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In response to the ‘Dove’ advert

Today we were discussing the notion that our society’s idea of beauty has been culturally constructed by the media/advertising, and although this documentary isn’t entirely relevant to our course, it’s really interesting.

So watch it! And let me know your thoughts…




The other day in our lecture, we talked for a while about how puppets can push social boundaries (such as political correctness) further in performances than a human can. Ventriloquists are artists who can ‘throw their voice’, making it seem as though a puppet is talking instead of them, and their craft has been around since ancient times, when it was used to trick people into thinking they were hearing the voice of their gods.

‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ is a puppet controlled and voiced by Jeff Dunham and is a particularly contraversial character. He is the skeletal puppet of a suicide bomber, with the catchphrase ‘silence, I kill you’. The theme of terrorism is one very rarely broached by comedians due to its sensitivity, but the puppet makes racist and provocative statements and jokes – but the audience do not react negatively. Dunham is able to stereotype and then mock Arabs through the cartoonish portrayal of Achmed.

People have questioned whether Dunham himself is racist, or whether it is the puppets themselves – the character mocking these stereotypes rather than Dunham himself. An example of a joke from his tour:
“Jeff: I don’t want racist jokes in my act.
Achmed: OK, how about if I kill the Jews?
Jeff: No…
Achmed: I’m kidding. I would not kill the Jews. I would toss a penny between them and watch them fight to the death.”

In itself, this joke is racist and possibly quite offensive, but with the puppet saying it, the audience is only further enamoured of the puppet. In an article for the New York Times, “Dunham describes them as moments of “catharsis,” when the dummy says something “everyone wants to laugh about, or that you snicker at with one or two friends, but that you could never say out loud.”” Dunham himself is one of the highest earning stand-up comedians in America, perhaps due to the unusual nature of his act.

Avenue Q is another example of when puppets are used to talk about adult situations in order to make them seem ‘more okay’. Puppets being racist against other puppets for being a ‘monster’ is a way for them to talk about “the sensitive subject of race” without appearing to commit a social transgression in the eyes of the audience. Even though the puppeteers are visible, the audience still accept that the puppet is speaking for itself. The entire show is done as a Sesame Street spoof, so the child-friendly voices that the puppets appear to have can then be contrasted with their lines and their actions.

Object relations

Object Relations

With reference to our discussion in class last week on object relations, I found it relevant to bring up games I used to play as a child which go by the same rules.

Object relations is the relationship you have with an object, or how you might feel about it. The Met Center online describe object relations “a set of theories which postulate that relationships, beginning with the mother-infant dyad, are primary, and that intrapsychic, interpersonal, and group experiences lay the foundation for the development of individual identity.”  In the same way, this was also the case when I played games as a child. When I played mums and dads, I had an invisible boy who was my son “Tom”. I also used to pretend lollipop sticks were cigarettes, and when I played Barbies, I invented poverty-stricken single parented families. I think the reason behind this was that it was so far from what my real-life reality was: there were no boys in my family, no-one I knew well smoked cigarettes, and I lived with both parents. It was a way of trying to understand other ways of life through rehearsing and playing.

In Kara’s presentation slide she said, “everyday objects perform when we become audience members to them”, and this is true of the afore mentioned games. The doll’s pram and dolly were just objects, but they became part of a performance, my performance, when I played with them.

Drone Warfare

I found this short documentary film about the development of robots in warfare. It covers the development of US drones which are being enhanced constantly by companies such as iRobot (like the film). It also poses the question of how automated war impacts on human rights laws.

“7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots used by the U.S. military are changing warfare as we currently know it, with major implications for the future of human rights.”

Robots such as the PacBot, which finds and destroys IUDs (improvised explosives) in warfare, is saving lives and has been for a number of years. Vice Admiral Joe Dyer from iRobot commented on how before the introduction of the PacBot into Iraq and Afghanistan it was our brothers, sisters, uncles and fathers who were sent to find IUDs, an immensely dangerous and almost fatal job. So in this instance isn’t the introduction of automata into war a positive thing? Well yes. However this is only a minor example of how robots are impacting warfare.

The US drone development and companies like Tardec, which used to build tanks now are developing robots which will be able to make decisions that would have previously been made by a human. This is a complete transfer of agency, and is already being used by the CIA. The CIA have been using drones to target and kill individuals and it’s only a matter of time, according to the experts, until this will be introduced into the military.

This made me consider Jane Goodall’s article Transferred Agencies: Performance and the Fear of Automatism, in which she noted that in the 1930s there was cultural anxiety surrounding the transfer of agency from human to machinery in industry. For me, automatous warfare is creating cultural anxiety in our society. In this film there is a clear worry that robots would need to be as clever as humans in order to replace them in battle, and so that is the aim. I became anxious when Dr Ron Arkin a roboticist says that humans are inferior to drones in warfare, as we have emotions such as fear, anger and frustration and these can be programmed out of a robot but not a human. And they are even able to programme the robots with a set of morals which would mean they have the capacity to kill without the need of human instructions.

But what does this do to the tradition of warfare where it is a sacrifice of human life and nature? Who wins when it’s robot vs. robot? Also it poses many problems concerning human rights, as there have already been reported drone attacks leading to hundreds of civilian deaths.  

Despite the cultural anxiety surrounding this topic, it is inevitable, billions of dollars are being invested into this and it is stated in the film that stopping drone development would be stopping the most important scientific development in history. It seems throughout history we have wanted to replace humans with a machine ultimately for efficiency. However only now do these machines need to be as intelligent as humans in order to take on human responsibilities which could have devastating consequences.  Are we making the human race inferior to robots by trying to make the human race immortal?


Nora 🙂

The emotional connection a child can have with a robot


As I mentioned in the lecture ive currently been reading an Isaac Asimov collection of short stories dealing with robots called The Complete Robot (I really Recommend it) while reading it I noticed a trend which actually is something that exists in real life which is children’s emotional connection with robots.

The first case of this is in a story called a boys best friend which tells the story of Jimmy a young boy with a robot dog called Robutt. Jimmy lives on the moon which his family and has no other friends besides this dog which is supposedly programmed to love him. He plays with the dog all day every day and has real special bond with it. One day Jimmy’s Father tells Jimmy that he has bought him a real dog so Jimmy no longer needs Robutt. This greatly upsets Jimmy as he is convinced that Robutt loves him as much as he loves Robutt. His dad tries to explain to him that the dog will really love him and that Robutt is just programmed to act like he loves him Jimmy then replies that they don’t know what goes inside the dog or how the dog feels he asks “how do we know that the dog isn’t just acting too?” he then continues to say what’s the difference in how they act? How about how I feel? I love Robutt and that’s what counts.” I found this a particularly interesting idea as if a child loves a robot, to the child that robot has just as much value as a living creature.

another example of this is found in Asimov’s story Robbie. This story is similar to ‘A Boys Best Friend’ but it deals with the friendship between a little girl named Gloria and her robot companion Robbie. In this story Gloria’s father has bought his daughter this robot and she loves it so much that she stops playing with her human friends, her mother becomes concerned with this and forces her father to get rid of the robot. Gloria becomes distraught when she loses Robbie and dispute her parents best efforts becomes extremely depressed and spends all her time looking for him and its not until her father re-unites them a year later that Gloria becomes happy again. I just find it fascinating that children seem to grow such a deep connection with robots perhaps because they believe the objects will never die.

I find it particularly fascinating as when i was a child I had a Robosapien toy see the link below if you dont know what it is:

although this is obviously not like the robots in the sci-fi stories as its mostly remote controlled i remember as a child feeling some connection with it and i know i took it everywhere with me I wonder why children find such a deep connection in robots perhaps its something to do with having control over the robot. For a child its like having a friend you will never fall out with and will never die. I’m not 100% sure what causes such a strong connection with children and robots, but i do find it fascinating and in the next 20 or so years I’m sure we’ll see the extent it will reach.

Theatre Du Soleil Puppetry

In last year’s module my presentation group and I gave a presentation on the French theatre maker/stage director, Ariane Mnouchkine. In 1964 she set up an avant-garde theatre company and experimented with Asian theatre and puppetry. One of her performances, “Tambours sur la Digue (Drummers on the Dike)” shows ‘puppets’ who are actually humans pretending to be puppets, playing musical instruments and being controlled by puppeteers. Influences of the Japanese bunraku puppetry techniques can be seen and the cross over of having human/puppet hybrids makes for a unique style of performance. There is something uncanny about  the way these ‘people puppets’ move-their make up is designed to look mask-like and there is a lack of facial expression which leaves doubt as to what exactly they are. They look very robotic at some moments and the way one of the men is playing the drum (from 1.09-1.20) looked so difficult to do: although there are puppeteers his arms are not attached to strings so I think he must have been doing it all himself.

Here’s a clip of the strange things in action:

And here’s a review which explains in slightly more detail how the puppets work and what stylistic choices have been made:

Leading on from this, I’ve been considering throughout the course how and what constitutes an object being regarded as a performing object. We discussed art in one of our sessions and whether or not something needs an artistic intention behind it in order to be classed as art. I think I would agree that it does but would argue that certain things can have artistic qualities without necessarily being art in themselves until put into an artistic context, for instance in a museum.

I thought the presentation about the performance artists Orlan and Stelarc highlighted the idea of objectification in performance and of people in society. Stelarc chose to suspend himself from hooks and strings, turning himself into an object: a performing object. I can’t say that I have ever come across an inanimate item in a non-artistic or non-performance based environment and regarded it as a performing object: puppets and robots are designed and manufactured by humans and are manipulated and programmed to operate also by humans. There is always some human element behind these objects that has given it its essence of performance: for instance Emma mentioned in her blog that the dolls she played with were part of a performance that she was creating when she played with them but left just sitting there with nobody touching them, can they still be said to be performing?

Somebody mentioned the idea of robots completely replacing actors on stage one day and this resonates with Edward Gordon Craig’s idea of the Ubermarionette. Even if this did happen though there is still human input. I don’t believe that performing objects can ever be separate from this human attachment. I can imagine that robots performing on stage may one day be a strong possibility, although I don’t think they would replace human actors altogether, but I think it is the ‘feeling’ and intention in the mind of an artist or a performer which is ‘essence’ of performance and what gives it life. Without having a life or an emotional, mindful intention I cannot imagine that robots or other performing objects would ever be likely to entirely take over the stage because I think what we value in a performance or work of art are these unique life-like qualities behind it and the effort, mastery and time taken to develop performative skills, something which robots and puppets do not have to do.

Another thing I’ve been considering is self-awareness. When animals and humans perform they are aware either mentally, physically, or both, that they performing a series of choreographed actions which have been rehearsed and memorised. Robots, puppets and other performing objects have no mind or self-awareness (as far as we know). Therefore even when there is human intention behind their movements and programming, maybe this still does not count as a true performance but perhaps mimesis of performance. The puppet does not know it is performing; it is being made to demonstrate elements of a performance previously defined in human terms.




‘Scare Devil’

Whilst in the RAMM, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, I found an object which I believe performed. This ‘scare devil’ or also called ‘Henta-koi’ is from the Nicobar Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean. It is used by natives to deter malevolent spirits.

I decided to analyse why this object is performing. Firstly before knowing its use and purpose, it struck me as very eye-catching. It’s open face full of expression and outward stretched arms provoked a sense of performing instantaneously ; I immediately felt it had a use as an object which required it to perform in some way, I thought it was a piece of art or in some way associated with rituals.

It’s human-like face, I believe helps it to perform. As humans we can read and interpret faces and their emotions, so this object was able to perform for me as an audience. I could read its expression, which I felt was telling a story (stories are vital to performance) and have an emotional response. Having any kind of emotional or intellectual response is a key part of a performance so this must prove that the ‘scare devil’ is a performer.

Despite relating to the human-like facial expression, I found the non-human elements, such as the turtle shell made the ‘scare devil’ almost uncanny. When looking at the object for a longer period of time, it seems to become more sinister. And for me, it provoked a feeling of fear and panic.Image

It made me wonder why this object was required and that’s when I read that it was for scaring off evil spirits. When learning this, my perception of the object changed, it performed in a different way. I felt it was helping me understand the culture of the Nicobar Islands. It now performed as an educational insight into their rituals, ways of thinking and biggest fears.  I began to think about the people who made and used ‘scare devils’.

 I have considered the role of objects as performers and decided that the ‘scare devil’ is both aesthetically performing, as it is so eye-catching, but also performing within the museum for educational purposes.  In my opinion all objects perform due to their human element and what it shows about the humans who made it and used it, like I said this made me think about the people and beliefs of the Nicobar Islands in the same way as an Iphone could perform in representing Western culture.

But then, after all this thinking and considering, it suddenly hit me that this object was in a museum! And museums are full of objects and artefacts that are on show, or performing. So I would like to question whether everything in a museum is performing, as soon as it’s put behind the glass and lit, do we make them perform? After all the ‘Toilet’ sign did not perform for me in the same way as the objects on display but yet it still had an important use. 


Nora 🙂