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Alexander Welsh State-of-the-Art Impersonations for Comedy and Everyday RECENTLY SOCK PUPPETRY HAS BEEN IN THE NEWS. IT IS CURIOUS HOW the latest means offaking identity can take on the names ofage-old—in this instance also childish—games and performances. That nomencla­ ture helps us understand what is going on, apparently. Puppet theater goes well back in history, and probably few children to this day have not played with a sock puppet of their own or others’ making. Thus a headline across the top of the business section of the New York Times (2007: Cl) reads, “The Hand that Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped.” The article defines this puppetry as “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company,” and that sounds like cheating. I don’t know whether to be amused or indignant, and the headline writer seems to have reacted with the same double take. The case is serious, because the CEO of a publicly traded supermarket chain has been using a fake identity online for eight years, no less, to promote his company’s stock; and the authors of the article cite, without naming, a journalist and others who have been playing similar games. No question: rapidly expanding information technology has in recent years multiplied many times over the opportunities for identity fraud. Happily we have other institutions besides markets and news­ rooms, regulatory agencies and courtrooms that cope successfully with fictions of identity and many more fictions. I mean literature and social research Vol 75 : No 4 : Winter 2008 1059 theater generally, where just pretending allows actors and authors, audiences and readers to explore hum an difficulties, reactions, and outcomes quite freely—though not altogether harmlessly, perhaps. Plato was famously opposed to both, and there is a persistent history of intolerance of theater in the West, sometimes of novel-reading also. For the defense, one need only recall the passionate scholarship that informed Jonas Barish’s account of this history in The Antitheatrical Prejudice (1981). If not by exploiting the capacity for experimental fiction and acting out, how ever should literature instruct as well as please? And why did Plato convey his opposition in such artful imagi­ nary dialogues? W ithin their fictional worlds, moreover, novels and theater seem particularly fond of portraying falsified and mistaken identities: a fictional character who pretends to be someone else; an actor who impersonates someone in the act of impersonating another. In a medium so invested in acting, the acting out of a false identity or deliberate impersonation requires no more than an extra little push. Therefore, sock puppetry may be proportionately more often encoun­ tered in works of W estern literature than in lives actually lived. It would seem that we enjoy pretending to be someone else when it is all make-believe. The range of such impersonations is very wide, some light­ hearted and others of life-and-death seriousness. Most readers ofJoyce’s Ulysses are at least initially entertained to discover that Leopold Bloom, under the pseudonym of Henry Flower, is conducting a postal flirtation with a typist who does not spell very well and signs herself Martha. As readers get to know the hero, this little avocation fills in one comer of his unique sexual life and posturings; but some may also worry about the impropriety of the deception and Bloom’s treatment of his female correspondent. In Dickens’sA Tale ofTwo Cities there is a clown-like Jerry Cruncher, a so-called resurrection man who unearths recently buried corpses in London for surreptitious sale to the medical profession. Cruncher not only himself leads a double life but endows each corpse he unearths with a second career. But there is nothing funny about 1060 social research the look-alike heroes in the same novel, Sydney Carton and Charles Damay, both in love with Lucie Manette and the latter condemned to the guillotine in Paris by the Terror. From beginning to end, A TaleofTwo Cities plays on the theme of “Recalled to Life,” and this is not the only late Dickens novel to dwell on the same...


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