Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan

Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824876623
Published: September 2019
Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824881160
Published: September 2019

Additional Information

290 pages | 10 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • The early twenty-first century has seen an explosion of animation. Cartoon characters are everywhere—in cinema, television, and video games and as brand logos. There are new technological objects that seem to have lives of their own—from Facebook algorithms that suggest products for us to buy to robots that respond to human facial expressions. The ubiquity of animation is not a trivial side-effect of the development of digital technologies and the globalization of media markets. Rather, it points to a paradigm shift. In the last century, performance became a key term in academic and popular discourse: The idea that we construct identities through our gestures and speech proved extremely useful for thinking about many aspects of social life. The present volume proposes an anthropological concept of animation as a contrast and complement to performance: The idea that we construct social others by projecting parts of ourselves out into the world might prove useful for thinking about such topics as climate crisis, corporate branding, and social media. Like performance, animation can serve as a platform for comparisons of different cultures and historical eras.

    Teri Silvio presents an anthropology of animation through a detailed ethnographic account of how characters, objects, and abstract concepts are invested with lives, personalities, and powers—and how people interact with them—in contemporary Taiwan. The practices analyzed include the worship of wooden statues of Buddhist and Daoist deities and the recent craze for cute vinyl versions of these deities, as well as a wildly popular video fantasy series performed by puppets. She reveals that animation is, like performance, a concept that works differently in different contexts, and that animation practices are deeply informed by local traditions of thinking about the relationships between body and soul, spiritual power and the material world. The case of Taiwan, where Chinese traditions merge with Japanese and American popular culture, uncovers alternatives to seeing animation as either an expression of animism or as “playing God.” Looking at the contemporary world through the lens of animation will help us rethink relationships between global and local, identity and otherness, human and non-human.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Teri J. Silvio, Author

      Teri Silvio is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taipei.
    • Allison Alexy, Series Editor

      Allison Alexy is assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • In this lively work, Teri Silvio uses Taiwanese material to theorize about everything from religion and puppetry to marketing and national identity. With the ang-a (an artificial humanoid figure that can be a deity or a doll) as her guiding metaphor, Silvio convincingly argues that the old “Age of Performance” has been giving way to an “Age of Animation.” Rather than adopting or challenging prescribed roles in performative acts of identity formation, in the new Age of Animation people invest objects with vitality (as with puppets and figurines) and bring characters to life (as in cosplay). Puppets, Gods, and Brands is a relentlessly creative study with far-reaching implications for anthropology, religious studies, and East Asian cultural studies. Silvio challenges longstanding presuppositions about Japan’s dominance of the East Asian popular media space, overturns some widespread assumptions about how animation works as a technological process and as an imaginative act, and pokes holes in recent theories about animism and neoliberalism along the way. A fabulously provocative book.
      —Jolyon Baraka Thomas, University of Pennsylvania
    • Teri Silvio’s book is an important and original tour-de-force of theorized ethnographic engagement. She convincingly argues that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift, which she calls the Age of Animation—a time of giving objects lives of their own, a widening of the sense of an agency heretofore jealously guarded as the purview of humans alone. Her book achieves anthropology’s Holy Grail: It makes surprising connections about the world around the reader, rendering legible, in new ways, aspects of it that she did not even know she did not understand. And this is accomplished via ethnography of a seemingly peripheral place—Taiwan—that proves to be deeply significant in our globalized world.
      —Angela Zito, New York University
    • Teri Silvio’s Puppets, Gods and Brands, is a surprising, vivacious and convincing anthropology of animation, which places animation ideals and fannish philosophies at the very centre of modern times. For Silvio, the idea of imparting life into inanimate objects – of animating them – is not merely a concern for people making cartoons and puppet shows, but of anyone working in cybernetics and indeed in modern social media. . . . Miraculously, such seemingly disparate threads all braid together in Silvio’s book, a brilliant juggling act on a tightrope between anthropology and sociology, which manages to keep ideas in the air from soft power to difference feminism, nation branding and emotional labour.
      —Jonathan Clements, All the Anime blog