On a leisurely summer walk in the charming Chicago village neighborhood of Andersonville (it reminds me and others of Silver Lake in Los Angeles), I noticed a crowd gathered at a street corner. Kids, adults, twenty-somethings on smartphones – they all stopped dead in their tracks, put down their digital gadgets and looked up. The culprit: a slim upright box connected to a bicycle, some oldies music blaring from a boombox, and decidedly low-tech, simple, hand puppets.
It was an enchanting scene, as much for the spectacle of all the people engulfed in modern life mesmerized by something decades old, as for the goofy puppet show itself. It reminded me of something very important, that certain truths, certain aspects of human existence stay constant despite all the change that may swirl around them. These 1940s and 50s German puppets, rescued from neglect by a visionary Chicagoan looking for a simple way to entertain a crowd and make some extra money, were capturing people’s imagination in the most basic of ways – telling easy to understand stories through immediately likeable characters. Every creator in film, television, Netflix, YouTube, and other modern media is essentially striving for the same thing.
So much of what we consider new is actually rooted in the old, unshakeable truths of human existence. We essentially want to tell each other stories. From cave drawings to modern day YouTube clips – we are simply telling stories visually. From blogs to the oral traditions of the past, we are sharing the commonalities of our experiences. We repeat ourselves – to our detriment and credit.
And so, these puppets told me something important: the medium doesn’t matter, the message does. And often, the simpler the medium, the better off you are. As a journalist who strives every day to communicate, to tell stories, to inform – this is a powerful lesson. So much learned, all from simple cotton puppets on a street corner.