Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Pinocchio” The long-nosed Puppet

"Once upon a time, there was ... 'A king!' my little readers will say right away. No, children, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood…." thus begins “The Adventures of Pinocchio”, the long-nosed puppet who is one of the world's most immediately recognizable characters since his creation more than a century ago by the Tuscan writer, Carlo Lorenzini, better known as Carlo Collodi.

My earliest association with Pinocchio goes back to 1962 or ’63. Pinocchio (the Disney version) was the first film I recall seeing in a theater. I was only five or six. It was a film that my father took me and my younger brother to see in when we lived Connecticut. The film was followed by a trip to the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, where we were introduced to our first dinosaur. What remains of memory is subject to the spurious random moments of life. I recall eating non-pareils out of a box. I remember how the movie theater was dark and cold, cavernous and cathedral-like and eerily reminiscent of the scene where Gapped is swallowed by the whale like Jonah. I too, was half certain that I could hear an echo. I remember the blue fairy who was both intoxicatingly beautiful and sobering indifferent. While I lacked the articulation to say so, I grabbed onto the films potent subtextual messages, how a father’s love can be transformative, and that emancipation and autonomy comes at great cost. I also understood the cautionary tale that lying was a grave sin, self-evident and would reveal itself in the most unbecoming manner. I related to the underlining fear that Pinocchio reacts to, which is the fear of being laughed at, to be exposed, the inability to conform. I was a Pinocchio. Perhaps every man is a Pinocchio.

“When poverty shows itself, even mischievous boys understand what it means.” Carlo Collodi

The story of Pinocchio appears threaded throughout my life. When I was summarily transferred from parochial school, Our Lady of Sorrows, a name which should reveal all, to public school, Clinton Elementary, (named for Dewitt) in 1966, as a typical third grader my desire was only to fit in and conform, as task not easy accomplished. I was as conspicuous as Pinocchio was trying to fit into his Italian schoolroom, (although a wisecrack never left my lips). Our classroom teacher, Mrs. Nichols who I just adored, wore a mini with a wide black patent belt and ribbed top, was like my blue fairy. So when It was announced that the class would be presenting “Pinocchio” as our theatrical event for the year, naturally I wanted to campaign for the role of Pinocchio. Alas, nominations were made by the class, written on the chalkboard post haste, and I was nominated to play the part of the elderly Geppetto. (In my blog “Grey Matters” you will learn that has a child I had grey hair, which was a constant source for alienation and isolation as a child, it was both remarkable and disturbing.) So it was no surprise that I was put up for the role against several other boys. The memory is partially repressed, and I only recall that it was announced in class that since I already had grey hair, naturally I should play the aged Geopetto. Unfortunately, there was no rock large enough in the playground to hide under. When I returned to school from lunch (this was the old days when children went home for lunch, as our mothers seldom worked outside the home) I was cornered by the girls in the vestibule, they were third grade power brokers, Nancy Simpson, Amy Blumenthal and Andrea Klein, and summarily told that they would vote for me if I voted for Andrea Klein to be the Blue Fairy (there are few good girl roles in Pinocchio). “The dye” as thy say, “was cast” and in powder blue. During the next week or so, Mrs. Nichols read from the Collodi text, which was infinitely fascinating to me. It was not at all like the sanitized Disney movie, which I had now seen on TV. Pinocchio was macabre, violent and wonderfully wicked. And now so many years later I vaguely remember that performance. I do recall that I was not a good Geppetto. I recall that I had only a few lame lines. The play was forgettable, thank God. I then went to work safely burying Pinocchio in my memory.

In the winter of 1976, I was a freshman at Edinboro State College in Pennsylvania. I was majoring in duel programs, Fine Arts and Early Childhood. At the time, there were few men involved in teaching pre-schoolers. It was like finding a man in Home Economics, it seldom occurred, but Early Childhood interested me, and being the only male in the department worked to my favor…very. I was offered the opportunity to work with the famed Child Psychologist (and holocaust survivor) Bruno Bettelheim who was just finishing his seminal text, “The Uses Of Enchantment” which remains one of the most fascinating texts, and analytical interpretation on the subject of fairy tales and their use. I was selected to spend several weeks at the University of Chicago to study under his tutelage. One text that repeated came up in discussion (although not as much in the book) was Pinocchio. Pinocchio was already a story I favored, knew well, and had some deeper understanding about. It would be a fair assessment to say that I was very young, inexperienced and Mr. Bettelheim was not enamored with my ad-hoc interpretations. Indeed, he was 100% correct in his assessment. We periodically engaged in heated debates, which I gather he enjoyed, and nearly came to blows in class over the merits (of lack of) of the works of Richard Scarry, who I adored, and Bettelheim reviled. Bettelheim was a formidable figure, brilliant, dark and demanding. We did not see eye to eye. Regardless, I did pick up an extraordinary amount of insight and information from my brief encounters with him. Giving credit where credit is due, as I proceed later with my analysis of Pinocchio, please note that much of it is forged directly from Mr. Bettelheim’s superior intellect.

"How do you know I am lying?" "Lies, my boy, are known in a moment. There are two kinds of lies, lies with short legs, and lies with long noses. Yours, just now, happen to have long noses."
Pinocchio, not knowing where to hide his shame, tried to escape from the room, but his nose had become so long that he could not get it out of the door, from “Adventures of Pinocchio”.

Like Pinocchio, Sometimes we forget whom we were/are. In the late 1980’s when my grandparents had both passed away, we were going through things tucked away in closets and came across a Florsheim shoe box filled with schoolwork and photographs that my grandmother had kept. There in the bottom of the box was the handmade invitation to Pinocchio that I colored for my Grandmother. It is on careful cut manila paper, and done in a soft buff brown and pale yellow Cray Pas. My printing inside is methodical, neat, and carefully composed, albeit in pencil. It shows a child that labored over illustrating Pinocchio in profile, and his nose is so long that it runs off the front of the card and cleverly onto the back of the card with a happy green leaf poking off the tip, with the sentiment “please come” in tiny–tiny little script below. The font is so sad and small, almost leaving you with the sense that it is okay if you cannot come, I understand. But my Grandmother did come, she did say I was very good, the best in the play, and asked how I remembered all my lines. She saved the invitation, and to me its one of the most precious and unexpected gifts I have ever received. It reminds me that throughout our lives we are so loved, that our actions have consequences, and that we have impact on each other’s lives. This is of course parallels some of the conclusions that Pinocchio makes.

As we decipher the complexities of what make a man, the story of Pinocchio is pertinent. In many respects, every man is a Pinocchio. We all want our freedom, but are less likely to accept its consequences. We all want to experience fraternal bonding that is rich and transformative. In so many ways, every man is a Pinocchio.

Pinocchio first appeared in print in 1883. Pinocchio was carved from a piece of pine by a woodcarver named Geppetto in a rustic Italian village. The name Pinocchio is a Tuscanword meaning "pine nut". Lorenzini became fascinated by the idea of using the amiable, rascally character of Pinocchio as a means of expressing his own convictions about life through allegory. In 1880, he began writing “Storia di un Burattino”, "The Story Of A Marionette", also called “Le Aventure di Pinocchio”, which was published weekly in “Il Giornale dei Bambini”, the first Italian newspaper for children.

Few intimate details are known about the life Collodi. We know he was a lifelong bachelor (with no progeny. Born Carlo Lorenzini, on Florence, on November 24, 1826, he chose to take the pseudonym of Collodi, the name of his mother's native town near Pescia in Tuscany. Collodi came of age as a writer during the "Decennio di Preparazione," the decade from 1850 to 1860, when Italy was moving toward unification. We do know that Collodi, like many of his generation, was a participant in the 1848-49 battles for Italian national independence, and unity and that throughout the 1850's he was very active as a journalist, writing under a variety of names and on many topics, including politics and music. It could be safely assumed that Colodi, who witnessed the horrors of war including soldiers who became amputee’s, provided some of the metaphorical elements of Pinocchio what with his wooden limbs.

If you are only familiar with the Disney film of 1940, you would be surprised to read the original text, which is Grimmian graphic, frightening, centers on physical abuse, poverty, hunger and a brutal society, ultimately leading up to Pinocchio being hung to death. That being said, the text is tempered with moments of lightheartedness, amusement, humor and grandly sarcastic.

Diametrically opposite from the original text, the Disney film is given the Hollywood sanitization, but is visually stunning with a great score including the standards, “
Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee”, “I've Got No Strings”, “Give a Little Whistle” and the still iconic, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, which help to temper some of the gross characterizations of the character, “Stromboli” who may play with a broad Italian accent, but is clearly illustrated a propagandized Nazi Jew, with hook nose and Semitic complexion. As America was entering the war, it’s odd to see such an offensive characterization coming out of the Disney Studios.

Pinocchio includes a complex web of moral questions. Critics have noted its antiauthoritarian/parental tone, the contrast between wealth and poverty, and distaste for the hypocrisy of the judicial system. When a moralizing cricket gets in Pinocchio’s face, it is squashed. This did not occur to Jiminy Cricket in the Disney version. Eventually Pinocchio grows from an egoistic child, guided by the pleasure principle, into an adult who understands the feelings of other people.

Without giving too much away, the original Collodi text opens up on a distraught Gepetto, weeping inconsolably over his wife’s grave; she has died in childbirth along with her infant son, thus assuring the end of Geppetto’s lineage. Gepetto, who is poverty stricken cannot afford flowers to decorate the grave, so he plants some pine seeds, hoping a pine tree will grow to shelter his wife and child’s grave in the heat of summer, and provide warmth in the winter months. Gepetto dutifully visits the grave for years and years, watering the seedling with his tears, until the tree grows to maturity. Then one day Gepetto believes, he hears his son’s voice falling him from the grave, but Gepetto is mistaken, his son is calling him from the tree. Gepetto realizes that the power of his love is transformative and helped to create a faux child. As if the tree’s roots have penetrated the pine coffin and released his dead child’s soul. The child instructs him to cut off a knotted limb that looks eerily like a face with nose and carve himself a wooden child. Gepetto in an act of desperation goes about creating a young boy, a wooden puppet approximate how old his son would have been.

From a distance, we are introduced to the Blue Fairy who has had a hand in creating this magic. The Blue Fairy is like a surrogate mother, dressed in blue like the Virgin Mother, and like the Virgin Mother somehow capable of creating life. The puppet's birth is accomplished without any maternal involvement, but his rebirth, and eventual elevation to full human status takes place under the sign of the mother, as if Collodi realized that a motherless creation is inevitably monstrous (à la Frankenstein) and doomed to exclusion from humanity.

Pinocchio perfectly symbolizes the dual nature of man; there’s our physical self, and our spiritual self. Pinocchio doesn’t actually transform into a real boy until he has gone through many trials and tribulations, what are rights of passage, and eventually learns to control himself, and express his more virtuous traits. Similar to the way Massai warriors are sent out to prove their manhood. In the majority of the story, Pinocchio is naive, lazy, dishonest and indifferent to the needs of others. Yes, he promises to change when he is shown the error of his ways, but invariably he makes the same mistakes.

Collodi would have been a devout Catholic, and taught that it is the soul or spirit was created in God’s image. We are designed to realize that this is our true identity. In fact, we need to know that we are not solely physical beings who have a soul, but rather we are souls who have a physical being through which we act in this world.“

“A thousand woodpeckers flew in through the window and settled themselves on Pinocchio's nose.” Carlo Collodi

One of the most potent images presented in Pinocchio is that his nose grows whenever he tells a lie. A device that nearly every parent has adopted at some point to discourage their children from lying. It’s an ingenious metaphor to demonstrate that there is something in us that wants to get caught. Many men will cop to acknowledging that they are not the most versatile liars.

Like many men who feel that their life is a façade, a pretence, Pinocchio is wooden, stiff and not fully actualized. He is psychologically frozen. Pinocchio is afraid of being laughed at. When Pinocchio is transformed into a real boy, it occurs through throw the power of love and redemption. It’s transactional. But there is not a happy ending, reality is fraught is substantive problems.

“How ridiculous I was as a Marionette! And how happy I am, now that I have become a real boy!” Carlo Collodi

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