Statement of Record

The Hand Inside: Twelve Sure Signs we’re becoming puppets

by John Reed


The Hand Inside: Twelve Sure Signs we’re becoming puppets

by John Reed


So we kept talking about how we’d get to see the future. We did. The future was full of video meetings, with video that only sort of worked—everything only sort of worked—and everyone spying on us, chincing us, and wasting our time. The future. Not so great. So we talked about the future of the future. Evolution. Humanity. Empathy. And the lack of aforesaid. We didn’t feel like ourselves but we couldn’t do much about it. We had to persevere: more apps. Productivity. Meditation. Mindfulness. Filters. To blur our backgrounds. To soften our lighting. To make over our blotchy faces. We bought fitness e-stuff. Bikes, mirrors, trackers. We worked out with e-trainers and avatars. We adored our e-trainers. We were our avatars. And social media. Because we had to. We were all alone. What had happened? What was happening? Death by a million micro-usb ports? Or one big horror show? Maybe like that marionette theater in Pinocchio. Mangiafuoco’s Great Puppet Theater. Yes. We’d seen the future, and in the future, we’re all puppets. 

That old illustration. “The March of Progress.” Fish, amphibian, mammal. Quadruped, biped. Puppet. Last February, when that lawyer appeared in a Zoom court with a fluffy white kitten head. Did we love that the kitten head was babbling legal talk? Or was there something essentially correct about it? The court proceeding was already a farce. And anyway, everything we do is a contrivance, a choreography intended to control the experiences we have, and the experiences other people have. That kitten head. A new consciousness. 

In Washington, puppets storm the capitol. In New York, a major-museum puppet retrospective. In Paris, puppets dominate the stage. On Broadway? Avenue Q. Off Broadway? Winnie the Pooh. In the movies, puppets are heroes and villains. On the world stage, puppets are activists and messengers of change. And sci-fi? Puppetlands of the afterlife and dating and social media. Upload your consciousness. Us and machines. Our souls into machines. Ourselves falling in love with machines. Forgiving machines. Accepting machines. This is the fantasy. Maggot to moth. Pupate. Person to puppet. Puppate. 

Souls in dolls or machines. An immemorial trope. Maybe universal. In Japan, there’s animism (all objects have souls), tsukumogami (haunted household objects), and ningyo kuyo (doll memorials). Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1913 essay, “The Unfortunate Fate of Childhood Dolls”:

“Sitting opposite the doll as it stared at us, we experienced for the first time (or am I mistaken?) that hollowness in our feelings, that heart-pause which could spell death, did not the whole gentle continuum of nature lift one like a lifeless body over the abyss.” 

But is there a narcissism too? That stuff needs to be given a soul. That we need to pretend we care about more than ourselves. Remember Breakfast of Champions? You are the only sentient person. All the others are robots. In Succession (S2 E10), Roman wonders half-assedly, “Is there a thing where we, like, talk to each other about stuff? Normally?” Shiv and Kendall respond in puppet voices. “We don’t have any feelings, what’re you talking about?” 

And maybe that’s not just a moment, but this century and the one before. Whether the vision is poignant or comic—Lotte Reiniger or Matt Groening—we are becoming the facsimiles we imagined. Sometimes elegant paper dolls; sometimes foam creatures in lurid colors. Whether beautiful and quiet, or obnoxious and squeaky. We are moved by the hand inside.      

Twelve signs we’re becoming puppets:

Our apps, our work, our families, our games, our hobbies, our lovers. Will be there. And we’ll be there, as pixels. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google. They’re making puppet theaters. That we won’t ever leave.  

Puppet Laugh
In teens. The silent gesture: a laugh-like expression and exaggerated bobbing/nodding of the head. Where else? Jim Hensen-style puppets, like Ernie from “Bert and Ernie.” See the memes.  

Isolation and all-digital interactions result in dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization. “Disorders” for us. For puppets, prosaic.   

Social Media and Our Shallow Selves
A like, a share, a jolt of endorphins. We know we’re being manipulated, but can’t stop hitting the buttons. Our friends? Half of them are “Sock Puppets.” And the news, the stories. What we heart, what we share, is the same as what’s true. 

AI / Bots
AI decides what we want to watch, and find in our searches, and buy, and eat, and who we want to date, and who we want to be. And when we have a problem? We chat with an AI bot—not even knowing, maybe, that it’s an AI bot. 

Filters, CG, Avatars, Androids
We can make ourselves look better. More like the CG we see in the movies. Our avatars are younger, more comical, more serious, more beautiful, more fun. We’ve manifested ourselves as our own fictions. And the androids? Hardware for the software and wetwork. The final, inevitable step. For now, the toys—the prosthetics, the extensions. Tomorrow, via VR, AR, etcetera-R: orgasm with our lovers and our hookups. And the day after tomorrow: replace our lovers and hookups and selves. 

Uncanny Valley 
Has gone away. We used to get creeped out by avatars or CG that looked too real. But, eh, we don’t care anymore. The more real the better. All the better to chill with, to chat with, to game with, to fornicate with. 

Simulation Theory
We’re a simulation in someone else’s gameboy. A good theory? Not really. Too many iffy ifs. If this, if this, if that, and if they thought like us. But it is a theory that feels “right.” Why? Because you are in someone else’s gameboy. 

You Are Your Data
Your data is everywhere. Your location, your friends, your health, your money. It’s for sale, and it’s sold. And after you die, companies could make fake ones of you from all the stupid things you said on Twitter.  

Haunted Dolls and Puppet Commerce
The haunted doll: a literary standby for 200 years. And now, there’s a marketplace. Etsy. Ebay. Etc. A haunted doll will cost you. And the market for puppets, too: big gains in puppet futures. 

Applause. Thumbs up. Raise hand. And, those hands. Why so yellow? Why so plump? Why do they look like they’re gloved? Oh, they’re puppet hands. And the framing of the zoom users? Why are we cut off mid chest? Puppet stages. The hand of the puppeteer, reaching into each body, is just out of sight, just under the skirt of the zoom window.  

One Puppet President After Another
Was Donald Trump a puppet president? Of Russia? Of some far-right conspiracy? Of his own ego? And what about the January 6 insurrectionists? More puppets? Puppets of a puppet? And Joe Biden? Good natured Joe? Standing there like a Sesame Street masterpiece? “The President.” Does he have the same handler as Kermit the Frog? Like George W. Bush: it’s all about the “advisors.” The ones who are really pulling the strings. The ones who are really putting on the show. But who’s pulling their strings? Who’s putting on their show?



For more on bots, Read “A Human Wrote This” by Jacqueline Feldman
Read “Anus Human Queue” by Sara Salih

About the author

John Reed is a writer living in NYC and the publisher of Statorec.

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