Thursday, August 31, 2006

flat daddies and little jackie paper

when i read this dkos post about the maine national guard's flat daddies program, i couldn't help but be reminded of puff the magic dragon (the '70s cartoon, not the original song by peter, paul, and mary):

Welcome to the "Flat Daddy" and "Flat Mommy" phenomenon, in which life-size cutouts of deployed service members are given by the Maine National Guard to spouses, children, and relatives back home.

The Flat Daddies ride in cars, sit at the dinner table, visit the dentist, and even are brought to confession, according to their significant others on the home front.

"I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket," said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. "The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I've tricked several people by that. They think he's home again."

it's an odd sentiment: we've sent your loved one off to war, but here's a cardboard cutout you can talk to.

the puff the magic dragon cartoon (watch it on youtube: part 1, part 2, part 3) begins with a troubled young boy named jackie draper, who has shut himself off from reality. exactly what's wrong with jackie is never made clear—is he autistic? severely traumatized? by what? as a child, it never occurred to me to ask.

anyway, jackie is sitting around being catatonic one day, when puff the magic dragon shows up, wanting to take jackie to puff's magical home kingdom, honnah lee. but jackie can't take his physical body with him, so puff creates a fascimile of the boy, who he calls "jackie paper", and proceeds to remove "the living thing" (i.e. jackie's consciousness, soul, or ghost, which is apparently found inside the left ear) from jackie draper's body and plants it into jackie paper. this imbues jackie paper with life—he can now speak and move around and stuff, which he couldn't (or wouldn't) in his natural body. the now-soulless husk of jackie draper presumably just sits there motionless as it always did, and apparently nobody notices the difference.

on its surface, the puff cartoon is a simple allegory about a child overcoming his fears, with some of the usual stuff about imagination thrown in, but it could just as easily be read as something darker. puff's arrival, for example, could be read as a full psychotic break, more akin to the fantasy sequences in brazil than the neverending story. this would explain the cartoon's abject paranoia: jackie's terror at facing the pirate chef, the surprisingly creepy ocean scene when a dying star falls from the sky and puff declares there is no chance of saving it, and the utter despondency puff displays when he learns that his homeland has been overrun by living sneezes.

anyway, that's what i thought of when i read that military families were being given cardboard replicas of service members who've gone off to war... i thought of little jackie paper, and how creepy it would be to have a lifeless lookalike of your loved one lying around in your home, constantly reminding you that the real person is out there on a dangerous mission somewhere. because in the real world, jackie paper is the one who stays at home while jackie draper is out there risking his life.

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