- Puppets and Cities: Articulating Identities in Southeast Asia by Jennifer Goodlander
In her latest book, Puppets and Cities: Articulating Identities in Southeast Asia, scholar/practitioner Jennifer Goodlander has created a compelling collection of essays that examine how "puppetry complements and combines with urban spaces to articulate present and future individual, cultural, and national identities" (p. 3). For Goodlander, this examination comes at a crucial time when local and global communities and their politics are changing at an increasing rate, necessitating a fresh look at how cultural forms, such as puppetry, transforms alongside as cities in Southeast Asia continue to "serve as large-scale testing grounds for the reinvention of tradition and the questioning of cultural and national identities" (p. 5).
Goodlander's approach to the relationship between cities and puppets is refreshing. Puppet performances are examined within a wider context of political and global movements in and around urban space and considered an active participant in the continual formulation of urban identity. She writes: "Puppet performances and displays often address both the problems and triumphs of the city through a combination of heritage and development as part of larger urban planning initiatives throughout the region. Puppetry offers a place to expose the different layers of identity inherent within the cities" (p. 7). Cities, too, are not simply considered by their geographical footprint, but as a launching point for concepts and themes made possible by how and why we gather in urban spaces. Chapters vary widely between how puppets activate national museums and identities, to Southeast Asian puppetry performance changing national identities in overseas cities, to how social media can be considered "a kind of urban space" (p. 12), and how Southeast Asian puppeteers are utilizing Facebook to raise awareness and capital to further their work in traditional puppetry.
The author begins with a clear, concise, and engaging introduction that lays out the themes, parameters, and impetus for the book; while the text is best read collectively to present a diverse set [End Page 304] of case studies that explore the complex and infinite dynamic between puppets and cities, the chapters can also be read independently. Each chapter also presents broader themes that can be tied to additional fields of study, such as chapter 2, which is a comparative look at puppets on display at two museums in Jakarta, Indonesia. The chapter taps into museum studies and theories of the archive to address the expanding role of museums in utilizing puppetry to unify a country's history and its present by activating and reforming nostalgia.
Chapter 4 is an example of how the author uses a singular show or event as the entry point to a multi-layered examination of puppetry, cities, and performance. In "Negotiating the Past and Present through Spectacle," Goodlander introduces the case study, The Giant Puppet Project in Siam Reap, in order to illustrate how "spectacle is a certain type of entertainment that brings audience and performers together; modern society emphasizes the individual, but spectacle creates community" (p. 60). The Giant Puppet Project (GPP), an annual outdoor parade that brings Cambodian's disadvantaged children together to create and perform together, is scrutinized in its wider context; Goodlander highlights the aesthetic at work in the spectacle of the public parade, the difficulties of reconciling the push for "authentic Cambodian culture" and the realities of outsider influence and needed support, and the uniqueness of the project outside the commercial tourist economy. The material is thoroughly supported and carefully handled, ending with an acknowledgment of the authors positionality: "Perhaps I might be seen as preferring an optimistic view, but I believe GPP offers the kind of artistic and social space needed for contemporary Cambodians to navigate the many different influences on their identity" (p. 87).
The most challenging chapter is saved for last (chapter 7): "Puppetry and Identity in Virtual Worlds." Social media stands in for a city in this chapter because "like cities, social media offers a distinct kind of space that informs the reception and performance of … creative work." Goodlander argues that "the...