Puppets and the suspension of disbelief

Puppet and admirerAt Christmas every year, there’s a giant gathering of family. I usually have a puppet because… because puppet. Anyway, one of my favorite things is introducing my newer cousins to the puppets.

There’s an interesting thing that happens developmentally with little kids. You know that whole willing suspension of disbelief thing? Little kids haven’t started doing that yet.

I can move the puppet and they’ll respond to it as if it is real, because for them it is. If I speak with the puppet though, they are confused. They look at where the sound is coming from — at me — and not at the puppet because they haven’t yet learned to play the game where we all pretend that the puppet is speaking.

I remember playing with one of my cousins when he was around five or six. I had a sea witch and he loved being chased around the yard by her. Periodically though, he would have to stop and say, “She’s not real, right?” I would reassure him that she wasn’t. Mind you, I was fully visible and not doing ventriloquism, but he still needed that reassurance, and then it was fun again. At this point, he wasn’t doing willing suspension of disbelief, he just believed and need to remind himself where the real world was.

His dad, and the grandfather of the fellow in the picture, would watch his kids talking to the puppet and join in the conversation. Then his kids would wander off and he’d keep talking to the puppet. Then he stopped. “I’m talking to a puppet.”

“Yes, you are,” the puppet said.

And then he kept talking to her, with his willing suspension of disbelief in full force. It’s a social compact that we make in a lot of art forms, and I love watching it develop and evolve.

When was the last time that your suspension of disbelief was strong enough that you didn’t question it?

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7 thoughts on “Puppets and the suspension of disbelief”

  1. I was in college when I discovered the Pern books. After marathoning Anne McCaffery I woke up one morning so confused because I couldn’t find my dragon. It took a five minute walk around the building to figure out where I was and what I was doing.

    We didn’t have puppets where I grew up.

  2. I’m often confused when I first wake up, because my dreams are so vivid and have my house, husband, friends, etc. and I’ll think “I have to get X out of the storage area and show it to husband” and sometimes will be on the way to storage when I realize “Wait, X does not exist!”

    I always talk to puppets. I met Jim Henson once and I kept subconsciously wondering where Kermit was.

    Many many many discussions online involve the fact that characters on my TV are actually real. I feel that OF COURSE Mulder and Scully have been doing their things all this time, I just haven’t seen them for a while.

    I’ve heard that ventriloquism doesn’t work on very small kids either. They know the voice is coming from somewhere else, even if they don’t see the ventriloquist.

    Cons are great for suspending belief.

  3. The last time I /remember/ it being so very strong was when I was about 7 years old. My parents and I were away visiting my grandparents several states over for Christmas. I had a vivid dream that is, fortunately, lost to me, now, in which my best friend was killed by a car.

    Pretty heady stuff for a 7-year-old, I know. But it was so vivid that I cried inconsolably until they finally had to let me make a long-distance call to him to hear his voice.

    I would love to go back in time and hear the conversation between my mother and my friend’s mother that led to THAT little conversation.

    In retrospect, I think maybe that was when I learned not to put a lot of trust in dreams. 🙂

  4. A few years ago I went to a production of “Othello” by Ten Thousand Things, a local theatrical company that specializes in very bare-bones performances in prisons, shelters, detention centers, and schools, and pays for itself by also staging paid performances in church basements and other small venues. The audience was in a square around the stage, four rows deep at the most; we were in the third row. Iago was played as a kind of out-state Minnesota nice guy, amiable, slightly clueless, and beaming — or that was his persona; his personality was the scheming ruthless jealous one. Because all the actors were so close to us and the lights were up and the production was so riveting, I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from yelling at Othello not to believe a word Iago said. It was a very near thing.

    When Othello had his final scene with Desdemona, the entire audience leaned forward and many made hand motions; we wanted to help her, we wanted to change what we had known from the start would happen.

  5. Years ago now, I was working a small production of Godspell as their light/sound guy. It took all of my power to convince myself that Judas was actually just an actor playing the part of Judas and so did not deserve his throat ripped out. I managed to not leap through the window of the booth and do physical harm to him. That /is/ one of the events in my life that showed me where I stood faithwise.

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