Cradle Will Rock
from The Cradle Will Rock Touchstone, 2000

Several years ago I saw a film entitled The Cradle Will Rock that featured a paranoid ventriloquist and his exceptionally loquacious right-wing dummy. While the relationship between them was classic in a way I have since come to appreciate, it was another brand than I had grown up with sitting mesmerized by Shari Lewis and her adorable and perfectly well-behaved woolly hand puppet Lamb Chop and his sidekicks Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy. What I was now identifying was a wild, nasty, talk-back dummy with a break-away and rebellious identity of his own, refusing to be spoken for and thus metaphorically representing that part of ourselves that harbors and hides a raving and ranting beast seeking autonomy. {new window}

The theme of the schizophrenic ventriloquist recurs in innumberable Hollywood films (such as Dead of Night, Devil Doll, Knock on Wood, and Magic) and live acts (most notably Paul Winchell's tongue-in-cheek version of the maniacal dummy). Regardless of the particular content or historical period, what is memorable and relevant to our discussion here is the verbal freedom bestowed to the dummy. The dummy can tell dreadfully off-color jokes over and over, curse and blasphemy with unfettered glee, sing off-key, interrupt, whine, aggravate and be all else adolescent (with exceptional self-righteousness and bellligerence) and be absolutely adored by the audience.

The dummy's obscenity is a joke cutting through the straight-man's or the ventriloquist's (literal) control — society's hold; together, ventriloquist and dummy suggest to the audience the love-hate relationship that we all have with our habituated selves. But as the dummy can do no wrong, in him our perhaps revolutionary potential is both mirrored and encouraged


External References [links open in new window]

The Cradle Will Rock
film stills and review at Haro Online

ventriloquist dummy replicas

Automatonophobia (fear of ventriloquist dummies)
at Fears and Phobias

Vent Haven Museum