(Michael Schulman’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/10; via Pam Green.)
Are e puppets evil? Kermit the Frog isn’t, clearly. Grover is probably O.K. Most often, puppets function as an extension of the puppeteer’s id— Chop troublemakers who can say what polite humans can’t. Think of Ernie, Alf, Gonzo, even Lamb: all instigators and impish truth-tellers, detonators of politesse with twinkles in their plastic eyes. Their spiritual ancestor, Charlie McCarthy, was a known menace, saying the unsayable—which, in the forties and fifties, was a lot—even to the ventriloquist with his hand up his tuxedo, Edgar Bergen:
EDGAR: I’ve never told you the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” have I?
CHARLIE: No, I’ve been lucky so far.
The modern incarnations of Charlie are more thrillingly rude. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who will bark anything to anybody, is the malicious inverse of the smarmy celebrity interviewer. The raunchy denizens of “Avenue Q” are agents of chaos, like the “Sesame Street” characters they’re based on, except that they use four-letter words. Chucky, of the “Child’s Play” movies, murders people.