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The Punch and Judy Show
by Jan Sand
2008-01-06 09:51:08
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There is no question that all cultures delight in theater. The suspension of disbelief that is the essence of any thespian attempt is something utilized, not only in direct theatrical production but also in all aspects of life. It is basically one of the expressions of the highly developed and ingenious human capability to lie.

But this is not in any way a condemnation of that capability, merely a caution that it should be used appropriately and severely avoided where it becomes destructive.

Various types of theater and drama are essentially a means of story telling and the structure of the average story can be boiled down to a few simple essentials.

There is the protagonist with whom the audience identifies and who carries the story forward with his/her adventures to attain a goal. The goal can be power or some form of escape from danger or an attractive member of the opposite sex or merely something as simple as a pot of gold or the equivalent. If the attainment of the goal is easy there is no story.

If the goal has a physically difficult path of attainment there is a story but most stories are more interesting if the opposition is an active element, a dynamic antagonist such as an evil human or other creature or a competitor for the goal who can be merely the competition or, more exciting, somebody deeply evil and devilishly clever which keeps the audience on edge as to whether the protagonist can be more than equally clever to overcome the difficulties. There are all sorts of combinations of these basic elements but the average drama is not too difficult to recognize within this architecture. And the point of the story is, with few exceptions, that good conquers evil and the various definitions of good depend upon where the story is presented.

The overall point of this type of story telling is a lesson presented in a most digestible manner that advocates some agenda of the producers.

The bare bones of this drama system have been embodied in the classical Punch and Judy show presented by puppets in a miniature theater and it is essentially comic in the ludicrously violent behavior of the actors. Punch and Judy are querulous protagonists and the antagonist has been some sort of comic monster or even an agent of the state such as a policeman.

Actually the structure of all this was clearly embodied in Manichaeism which goes all the way back to the Persian Empire and presented the conflict of mankind as a struggle between light and darkness. Early human culture evidently couldn't accept natural forces as neutral physical reactions and when unfortunate conditions arose it was attributed to malevolent powers and, oppositely, when good things occurred it was seen as caused by friendly powers. This simpleminded animation of natural forces was eventually refined into a highly imaginative horde of odd gods and destructive demons and this formulation has endured into this day.

A current USA religious leader has actually claimed that the disasters of 9/11 and the fierce hurricane that smashed into New Orleans was the result of angering some hot-tempered God. So this peculiar paradigm seems to have embedded itself very deeply into the human imagination. One persistent codicil to this animistic viewpoint is that one can talk to inanimate forces and negotiate for better conditions. No matter how unsuccessful this procedure has proved through the ages, the attempts persist.

It was only with the rise of comprehension that blind forces drive the universe that some of the inclination to characterize the universe as a struggle between good and evil has been dissipated. It is not only in storytelling or the theater that this mistaken viewpoint has been inlaid into all human activity. It pervades religion, politics, and even random occurrence. It is the basis for all conspiracy theories (although surely, some conspiracies do exist).

An unprejudiced glance at any church reveals that it is in truth a theater to play out the struggle between good (whatever doctrine the church favors) and evil (represented by devils or demons or whoever criticizes what the church proclaims). It does not seem to matter that it is mindlessly accepted that an all powerful spirit permits itself to be harassed by an evil force of its own creation which contradicts the entire concept. For this is, as usual, the Punch and Judy show so favored by the human psyche.

In politics the standard ploy for controlling a populace that might have a tendency to object to suppressive policies is to erect an overwhelming threat. This is the demon of the standard Punch and Judy show. For a long time in the USA it was the threat of communism. In the USSR it was the nasty capitalists. Each government chose its demon well for the threat, although tremendously exaggerated, did have a strong element of reality. When the USSR collapsed under the burden of its corruption and inept administration the USA suddenly found itself punching at thin air.

The marvelous benefit of having no obvious enemy was, for a short period, proclaimed a huge success as it released large funds that could be used for the national benefit in health, education, alleviation of poverty, and revamping of a sorely distressed infrastructure. But all those suppliers of horribly expensive military equipment with good friends in government suddenly had no market prospects and in jig time the maniacs of Islam came to their rescue. The innovative "War on Terrorism" was perfect for the Punch and Judy demon as no one in his right mind could justify the horror of all the innocents in a huge skyscraper massacred in one theatrical swoop on nationwide television. It made an instant savior of an inept president elected under highly suspicious circumstances.

It was a war that could never end and therefore wonderful for armaments manufacturers in a perfect reproduction of Orwell's "1984". That the responsive war in Iraq has killed far, far more people and brutalized American democracy in a way rarely seen before seems of no consequence since the human love of the simplicity of the Punch and Judy show is satisfied.

And, at a personal level, the P&J show strikes daily at every individual. When a car refuses to start, when the TV remote misdirects the channel, when a teenager disobeys, the P&J effect takes over and the remedy is to vigorously shake it, kick it or punish it as the proper way to treat any demon. A quick run through of Murphy's Laws clarifies the whole situation. The universe is against us and requires proper punishment.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-12-21 07:56:12
Here is a more nuanced view of drama from Aristotle's poetics which argues that not only drama is not a lie but it may contain more truth than factual historical documentation:

"Tragedy is the “imitation of an action” (mimesis) according to “the law of probability or necessity.”

Aristotle indicates that the medium of tragedy is drama, not narrative; tragedy “shows” rather than “tells.” According to Aristotle, tragedy is higher and more philosophical than history because history simply relates what has happened while tragedy dramatizes what may happen, “what is possibile according to the law of probability or necessity.” History thus deals with the particular, and tragedy with the universal. Events that have happened may be due to accident or coincidence; they may be particular to a specific situation and not be part of a clear cause-and-effect chain. Therefore they have little relevance for others. Tragedy, however, is rooted in the fundamental order of the universe; it creates a cause-and-effect chain that clearly reveals what may happen at any time or place because that is the way the world operates. Tragedy therefore arouses not only pity but also fear, because the audience can envision themselves within this cause-and-effect chain (context)."

Sand2008-01-06 10:43:05
One of the essences of drama is to create a strong emotional orientation towards one of the principles and manipulate the action to either bring the action to a good end or a bad one which illustrates the play writer's point of view as to the nature of the world. The universe is, of course, far too large a stage to be much responsive to what occurs on an inconsequential planet in a negligible solar system in one of many billions of galaxies. To assume otherwise is to exhibit hubris of psychotic proportions.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 11:19:32
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him, the universe knows nothing of this.
All our dignity then, consists in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endavour then, to think well; this is the principle of morality."

--Pascal Pensees 347

So much for Aristotle and Pascal? A throw back to the psychotic hubris of the Germany of May 10, 1942?

Sand2008-01-06 11:37:00
You are never disappointing, Paparella, in being unable to comprehend man's insignificant place in the universe which has nothing whatsoever to do with Nazis.
Wasn't Pascal that guy who thought he could kid your God into thinking he was a believer? Talk about hubris!

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 12:11:27
Pascal to the bonfire you go!Vico had it right on target: the barbarism of the intellect is a much more pernicious cultural phenomenon than that of old at the end of the Roman Empire. Could it be that the universe only looks random and chaotic to the mind (oops, the computer of meat as extension in space)of post-modern man thrown into the puppet show called "inevitable progress"?

Sand2008-01-06 12:27:52
I am duplicating this previous post here as it has become pertinent

This is, of course, one example of what has become tiring ritual confrontations between Paparella and me and they always end in the same way with no resolution of the prompting question which, at end, is buried under a massive assault on a fictitious theoretical secular group which he calls rationalists and has all the characteristics of a conspiracy to destroy all that is good and decent in human society but has no basis in reality since an analytic approach to reality has many inspirations of different sorts and, since it is frequently very successful in controlling nature, many consequences both beneficial and malevolent.

I don’t know if Paparella is actually suffering from psychotic paranoia or if he merely assumes its guise because his conception of the nature of the relationship of religion to society is so out of congruence with reality that it drives him into a reaction of hysterical irrationality when he is required to make sense of his proclamations. He has formulated, with the help of one or two other antique speculators, a rather naïve conceit that the primitive attempts by intelligent but grossly ignorant thinkers to construct an architecture of reality based on anthropomorphic superbeings is a necessity for the wellbeing of civilization. All of these supercreatures are, of necessity, derived from the concepts of how humans should behave towards each other but they are so conditioned by the local mores and times and traditions of their specific cultures that they are frequently totally out of synchronization with current understandings and practices.

Although I find Paparella irritating he is also quite fascinating in that he is evidently quite adept at misinterpreting statements by genuine thinkers to substantiate his peculiar point of view by violently misconstruing their definitions of vague generalities to his own peculiar purposes. It seems fairly obvious that he is well versed in historical speculation of the nature reality but his romance with the past has led him to totally reject modern perceptions that have had physical confirmation of their theories that totally disprove ancient ideas that have no utility in modern life and, if maintained, can only lead to dangerous consequences.

It seems that Paparella has come from a fairly strict Catholic upbringing and once the dogma of that education has embedded itself into a young psyche it warps all other subsequent input to its purposes. His perpetual denial of the historic cruel excesses of the Catholic Church that are so well documented that they cannot be denied is both horrifying and pitiful in a mind that has had the educational opportunity to explore conflicting points of view.

At end it seems that Paparella’s emotional mindset, which is the foundation upon which his pseudo logic rests, has taken total control of whatever capability he has to reason rationally so it is useless to interact with him since, when he is confronted with at attempt to understand how ancient savage mores are no longer valid in modern life, he retreats into violent irrational accusations with no basis in reality.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 12:39:14
I suspect the voices have come to visit again. Don't believe them. They are liars and slanderers and bashers and are up to no good.

Oh, by the way, since you are a purist when it comes to typos (only of those you don't agree with however)there is no such thing as "capability" (you also have it in your Punch and Judy show-piece above); the word is capacity, or ability.

Sand2008-01-06 12:46:28
On page 218 of my Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary "capability" is clearly defined. I would like to have originated the clearly understood term but it appears it already has established origins. Again you have demonstrated how poorly your vaunted education has taken root.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 15:43:16
Funny, “capability” does not even appear in my Oxford English Dictionary; but then what do British scholars from Oxford know about English! It may indeed be a word that the voices in your head have invented or one than is no longer in use. Continue using it, you’ll stand out better, since it is obvious that the one in current usage among educated people is capacity or ability.

On the long-winded diatribe above parading as objective observation, the more one resorts to insults, smears and slander and the demagoging of an issue the more one reveals oneself to most observing people.

On the Punch and Judy Show, the late Walter Matthau and Jack Lennon made two movies on Grumpy Old Men (1993)and Grumpier Old Men (1995)directed by Donald Petrie. The titles make chronological sense. Cantankerous men usually get grumpier as the years pass. Surely the two actors did not act that way in their normal life but we have all met the grumpy old man, dirty or not dirty as the case may be. Those two movies are an archetype or a higher truth than the documented inanities of day to day life, as Aristotle points out. Those who understand what Drama is all about, from Aristotle to Shakespeare and Pirandello know that quite well.

Those who only understand the inane theory of the Punch and Judy show, can however still enjoy the hilarious show of grumpier old men. Not as elegant as a funny cartoon but entertaining nonetheless. Indeed, only a Charlie Chaplin could fully understand how funny, and at the same time how tragic, were Hitler’s antics and diatribes.

Sand2008-01-06 16:11:58
A closer attention to my text would have indicated that I certainly did not place all drama in the Punch and Judy classification. But the extension of the mode into politics and religion and other simple dramatic structures is, unfortunately, much too valid.

Sand2008-01-06 16:17:37
Incidentally, placing the word "capable" into Google will quickly demonstrate how popular the word is.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 16:41:03
True to form, rather than honestly admit the error and the correction and the cleverness by half, the rationalist tries to obfuscate; for his hard wired computer of meat makes no mistake; it is a fool proof Catesian method.

The word in question is not "capable" which is indeed in current use, but "capability" which is certainly better rendered by capacity, or ability. I predict that you will now find a way to square that circle too.

Sand2008-01-06 17:13:02
Since you neglected to try "capability" on Google you again demonstrated your persistent stupidity. If a dog showed such dogged idiocy I could accept that it was merely a dog but a Ph.D. with such consistent inability to accept error on something so easily checked is something worthy of the Guinness Book of Records. No wonder you are entirely useless in abstract discussion.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-06 18:33:47
As predicted, the circle has been squared. So much for logic and rationality.

You are however making some slow progress by using "inability" rather than "incapability." Is some attention being paid? As for the inveterate insults, what can I say except Shalom!

Sand2008-01-06 18:51:08
As I pointed out you have not the slightest interest in confirming whether or not you may be correct and grossly exaggerate the ability to see your error as performing some mathematical trick. To label you as stupid is mere honest perception and has nothing to do with insult.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 00:43:50
Interesting juxtaposition of stupidity, intelligence, truth and honesty. Those words, as Plato's Apology has taught us for 24 centuries, always end up as paradoxes in the mouth of sophists and rationalists.

Sand2008-01-07 04:43:36
The dogmatic mind seems to be totally bereft of the possibility for original thought and, like any other type of pseudo thinking gadget, must refer to some accepted standard text to render an opinion.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 05:26:14
So much for Plato's Apology. Plato to the bonfire you go. So much for original thinking.

Sand2008-01-07 05:48:42
Since I never advocated book burning the entire process came out of your mind. For someone too young to gain the actual Nazi experience your eagerness to toss books into a fire indicates an enthusiasm for Nazi activity that is rather striking. I, of course, merely disagree with certain historic propositions whereas you automatically send them to conflagration.

Sand2008-01-07 06:26:29
Since I suspect you are not Plato in disguise I hardly can accredit you with his thoughts as being original to you. You are no more original than Google.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 06:49:24
Playing the disengenuous game once again by making believe that a cynic somehow does not understand irony so that it can be turned against the one who proferred. An old trick that every sophist knows; those more interested in winning an argument than searching for the truth, not to speak of the dishonesty of it all.

There is a silver lining in what you say if you mean that a computer, or google, cannot be original and intelligent as a human mind. In that case you'd have to stop thinking of your brain as a computer of meat and stop branding the classics of Western civilization to the heap of history, i.e., consigning them to a virtual bonfire simply because they were not thought and written in the last five years.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 07:09:39
P.S. By the way, there is a typo in your message. The word is not "accredit" but "credit." The Oxford University Press dictionary does not list "accredit" on its own or as an alternate spelling of "credit."

Sand2008-01-07 07:10:36
Another display of your profound ignorance, Paparella. The potential of a computer is far more than any particular piece of software such as Google, something that seems far beyond your fossilized ability to comprehend.

Sand2008-01-07 07:18:42
My Webster defines "accredit" As "To ascribe or attribute" which fits perfectly with my intended meaning. Either you should get a new dictionary or a new set of reading glasses. It is rather embarrassing to see you parade your deficiencies so repeatedly in public. (Or are you trying to exhibit your feeble mind to stimulate sympathy?)

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 07:24:58
See what happens when you pay some attention (without having to resort to calling you a jerk, of course). I see that instead of "capability" you are now using the word ability. Capacity will do as well. A bit slow and fossilized but a promising first modest step. Keep it up.

Sand2008-01-07 07:41:40
It takes very little to make you dance around the room, Paparella. Be assured that you provide no source whatsoever for my vocabulary. For that I will attend to someone less mentally challenged.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 11:57:28
Seneca said (and he was thinking of his mad emperor Nero)that it is reprehensible but understandable for a human being to envy and resent the talent of others, but when he begins to envy the very fiddle that he plays or the very vocabulary that he uses, then a rabid uncurable sort of rationalism has set in in the mind and the soul which believe that objective reality resides exclusively inside them, like the shadows from the proverbial fire in Plato's cave. It is similar to a snake eating its own tail. That phenomenon is hilarious when it harms nobody and it is often found in insane asylums, but it turns tragic when its virulence shows up in men who have acquired political power. It can bring down an entire civilization as in fact it did at the end of the Roman Empire. Chesterton describes that kind of exhaustion as "Rome had reached its peak and could do no more."

Sand2008-01-07 14:24:01
Aside from your irrelevant historic anecdotes where did I indicate envy of my own or anybody else's vocabulary? Your disorientation is becoming ever more apparent.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 16:15:01
Point missed again, I am afraid, and that explains in part why the anecdote is found irrelevant. Or could it be that it has been understood only too well? Be that as it may, let us take another medium and try again; pay attention and focus this time around: if a sculptor is envious of a Michelangelo, that is one thing, but if he is envious of the very marble block which makes a great masterpiece possible, that's another thing altogether. It is part of the dowaward darkening way of which Thoreau speaks and can affect a whole civilization; it is the narcisistic idolatry of cleverness substituting for religion and the Creator and creating dissensions in the process rather than conviviality in any forum where it raises its ugly head. Dante describes that phenomenon in the circle of the disseminators of discord where he has Bertrand del Bornio (a French poet)holding his own head in the guise of a lantern with which he "does light to himself" in a very dark cave. Present that image to the disoriented voices in your head next time they knock at the door of your mind (parmi, your computer of meat called the brain) and suggest that you consign a few more classics to the virtual bonfire in the cave.

Sand2008-01-07 16:56:57
It is evident that the only outstanding characteristic you can exhibit is linguistic diarrhea.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-07 18:17:14
Ah, the poetics of defecation again. You have been exhibiting it all along and it cannot be denied that you excell in it. To each its own!

Sand2008-01-16 07:39:25
Where shit is offered it is hypocrisy to pretend it is roses.

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