Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Why is our fascination with vulgar puppets, from marijuana-smoking teddy bears to foul-mouthed felt creatures, so strong?
Culture TV and Radio

Why is our fascination with vulgar puppets, from marijuana-smoking teddy bears to foul-mouthed felt creatures, so strong?


In 2012, before Seth MacFarlane performed “We Saw Your Boobs” at the Oscars, he released a movie called Ted. It featured a talking teddy bear and was a commercial and critical success. The Guardian even ranked it as the second best movie of 2012, between films by Paul Thomas Anderson and Michael Haneke.

After three years, MacFarlane released a sequel to the film, Ted 2, which did not achieve the same level of success. However, this was not the end for Ted. This year, a TV series based on the character was created. The show, seemingly set before the events of the movies, follows a younger version of the sentient, foul-mouthed bear in school. In one episode, Ted is shown smoking marijuana. In another, he becomes intoxicated. And in yet another, he attempts to help a teenage boy lose his virginity. One installment is even titled “Ejectile Dysfunction.” This type of television series will either be loved or despised – and without the seemingly innocent bear at its core, it’s likely that most people would dislike it.

Using a cute and non-living object to say unpleasant things has been a well-known technique for a long time. In fact, it dates back to the 1890s when ventriloquist Fred Russell sat a wooden doll on his lap and had it utter somewhat impolite phrases. Russell continued performing until his 90s and became known as the World’s Oldest Ventriloquist, as he had discovered a fundamental truth: we tend to be more lenient towards puppets than towards real people.

A puppet can serve as a receptacle for one’s most negative thoughts. The reason Russell was so appealing, and the reason why all ventriloquists – or anyone who expresses their opinions through a non-living object – have been popular since, is because he was not the one being outrageous. He was simply the one trying to maintain order. With a puppet, you can say the most offensive things, as long as you are willing to gasp and scold it afterwards. People are more likely to forgive a performer for saying terrible things if they use a puppet as a medium. My current belief is that Ricky Gervais would be much more well-liked if he had a puppet show.

Chucky, the murderous puppet from Child’s Play (1988).View image in fullscreen

If you explore popular culture, you will likely encounter a variation of this theme. Chucky, the main character in the Child’s Play movies, has become a horror icon due to the contrast between his innocent appearance as a doll and his actions as a murderer. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog rose to fame by being outrageously impolite to guests on American talk shows, despite being portrayed as an unconvincing puppet. Without the use of Emu, Rod Hull was essentially just a man who appeared on television and physically attacked others. Team America: World Police gained notoriety for its use of marionette puppets engaging in explicit acts such as vomiting and sex.

Team America utilized its puppets as a means to address various societal issues, such as the aggressive actions of American foreign policy after 9/11 and the lack of substance in Hollywood liberalism. The film was already quite forceful, but if it had featured human actors instead of puppets, it may have been insufferable. This can also be seen in the stage production Avenue Q, where the vibrant puppets distract from the underlying message until after the show has ended.

Ignore the promotion for the newsletter.

American comedian Jeff Dunham has earned a significant income through his use of controversial puppets. His collection includes Walter, an unfiltered elderly man, and Achmed, a lovable deceased terrorist. Despite their offensive humor, the puppets are able to avoid backlash due to their inanimate nature. This trend is also seen on the MTV2 show Wonder Showzen, where Clarence, a Sesame Street-style puppet, would harass people in public. Surprisingly, the targets would direct their anger towards the puppet rather than its operator.

This is an ongoing issue that will not be resolved in the near future. Channel 4 will soon introduce a new show titled “The Really Really Rude Puppet Show,” where famous individuals will read online fan fiction about themselves while their stories are acted out by a group of puppets. This decision is understandable, as it is more acceptable to witness disturbing sexual scenes being portrayed by puppets rather than by actual people.

If non-living things are able to escape consequences more easily than humans, this type of behavior will likely persist. In fact, if the Ted TV show isn’t successful, it could be due to its relatively mild content. In 2024, drinking and marijuana use are not considered controversial. Perhaps it is not too late to change things by having Ted become involved in a demonic murder cult or something similar.

Source: theguardian.com