Ieadership and vision in a consumerist culture
by Andrew C. Periale
Where do we find leadership in the arts, today? Who has the personal vision to turn our world-weary psyches around, heal us, set us off in a new direction?
Our Public Televisions station are-running the Bill Moyers series: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, and it strikes me that there's been a lot of talk about myth lately. Maybe this is related to the imminent millennial, historically a time of increased interest in spiritual causes, doomsday prophets, and other attempts to find a place for Homo sapiens in the cosmic order.
Perhaps the current crisis of meaning is related to the end of the cold war. As a child, my understanding of mythology was restricted to the Greek and Roman Gods- divine hanky panky and clashes of Titans. That was during the post Korean War era. The anticipated nuclear conflict between the superpowers made for terrifying bedtime stories: huge themes of good versus evil; a level of destruction entirely off the scale of human experience;a pantheon of spies, presidents and generals. It was also enormously motivating. It put a man on the moon. It gave our lives meaning: It gave us a myth.
The fairytale of Mutually Assured Destruction was not a real myth, perhaps- high marks for characters and conflict, but the climax was unthinkable. And the denouement? Unsatisfying. We used to have a Missile Gap. Now that that threat is gone, we seem to have a Meaning Gap. We have always looked to our storytellers for tales which would somehow provide answers to the big questions: why are we here? where are we going? what does it all mean? Now we must seek out new storytellers. Our natural inclination is to look !o popular culture. Superman, though, is allowed center stage only because he is a super salesman of his bosses: the twin gorgons of Production and Consumption- two snakes forever eating each other's tails. We require a storyteller not beholden to any worldly master,who understands the nature of invisible things, the intricacies of the actor's art, and the use of metaphor as a way of bridging the two.
Puppetry is well-suited to myth making, and puppeteers with a strong personal vision- a "personal mythology"- will be the high priest of meaning in the new millennium. You doubt it? "Read on, Macduff!"
This issue is full of the work of such people, such as Eric Bass and Joan Baixas. Leslee Asch looks at the work of three lesser-known American artists who have created their own mythologies in micro scale. Institutions may, in the main, provide an effective antidote to personal vision, but some (especially smaller ones) are doing a commendable job in fostering this needed brand of leadership and heart both here and abroad. We also bring you news of two fascinating international collaborations in Mexico and Nicaragua. There are puppets and Faust , puppets on film , and finally, World Wide Web guru Jed Weissberg writes about what computer companies can learn from puppeteers.
Enjoy and take heart.