in “A Short History of Radical Puppetry”:

In 1643, the English authorities ordered the theatres closed due to their fear of the spread of revolutionary propaganda. England was about to be plunged into the middle of a civil war, and radical elements … were already active.

… Puppetry was seen as a way of getting around the theatre ban and accusations from both clergy and out-of-work actors, raised concerns about the medium’s "corruption" of audiences. Perhaps they were right: Punch certainly was a corrupter.

This hunchback, with his large, hooked nose and insanely boorish manners, was a hero of the lower-classes. Punch broke the most sacrosanct laws imaginable in a time when conformity was imposed in every sphere of life, particularly entertainment. He mocked the law, God’s and king’s, and, by avoiding hanging, managed to trick even Death. As George Speight tells us in Punch and Judy: a History, Punch was a subversive jester, "the simpleton who could answer back to Bishop and King, the fool with the license to poke fun at anyone."

18th-century France had its own "Punch," which went by the name of Guignol. Guignol shows were "decidedly populist" and "off the cuff political comments slipped into the dialogue every evening’ according to John McCormick and Bernie Pratasik in their Popular Theatre in Europe, 1800-1914.

Saxony banned puppet shows in 1793, and by 1852, the French government was demanding texts not only be committed to paper (a death knell for -an oral, and to some extent, illiterate tradition), but banned improvisation of any sort. Puppetry was particularly controversial in Lyon, a hot spot for revolution. One of the last uprisings there, involving poverty-stricken weavers and miners, led to Kropotkin’s imprisonment and expulsion from France in 1888. According to McCormick and Pratasik, "Napoleon Ill’s police state was particularly nervous about places where numbers of people gathered together," so Guignol shows were placed under surveillance. Many new applications to perform Guignol were rejected outright. In a city once known for its puppetry culture, Lyon’s puppeteers were denied an audience.

From its beginnings, radical puppetry was treated as a criminal act. Both England and France enacted repressive laws against puppeteers, refusing to even license them like other performers and trades people. This relegated them to, in the performance hierarchy, a level lower than showmen.

Being itinerant, puppeteers were regarded with suspicion and accused of not only participating in crime, but of perpetuating it by attracting crowds of poverty-stricken individuals to respectable places of business. Although they were harangued by the authorities and merchants, the puppeteers were determined to engage in their livelihood, performing where they had to in order to make even a small income. They would pitch their stages in busy marketplaces, inevitably being forced to move on.

In the tradition of subversive theatre, the 19th century’s most notorious figure was the incomparable eccentric, anarchist puppeteer, Alfred Jarry. Known for carrying a pistol around with him as he obsessively bicycled through the streets of Paris, Jarry amused friends with his intellect and outrageous behavior.

Enamored of puppetry since his teens, in 1888, Jarry put on shows in his mother’s attic for Henri and Charles Morin, his future teenage partners in crime at the Lycee they attended. It was here that the first versions of Ubu Roi were performed, Jarry’s infamous, brutal attack on bourgeois mediocrity. Ubu Roi achieved instant notoriety for many reasons, not the least of which being the first word King Ubu utters on stage is "Shit!"

Although in the eventual staging of the play Jarry used human actors, he designed Ubu’s costume and choreographed the stage directions to be as puppet-like as possible. The anti-colonial, anti-militaristic tone of Jarry’s writings are quite evident, as are their anti-establishment "primitivism" (by way of puppets), a popular strategy among dissidents, artists and anarchists at that time in France.

More acts of cultural subversion soon followed in the early 20th-century. In Germany, puppeteer Gerhart Hauptmann performed angry plays criticizing the Kaiser. In Portugal, Rosado performed anti-government plays as well.

Czechoslovakia, now an undisputed leader in puppetry, began its saga in the nineteenth century. The Czech language was banned by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but puppeteers performed in Czech as an act of defiance. During the Nazi invasions, puppeteers resisted, despite the forced closing and banning of literally hundreds of theatres. Anti-fascist plays by Karel Capek [see his powerful "Why I am Not a Communist", by the way--Ken] were staged in underground venues along with theatrical interpretations of modern poetry. During public performances, they used allegory in order to slip subversive (and with audiences’ expectations, anticipated) remarks past the censors.

Lorenzini has made a tale for the ages. Don’t just go see the movie, read the original.

Ken Gregg


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