by Andrew C. Periale
Human beings are impressed by big stuff: Shaquille O'Neal, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore-all big.
We are a "super-size me" culture that buys in bulk and dreams of "living large." Our suspicion that size matters is no recent phenomenon. Consider the so-called Wonders of the Ancient World: big times seven. I don't know who voted to determine which wonders made the list, but I'm sure "bronze spear point" was never in the running despite its larger impact on our history over time than, say, the Colossus of Rhodes.
But humans were awed by the Colossus, as they still are by Mounts Fuji, Everest, Kilimanjaro, tidal waves, mushroom clouds, comets, constellations and, ultimately, the universe.
Those who have believed in a God or Creator of the Universe typically pictured the entity as big, huge, even humongous. Ancient Egyptians had earthly existence springing from the union of anthropomorphic sky and earth entities (Nut and Set). The Greek gods were Titans and, later, Olympians; the names say it all.
But why? Why don't we encounter religions that believe the universe was created by a flea, for instance? Fleas have laid armies low, after all, have decimated whole populations with their ability to carry Plague, yet though we despise them, we do not fear them.
Perhaps the need for a real whopper of a God is coded into our DNA. Though Haeckel's theory of Recapitulation has been discredited in its particulars (namely, that our fetuses appear to progress through forms resembling creatures from which we presumably evolved- amoeba, fish, amphibian, politician and so on), it is a useful metaphor. With our embedded cellular memories, we emerge from the womb's ocean into a world of giants-parents who wield absolute power over us. With luck, these awesome creatures prove benevolent, loving beings. Over time, they become less gigantic , and we are left with a deep longing for the next big thing.
As an adult, being in the presence of giant- or mega-puppets has the powerful effect that parents (by sheer dint of size) have long since failed to exercise over me (unless I happen to be visiting them over the holidays).
In our last issue, we sought out the world's smallest puppets, in whose presence puppeteers looked titanic. We stood like gods beside our "Mini-me" simulacra. In this issue we stand in the presence of figures that make even Shaquille O'Neal look like an infant, or, in some cases, a flea.
The largest of these are actors in pageants and celebrations, rituals of death-and-rebirth, or creation. They reinforce the bonds of community, remind us that there are both things and ideas in the universe bigger than we, and give us hope that the humongous forces that rule our lives may also be benevolent and loving.