One of the more , um, imaginative movies I’ve ever seen was Being John Malkovich. In it, a struggling puppeteer (John Cusack) discovers that a room in a building where he’s making a living as a low-level temporary office worker contains a magical portal that allows one to spend 15 minutes inside of John Malkovich’s mind. After first attempting to exploit the portal for money, Cusack’s character eventually
Decides to remain in Malkovich indefinitely. He spends the next eight months in Malkovich’s body and through his control of the body, turns Malkovich into a world-famous puppeteer, revitalizing the art of puppetery. (Emphasis mine.)
Yes, it’s a bizarre plot, but I want you to keep it in mind as you read about one of the OWS protesters (emphasis mine):
A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand, he went looking for work at his old school. The intervening years had been brutal to the city’s school budgets—down about 14 percent on average since 2007. A virtual hiring freeze has been in place since 2009 in most subject areas, arts included, and spending on art supplies in elementary schools crashed by 73 percent between 2006 and 2009. So even though Joe’s old principal was excited to have him back, she just couldn’t afford to hire a new full-time teacher. Instead, he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”; he writes his own curriculum, holds regular classes and does everything a normal teacher does. “But sub pay is about 50 percent of a full-time salaried position,” he says, “so I’m working for half as much as I did four years ago, before grad school, and I don’t have health insurance…. It’s the best-paying job I could find.”
It’s like John Cusack all over again: struggling puppeteer gets low-level job that has nothing to do with puppetry. The parallels don’t stop there. While Therrien, unlike Cusack, hasn’t found a portal into John Malkovich’s brain, he is using OWS as his springboard to puppeteering fame (emphasis mine):
At one of Arts and Culture’s meetings—held adjacent to 60 Wall Street, at a quieter public-private indoor park that’s also the atrium of Deutsche Bank—it dawned on Joe: “I have to build as many giant puppets as I can to help this thing out—people love puppets!” And so Occupy Wall Street’s Puppet Guild, one of about a dozen guilds under the Arts and Culture working group, was born. In the spirit of OWS, Joe works in loose and rolling collaboration with others who share his passion for puppetry or whose projects somehow momentarily coincide with his mission. With the help of a handful of people, he built the twelve-foot Statue of Liberty puppet that had young and old alike flocking to him on October 8 in Washington Square Park. Right now, he’s working with nearly thirty artists to stage Occupy Halloween, when his newest creations, a twelve-foot Wall Street bull and a forty-foot Occupied Brooklyn Bridge inspired by Chinese paper dragons—along with a troupe of dancers playing corporate vampires—will inject a little bit of countercultural messaging into the annual parade of Snookis and True Blood wannabes strutting down Sixth Avenue.
I have to admit that I’m not particularly moved by Therrien’s plight vis a vis education, student loans and job opportunities. If you want to pursue puppetry, by all means, do so, but you really shouldn’t expect to become rich doing so — certainly not rich enough to pay off $35,000 in loans. Even worse, you shouldn’t expect me, the gal who pragmatically chose a more dull but profitable path, to pay for your decision to place your passions ahead of common sense. But that’s precisely what Therrien and his fellow puppeteers want to do.
While I’m amused by the parallels between Therrien’s life and a very silly movie, I’m less amused by Therrien’s desire to have me pay for his very silly life, and I’m not laughing at all about Obama’s willingness to make it so by executive fiat.