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  • Hannah Hightman

The Malie Show

My penpal in Australia first sent me Jaclyn Malie Mason’s TikTok account and I was shocked. Aghast you could say! After having written about taxidermy in the previous volume of this publication, I thought I had an awareness of all the major taxidermy it girls, and this account was a blind spot I was glad to have my attention called to. HOW was there a taxidermy puppeteer that I had never heard of? This was everything I had ever wanted out of life and more.

Using a taxidermy cat puppet she named Estelle after her dead grandmother, Mason makes 80s style VHS TikToks. Many seem like music video snippets in which Mason plays bass in the background, but others are lessons on etiquette, short greetings, and even guided meditations. In fact, all of her videos have a certain meditative quality. There’s a real element of world building to it that heightens the relaxation factor. The perennially nostalgic imagery that usually involves a tropical landscape or a waterfall, the sweet inflections of Estelle’s slurred speech, the video editing that manages to be distinctly of this decade yet also makes you feel as though you’ve uncovered a lost treasure from a bygone era, all of this was meticulously created to have that kind of calming effect. And then there’s the matter of Estelle herself, a fascinating character that could be scary if she weren’t so cute. With her fur blowing in the wind, she’s the undead icon we never knew we needed. She was originally created to play a zombie in a movie and a taxidermy puppet is about as close as you can get to a real-life zombie, literally reanimating materials that came from a dead animal. And even though Mason’s content is lighthearted, there is a certain existentialism that lurks in the background behind the palm trees and lagoons, just by virtue of using these materials. But Estelle, who has been given a second chance at life, reminds us to embrace life wholeheartedly. After all, you never know when you might die… or come back to life.

Can you talk a little bit about the origins of Estelle?

So Estelle is the name of one of my grandmothers who was just such a character. Estelle is kind of a combination of my three dead grandmothers. Her name is Estelle and the main thing she says is ‘I love you.’ One of my other grandmothers, when she was on her deathbed, would leave me voicemails that just said ‘I love you.’ Which was quite frightening even though it was sweet. My other grandmother that passed away who I was very close to, I wrote a movie where I was able to bring her back to life. A girl plays a flute and she brings her grandmother back to life. So that was the first draft of it, but as I wrote more and more, it just ended up working out better if it was a cat. So the final story ended up being that this girl with a magical flute brings her cat back to life. It’s kind of like Pet Sematery where the cat’s not the same. I designed the puppet and got her made, and I’ve just been practicing puppetry while I’m in production for the thing. I’m the only one who can puppeteer her, because you have to have a tiny hand.

Why did you choose TikTok as the preferred medium?

I chose TikTok because at the time I didn’t have any followers and I kind of wanted to fail in private. But obviously the audience for TikTok is just a lot nicer. Instagram is about like, ‘Look how hot I am’ but TikTok is more for the weirdos I think. I had this job that I was obsessed with, it was like my whole life. And I had a big internet presence from that job. But the company ended up going under very quickly. They didn’t pay us for months and it was a disaster. I got so depressed because it was a huge part of my life. I don’t have a history of depression and I had never struggled with anything like it until that moment. I had a ceremony in my room with my art basically, because I had neglected it. Everything I did artistically was for this company, this fucking brand. I was neglecting the things I really wanted to do, and I was kind of mad at myself. So I was like ‘I promise I will do anything you say and ask no questions if you accept me back into your life again.’ Then I just started. I set up everything in my room to start practicing, and it just happened.

What is Estelle’s personality?

The thing about her is that she’s just so sweet. She’s very soft spoken but she can shift her voice into really anything. She can’t really talk that well because she’s dead, so she has a little bit of a speech impediment, but she’s very endearing and tender. She’s got class, she’s got style, and she’s very very soft. And it helps me. It helps me become more feminine. Literally and figuratively puppetry is an extension of you. It’s just obvious what they are. A lot of people online are more attracted to her than they are to me. Ugly is cute. Ugly is pretty.

What are some of the best responses you’ve gotten to her online?

Most people just say that it makes them so happy and thank me. Most people say ‘Estelle is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I want to marry her. Get the human out of here.’ Which I love. I’m probably going to start being in the videos less and less unless we’re doing band stuff. There’s so much chaos on the internet and everyone is competing for views, and I just want people to enter the land of endless lagoons and starry skies. I think it really relaxes people, and I don’t really need to do much because Estelle is so striking. It doesn’t need to be played out. I also get a lot of comments comparing me to Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec, when he loses his job and starts doing stop motion. I think it’s much more intimate when people are making fun of each other rather than being really nice. I’m really thankful for Estelle’s fanbase because everyone is just having a good time.

Do you have any plans to grow your puppet family?

I would like to do a skunk. I do have a llama but I need two people, sometimes three, to puppeteer the llama. I haven’t introduced it yet. The llama plays piano, so I’m going to need help and I usually shoot by myself. The llama was the first puppet I ever got. He’s made of cotton. He’s cute enough. His eyes are kinda fucked up and he looks kind of dead already. It needs to all be dead animals that are in the band. Because the band is called Roadkill. So I’m thinking, should I introduce the llama or does it have to be taxidermy? But I would like a sexy skunk that’s like Kylie Minogue. Maybe she’s French. A take on Pepe Le Pew. I want burlesque-y songs, because Estelle does like ballads. But yes I want to extend the family. I eventually want to have a taxidermy puppet line because there’s no one doing it. You think a lot about death when dealing with taxidermy. A lot of the songs I do are either about love or life, which is Estelle’s theme. I think that’s why people love her so much. Because she makes people feel alive.

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