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Inside the sex, money, and scandal of Instagram’s puppet community

What is behind the #PuppetWave?

In many ways, Craig is an unusual 21-year-old. He spells his name “Kreeg”, and his primary income source is breaking into cars, stealing them, and selling them on. A Puerto Rican who lives in Alief, Texas, he is enrolled in a college which he does not attend – but instead pays someone else to go to his classes for him. He raps in a group called Rich Broke Dudez, and recently he was called out on social media for sending a girl an unsolicited picture of his genitals. One way that Kreeg is unusual, however, stands out more than any of the rest. Kreeg is less than two-foot-tall and he is made of fleece. Kreeg is a puppet.

“So basically Kreeg all he does is just buys clothes, talks to girls all day, makes music,” explains Kenny Figueroa, an 18-year-old customer service worker from Texas, who created Kreeg and his profile on the photo-sharing site Instagram @HypebeastKreeg.

 

A post shared by @hypebeastkreeg on

Over the last few months, a “puppet wave” has taken over the social network. People post on the site posing as puppets, and get in fights, expose one another for cheating, and even have funerals. There are entire puppet families, made up of parents, cousins, and grandparents. There are even “Make Puppets Great Again” hats, riffing off those worn by Donald Trump supporters. To outside eyes, there is virtually no information about who is behind these accounts, and what they hope to achieve.

“There's always a new wave going around,” explains Figueroa. “You know Kanye [West] had a wave where everybody was wearing ripped up clothes, looked like they just got inside a blender you know, that was the wave at the time. It's just now there's a wave for the puppets, the puppets are taking over.”

*

Mr Green Bags and PJ the producer do not get along. The former is young-looking, with a round face and a mop of ginger hair, though he poses on Instagram with money and toy guns, and writes his captions in all capital letters. The latter is, in his own words, “the first puppet producer” and wears a hat emblazoned with his own initials. Recently PJ kidnapped Mr Green and taped up his mouth, before taking a picture for social media.

“Mr greens is my son,” says PJ, when I reach out to him over Instagram’s direct messaging service to ask about the beef. Instead of speaking to his creator, I am speaking to the puppet himself, and his quotes are copied verbatim from our Instagram messages.

“My life ass a puppet is good,” PJ explains, “Mr green is a fan of me iam the reason why he started he  was hating and watching my growth for 3 months straight then he ran out to get a puppet to try and be like me.” When I ask for clarification about how the two puppets met up in order to take Instagram photos, PJ reiterates that Mr Greens is his son. “Is the same person behind the account?” I ask. “What u mean” he replies.

 

A post shared by MR.GREEN BANDZZ (@mr_green_bags_) on

When I reach out to Mr Greens on Instagram to ask if he would like to speak with me, his reply is simple. “Yea as long as u not working with pj the producer.”

*

After browsing the profiles of various puppets, one question would not leave me. Why? I assumed, from the beginning, that there was something to promote, or sell, or advertise. I assumed there was something to figure out. Though a YouTube series about “urban puppets” does exist, these puppets are not connected to those that are most prominent on Instagram (their creator has even spoken out to deny a connection). Some puppets have comedy shows, or music to promote, but those with the most followers often do not. Seemingly, they just exist. They have no purpose.

Yet somehow, in assuming that there must be a TV show, or a book, or a secret art project, I forgot the number one driving force behind nearly all Instagram trends. Why have you created a puppet? Why does your puppet have genitals made out of felt? Simple. For social media fame.

*

For Figueroa, the creator of Kreeg, the explanation is multi-layered. He designed Kreeg as an alter-ego – a “person who’s like kids nowadays” in that he goes out and spends a lot of money “because of what rappers say”. Figueroa is attempting to make fun of this lifestyle with Kreeg, who is obsessed with clothes and drives a Power Wheel, a battery-operated toy car designed for children. “I think I spent over $2,000,” says Figueroa, who buys Kreeg’s clothes from thrift shops.

 

Stuntin' comes easy when you an OGHit the link in my bio #puppetwave

A post shared by @hypebeastkreeg on

Because Figueroa is attempting to make Kreeg as realistic as possible, a puppet penis was almost inevitable.  

“No,” says Figueroa when I ask if the place he ordered Kreeg from, Nutty Puppets, makes puppets with genitals. “I went out to Michaels [an American craft store] and I just pulled down my pants and took a quick picture and I pretty much just copied it from what I saw.” The “how” is simple – imitation, scissors, felt. The “why” is perhaps harder to explain.

Figeuroa laughs when I ask this question. “Why?” he says, “It's really for the comedy… Girls on Instagram or Twitter, they always get guys sending them dick pics and it's revolting… But a puppet doing it - that's funny.” In a way then, it is satire.

It’s also just plain smart marketing. Figueroa’s aim with Kreeg is to become “social media famous”, which he hopes will help him (not Kreeg) become a stand-up comedian. To achieve this fame, Figueroa has imitated one of the most famous puppets of Instagram – known as Lux – who blew up on social media a few months ago after he sent a picture of his genitals to a YouTuber.  

“YALL! a fucking PUPPET just slid in my dms and sent me some dick pics ! I CANT MAKE THIS SHIT UP!!!” the YouTuber wrote on Twitter, before getting over 60,000 retweets. Lux denied any involvement but after social media users searched for the offending puppet he enjoyed a rapid growth in followers. It seems likely he targeted a high-profile individual in order to get his own profile up. A few days later he had a public fight with another puppet, with her own Instagram account, named Kiyah Brickz.

“As yall can see Lux was deep in prayer!” Kiyah captioned an image of Lux – who is visible from the eyes up – performing a sexual act on the lower half of a puppet, presumably Kiyah herself.  

*

Like our own, human, society however, the puppet community is mixed. As well as sex, drugs, and scandal there is a sweeter, softer side. Lux has a grandma, complete with flawlessly applied red lipstick and earrings. There are also puppet children. Musa Bradley is a 38-year-old from New York who created Fuzzy Beard, “a super lyrical bearded 10-year-old” with nearly 16,000 Instagram followers. Bradley takes the puppet into schools to teach children about “health, character and manners while preserving the Hip Hop culture one rap at a time.”

“The kids can hold him and talk to him,” says Bradley who studied child psychology, “I rap and then I sneak the knowledge in after the rap.” Bradley characterises Fuzzy as a mix of both Lisa and Bart Simpson, in that he is “cheeky” but also gets straight As. The beard is a metaphor for children who are forced to grow up too quickly.

Yet though Fuzzy is very clean cut – he says “What the fuzzy?” instead of any profanity – he interacts on Instagram with the rest of the puppet wave. Bradley has even reached out to Joselito, a “celebrity puppet”, who has videos on his social media of himself slapping a stripper’s ass. Bradley created a backstory with Joselito’s creator that the puppets are cousins, and they have since filmed videos together.

“I want him to be edgy anyway,” explains Bradley when we talk about whether he's concerned that this association might affect his work in schools. He was invited to go to the strip club to film a video but declined, and has clear limits on what Fuzzy can and can’t do. Whilst strip clubs are a definite no, Bradley doesn’t mind the association with Joselito, as he hopes it will raise Fuzzy’s profile.

“The reason why I even started doing more serious raps was because I go to schools and I go to a lot of correctional facilities and jails with a lot of rappers," he tells me. "Every rapper they bring in these schools are from the streets and rap about coke, guns, and drugs, but when they are in the schools they talk about staying in school and the kids listen because of their name.”

Quite simply, he says: “I have to be edgy because the children I’m trying to reach are edgy.”

*

The sexualisation of puppets is arguably nothing new. In the broadway musical Avenue Q, puppets have breasts, have sex, and sing about porn. Princeton – the main character – repeatedly sings about finding his “purpose”.

To outside eyes, it does initially seem as though the puppet wave on Instagram has no purpose. Yet each puppet’s creator has their own aim – whether it is fame, creating music, spreading comedy, or teaching children important lessons. Many accounts are also simply pure entertainment. For every puppet that is trying to promote an album or a comedy tour, there is another which simply seems to want social media fame. Thanks to copycats, the puppet wave is really just beginning. 

Before I hang up with Figueroa, I ask if he has anything in particular he wants to add, or a message he wants to spread. He leaves me with Kreeg’s personal motto. “Always remember,” he says. “Do not chase after hoes, let them chase you. Because you don’t wanna get tired.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Picture: David Parkin
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The humbling of Theresa May

The Prime Minister has lost all authority. The Tories will remove her as soon as they feel the time is right.

Being politicians of unsentimental, ruthless realism, the Conservatives did not linger in the grief stage of their collective disaster after the general election. Disbelief, too, was commendably brief.

Currently, their priority is to impose some sort of order on themselves. This is the necessary prelude to the wholesale change that most see as the next phase in their attempt at recovery, which they all know is essential to their career prospects – and believe is vital to a country whose alternative prime minister is Jeremy Corbyn.

For that reason, talk of Theresa May enduring as Prime Minister until the end of the Brexit negotiations in two years’ time is the preserve of just a few wishful thinkers. Some sort of calm is being established but the party is far from settled or united; there is a widespread conviction that it cannot be so under the present leader.

Elements of the great change have been executed, as Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, May’s former advisers, will testify.

However, this is only beginning, as shown by the debate in the media about how long May can survive in Downing Street. There is dissatisfaction about elements of her recent reshuffle, but it is quieted because few believe that some of the more contentious appointments or reappointments will last more than a matter of months. Her colleagues are also alarmed by the meal she has made of doing what was supposed to be a straightforward deal with the DUP.

The climate in the party at the moment is one in which everything – jobs, policies and, of course, the leadership – will soon be up for grabs. Debate over “hard” and “soft” Brexits is illusory: anyone who wants to be Conservative leader will need to respect the view of the party in the country, which is that Britain must leave the single market and the customs union to regain control of trade policy and borders. That is one reason why the prospects of David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, are being talked up.

Some of May’s MPs, for all their hard-mindedness about the future, speak of feeling “poleaxed” since the general election. Even before the result changed everything, there was dismay about the bad national campaign; but that, it was felt, could be discussed in a leisurely post-mortem.

Now, instead, it has undermined faith in May’s leadership and credibility. “The social care disaster was key to our defeat,” an MP told me. “It wasn’t just that the policy damaged our core vote, it was the amateurishness of the U-turn.” A more seasoned colleague noted that “it was the first election I’ve fought where we succeeded in pissing off every section of our core vote”.

The limited ministerial reshuffle was inevitable given May’s lack of authority, and summed up her untenability beyond the short term. Most of her few important changes were deeply ill judged: notably the sacking of the skills and apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow in Essex, and a rare Tory with a direct line to the working class; and the Brexit minister David Jones, whose job had hardly begun and whose boss, Davis, was not consulted.

George Bridges, another Brexit minister, who resigned, apparently did so because he felt May had undermined the government’s position in the negotiations so badly, by failing to win the election comprehensively, that he could not face going on.

Much has been made of how Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was marginalised and briefed against, yet reappointed. Patrick McLoughlin, the party chairman, suffered similarly. Conservative Central Office was largely shut out from the catastrophic campaign, though no one got round to briefing against McLoughlin, who kept his head down – unheard-of conduct by a party chairman in an election.

As a political force, Central Office is for now more or less impotent. It has lost the knack of arguing the case for Conservatism. MPs are increasingly worried that their party is so introspective that it just can’t deal with the way Corbyn is spinning his defeat. “An ugly mood is growing,” one said, “because militant leftism is going unchallenged.” That cannot change until May has gone and the party machine is revived and re-inspired.

***

Nobody in the party wants a general election: but most want a leadership election, and minds are concentrated on how to achieve the latter without precipitating the former. One angry and disillusioned ex-minister told me that “if there were an obvious candidate she’d be shitting herself. But most of us have realised Boris is a wanker, DD isn’t a great communicator and is a bit up himself, Hammond has no charisma, and Amber [Rudd] has a majority of 346.”

On Monday a group of senior ex-ministers met at Westminster to discuss next steps. It was agreed that, with the Brexit talks under way, the most important thing in the interests of restoring order was securing the vote on the Queen’s Speech. Then, May having done her duty and steadied the proverbial ship, the party would manage her dignified and calm evacuation from Downing Street.

Those who agree on this do not always agree on the timing. However, few can make the leap of imagination required to see her addressing the party conference in October, unless to say “Thank you and goodnight” and to initiate a leadership contest. Many would like her out long before then. The only reason they don’t want it this side of securing the Queen’s Speech is that the result, as one put it, would be “chaos”, with a leadership contest resembling “a circular firing squad”.

That metaphor is popular among Tories these days. Others use it to describe the ­apportioning of blame after the election. As well as Timothy and Hill, Lynton Crosby has sustained severe wounds that may prevent the Tories from automatically requesting his services again.

Following the Brexit referendum and Zac Goldsmith’s nasty campaign for the London mayoralty, Crosby has acquired the habit of losing. And then there was Ben Gummer, blamed not only for the social care debacle, but also for upsetting fishermen with a vaguely couched fisheries policy. These failings are becoming ancient history – and the future, not the past, is now the urgent matter – yet some Conservatives still seethe about them despite trying to move on.

“I haven’t heard anyone say she should stay – except Damian Green,” a former minister observed, referring to the new First Secretary of State. Green was at Oxford with May and seems to have earned his job because he is one of her rare friends in high politics. He is regarded as sharing her general lack of conviction.

Older activists recall how the party, in 1974, clung loyally to Ted Heath after he lost one election, and even after he lost a second. Now, deference is over. Most Tory activists, appalled by the handling of the campaign, want change. They would, however, like a contest: annoyed at not having been consulted last time, they intend not to be left silent again.

That view is largely reflected at Westminster, though a few MPs believe a coronation wouldn’t be a problem, “as we don’t want a public examination of the entrails for weeks on end when we need to be shown to be running the country effectively”. Most MPs disagree with that, seeing where a coronation got them last time.

With the summer recess coming up, at least the public’s attention would not be on Westminster if the contest took place mostly during that time: hence the feeling that, once the Queen’s Speech is dealt with, May should announce her intention to leave, in order to have a successor in place before the conference season. It is then up to the party to design a timetable that compresses the hustings between the final two candidates into as short a time as compatible with the democratic process, to get the new leader in place swiftly.

Some letters requesting a contest are said to have reached Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers. One MP told me with great authority that there were eight; another, with equal certainty, said 12. Forty-eight are needed to trigger the procedure. However, engineering such a contest is not how most Tories would like to proceed. “She has had an international humiliation,” a former cabinet minister said, “and it is transparently ghastly for her. Then came the [Grenfell Tower] fire. There is no sense our rubbing it in. I suspect she knows she has to go. We admire her for staying around and clearing up the mess in a way Cameron didn’t. But she is a stopgap.”

MPs believe, with some justification, that the last thing most voters want is another general election, so caution is paramount. None doubts that the best outcome for all concerned would be for May to leave without being pushed.

Her tin-eared response to the Grenfell disaster shocked colleagues with its amateurishness and disconnection. “I’m sure she’s very upset by Grenfell,” someone who has known her since Oxford said. “But she is incapable of showing empathy. She has no bridge to the rest of the world other than Philip.” Another, referring to the controversial remark that torpedoed Andrea Leadsom’s leadership ambitions last year, said: “You would get shot for saying it, but not having had children hasn’t helped her when it comes to relating to people. Leadsom was right.”

***

May was quicker off the mark on Monday, issuing a statement condemning the appalling attack at Finsbury Park Mosque swiftly after it occurred, and going there shortly afterwards to meet community leaders. No one could fault her assurance that Muslims must enjoy the same protection under the law as everyone else, or the speed and sincerity with which it was made. She is learning what leadership entails, but too late.

Her administration has become unlucky. This happened to John Major, but, as in his case, the bad luck is partly down to bad decisions; and the bad luck that comes out of the blue simply piles in on top of everything else. Grenfell Tower, lethal and heartbreaking for its victims and their families, was merely more bad luck for the Prime Minister because of her slow-witted response and failure – presumably because shorn of her closest advisers – to do the right thing, and to do it quickly.

But then it turned out that her new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, had in his previous incarnation as a housing minister received a report on improving fire safety in tower blocks and done nothing about it. That is either more bad luck, or it shows May has dismal judgement in the quality of people she appoints to her close circle. Form suggests the latter.

The idea aired last weekend, that May had “ten days to prove herself”, was a minority view. For most of her colleagues it is too late. It was typical of Boris Johnson’s dwindling band of cheerleaders that they should broadcast a story supporting Davis as an “interim” leader: “interim” until Johnson’s credibility has recovered sufficiently for him to have another pop at the job he covets so much.

They also sought to create the impression that Davis is on manoeuvres, which he resolutely is not. Davis has been around long enough to know that if he wants to succeed May – and his friends believe he does – he cannot be seen to do anything to destabilise her further. It is a lesson lost on Johnson’s camp, whose tactics have damaged their man even more than he was already.

Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary and a close ally of Davis, told the Guardian: “. . . it is simply untrue that he is doing anything other
than focusing on his incredibly important brief and giving loyal support to the Prime Minister. Anyone suggesting otherwise is freelancing.” That summed up the contempt Davis’s camp has for Johnson, and it will last long beyond any leadership race.

There is a sense that, in the present febrile climate, whoever is the next leader must be highly experienced. Davis qualifies; so does Hammond, who before his present job was foreign secretary and defence secretary, and who has belatedly displayed a mind of his own since May was hobbled. Hugo Swire, a minister of state under Hammond in the Foreign Office, said of him: “He’s got bottom. He was very good to work for. He is an homme sérieux. I liked him very much and he would calm things down.”

But, as yet, there is no contest. Calls for calm have prevailed, not least thanks to Graham Brady’s steady stewardship of the 1922 Committee, and his success in convincing the more hot-headed of his colleagues to hold their fire. Yet MPs say the 1922 is not what it was 20 years ago: ministers have become used to taking it less seriously.

However, many MPs expect Brady, at a time of their choosing, to go to Downing Street and deliver the poison pill to Theresa May if she is slow to go. Some who know her fear she might take no notice. If she were to play it that way, her end would be unpleasant. As the old saying goes, there is the easy way, and there is the hard way. Remarkably few of her colleagues want to go the hard way but, like everything else in the Tory party at the moment, that could change.

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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