Marionettes

Cassiel C. MacAvity

    In a January, 1991, issue of the Oakland (California) Tribune is a New York Times reprint titled; "Skinflints in style." It tells of a number of people who have discovered spending less, of being the truly noble, a sign of the new nineties, not to be mistaken for the truly gauche nouveau riches of the horrible eighties.

    One woman is profiled. She once had three cars, two houses, two planes. She now has a single, smaller house, one car, and, it is reported, the planes "have been grounded." As she puts it: "I have also developed a taste for shopping in secondhand clothing stores. I actually think it is fun." Something she actually says is, "I was a yuppy," but there is a catch in the tense used. Yuppys didn't go away when the stock market hiccuped in 1987. They're still here.

    Imagine a marionette. It is a dead puppet, supported by strings. It has no thoughts, no opinions, no preferences, nothing. It can only move, in a fashion, when someone else pulls its strings. The more the strings, the more the movement. When enough strings are attached and pulled, the marionette can almost look lifelike---almost. It is still just a marionette, not a human being.

    Theatrical marionettes go back centuries. So do this other kind. In their latest infestation, during the decade of the Nineteen Empties, from early 1981 to early 1993, they were first called preppys, then later, yuppys, or dinks, or something else. I think of them as gatsbies, after F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. Like the modern gatsbies, there was nothing to the original. There was only white clothing, a big house, lots of parties, all nothing more than a nobody, thrashing about. At the end, a dead puppet was fished out of the big house's swimming pool. Like Gatsby, his namesakes dance disjointedly, responding to this pull or that, be the string the costume, the car, the new . . . whatever.

    Included in the costume pull has been football pads forced into what was clothing, is now a bizarre distortion. Another example has been calling a costume article "unconstructed", which is a euphemism for "a bad fit no matter what the size." With attitudes of "You are a fellow dupe of this, aren't you," humans are told that this pull is "Style", that these costumes are "Classic" and "Traditional." From bad, grease encrusted hair to pleated pants to upright collars to wearing suspenders, referred to as "braces" to wearing on one's shirts or sweaters, or a coat called a blazer, an identifying crest which has no meaning, these fads are outdated fashion, not style. All involved desperately try to ignore that their use of "Classic" and "Traditional" means a bad copy of something which also failed the first time.     The car pull is towards a BMW, a Volvo, a Wolkswagen, and lately, a sort of jeep, the most momentarily amusing of the constant smoke and mirrors. For all the claims of "being in control" and "exploring new trails", there is no gatsby crying in the wilderness. A gatsby will not do something unless it's been given "the best review" by "the best people", will never do something truly original because that's what preprinted labels are for, and, most importantly, full length mirrors just don't travel that well.

    Instead of the claimed reality, a gatsby substitutes fakery or imposition upon others and rationalizes this as being good, or better yet, "hip". In cars, judging from behavior I've seen, this can involve double parking anywhere or taking two spaces, blitzing through intersections three seconds after the yellow light has turned red, and, it just isn't parking unless the tires are at least a foot and a half from the curb, the vehicle is at a more than fifteen degree angle away from the curb, and the curb is painted red. Bonus points are awarded when blocking fire hydrants.

    Another big pull is the latest restaurant with the latest obscure or recently invented alleged cuisine. Often, this is the greatest demonstration of the old saying; "There's a gatsby born every minute." Around here, the big thing was "California "Cuisine." This involved a plate with colored sauce, assorted shapes of the latest thing to be seen in the vicinity of, a long line of other gatsbies preceding this freeform sculpture display, and, lastly, a bill worthy of the higher end of small claims court. Presumably, if hurried, one would ask for a doggie thimble. Only a gatsby would mistake a restaurant for a museum, never noticing that museum displays are accompanied by low priced docents, not overpriced head waiters.

    Of course there are other strings, but whatever the pull, all these strings are very important, for the best marionettes are supported on golden strings, and can only be permitted to associate with other similar marionettes. If you're not a marionette, then you must be just a human being, because, after all, humans don't have gold strings. Here's a little secret; The fun part about being human is not having any strings at all. We do what we want, where we want, because we're not limited to puppet strings and stages.

    For much of a decade, the gatsbies were indeed so limited, wobbling here and there about their little stages. Their strings pulled them into anything, and into anything they went, until the strings pulled in a new, different, direction. Time after time, a great new cause was declared and great numbers of gatsbies clustered onto the same stages. As all that the gatsbies could see was each other, and they were all obviously "the best people", each new cause would soon be solved, because, after all, the gatsbies were being very concerned.     Does anybody remember the stage called the starving people of Ethiopia? Does anybody remember people, not marionettes, are still there? Why, after such a great pull, do these problems still remain? Maybe because real problems aren't marionettes, and can't be quietly pulled out of sight.

    Lately, the big news was of the end of the eighties. Greed was out. Thrift is in. We're all one big happy family. How? Gatsbies will give you one text or another, all on the theme of "that was the eighties", and "we do things differently", and "we're not gatsbies anymore". The truth is, there just isn't as much money to throw at exotic, one-use, guaranteed European- Australian-natural-biodegradable-your adjective here-pulls. Half the strings have been cut. The gatsbies can't wobble all over the stage anymore, they can only move forward and back and side to side. They can't move diagonally anymore, they must first move forwards, then sideways, in two discrete moves. This isn't called being broke, however, this is called slowing down, being responsible. So much so, that a number of marionettes have cut several of their own strings themselves. They're the ones who aren't simply "moving slower," but are moving slower while proclaiming loudly that they only need half the golden strings to hold them up as they used to. However, if the strings returned, they would be grafted back on instantly.

    If somehow, all the strings were cut, those of us who are human would watch as several thousand, ninety pound---("I'm perfect. I'm not fat at all." (Just starving))---to two hundred pound---("I'm perfect. I work out at The Club." (Which popped into existence eighteen months ago and charges two hundred dollars a month))---marionettes dropped with an earth shuddering thud, making a genuine impact for the first, and final, time. We humans would then put away the pieces, sweep the stages, turn off the lights, and go back out into the real world.

    For the moment, though, we live our lives, we do what we do, with money or without, with assorted things or without, and quite without their masses of ego laden attitude. The marionettes, momentarily called "the thrifty," still jerk erratically, still existing only for their strings. They still are a clutch of misshapen emptiness, the twitching, sloganizing, dead.


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© 1996 Cassiel C. MacAvity