I was born in 1980. I actually feel pretty lucky about when I was born - I'm young enough for computing and network technology to have been a part of my pre-adult life (we got internet when I was in middle school, and my dad was always into computers) enough that I feel proficient using it, but I'm old enough that it wasn't a part of my childhood at all. We didn't have cable TV either, until I was about 8, so my entertainment when I was a child was books, VHS tapes, and whatever came onto the TV across the airwaves. And I feel so lucky to have been a kid when I was, because those shows and movies, without the aid of computer imaging, relied on practical effects, handmade props, and puppets. So many puppets.
A lot of this nostalgia that I'm having today came from hearing that some original props and puppets from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood have gone up on display in Pittsburgh. And that got me to reminiscing (and searching Youtube) about the show, and just being flooded with memories about it that I didn't even know I had. I must have watched hundreds upon hundreds of episodes of that show when I was little. To modern viewers, I'll admit it must seem really weird and awkward, and possibly even a bit uncomfortable to watch, with Fred Rogers' almost tranquilized, hypnotic speech, and the glacial pacing. But that show was probably one of my earliest television memories, along with Sesame Street, and both featured imaginative characters, puppetry, and adults interacting with kids in an honest, respectful, and non-condescending way. There's a total authenticity about it that I think is something I still strive for in my life and work as an adult. If you go back and look at the puppets in The Land of Make Believe, they are so ratty! They're dirty and worn, and very little effort was made to make them look "real". Because they didn't have to look real - they were real because you believed they were real, and wanted them to be. So they were.
|Daniel Striped Tiger. Psychological stand-in for the anxious and emotionally sensitive.|
I think more than anything, that search for authenticity is what stuck with me the most in my journey into adulthood. I know that "authenticity" is kind of a buzzword these days, and about as inauthentic as you can get, but I do mean it very sincerely. I'm a very emotional person, and I always have been. I know from talking to my mom that I had some troubles coping, emotionally and socially, when I was little. Shows like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was so important, and I suspect this was true for so many other kids, too, because it was a predictable, quiet world, with a small cast of characters and an authority figure whom you actually believed cared about you.
I don't know that I can say my Dust Bunnies do the same work as the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe. They're not very animate, and their emotional states are usually in the range of "afraid", "uncertain", "spooked", or "excited". But I like to think that people can insert their own feelings into the narrative, and project emotions onto them. I actually want people to project onto them, because I rarely make them with any specific emotions in mind. If you see an object that you connect to - a painting of a sad looking dog, a figurine of a fat bird, the tiniest grape you've ever seen - and you project emotions onto that thing, you are, in a small way, doing a little bit of psychological work on yourself. You're letting your own thoughts and experiences dictate a "life" that has never existed, and you are telling a story. You're becoming a narrator, even if it is for one or two seconds.
I want to create characters who may or may not have concrete stories attached to them, because I want others to add to the narrative, and become co-writers with me. It may not appear like this on the surface, but deep down I want everything I make to be as meaningful to somebody as Daniel Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, and X the Owl were to me.