First Steps; or, Intellectual Warm-ups

CANTUS:  Listening is the first step and the last step.
MOKEY:  Ohhh…then I’m on the LAST step!
CANTUS: YOU…haven’t even begun.
MOKEY:  Well, I’m already there!  I mean…what about the ping?
CANTUS:  The ping is the start, but then comes the beginning.
–“Mokey and the Minstrels” Fraggle Rock, (Jocelyn Stevenson, screenwriter)

It’s been almost two months since I started this blog, and while I’ve created quite a bit of content that I can be proud of, in a way I still feel like I haven’t even really begun. 

I got my master’s degree nine years ago in December; sometimes I miss being a grad student.

Not the stress and the deadlines and the fees, etc.–and CERTAINLY not teaching Comp 101 as part of my assistantship–but sometimes I miss writing research papers.  The researching, gathering evidence, and constructing a coherent scholarly argument is sort of like an intellectual marathon.

I’ve been doing research on the Walt Disney Company so that I can put forth a well-supported, quasi-scholarly argument about why they suck.  But it’s difficult.  I haven’t really flexed those scholarly muscles for quite a while; they might be sort of atrophied.

It’s not because of a lack of evidence.  If anything, the opposite is true; there’s just so much evidence to sort through and classify and mark for later.  It’s hard to know where to even start, and it’s exhausting to figure out what to use, where to use it, what not to use, and how to filter through my own point of view, to use it to support my own argument instead of just reiterating it wholesale (or, as it is otherwise known, “plagiarism”).

Not helping matters is the fact that the recent history of the Walt Disney Company (“recent” meaning within the last 30 years or so) makes for compelling but depressing reading.  Few, if any, of the “cast members” in its sordid history seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Virtually everybody who’s worked at Disney at the corporate level in the last 30-35 years seems to have been a complete scoundrel.  It’s all very disheartening.

I don’t really have any desire to go back to grad school and pursue another advanced degree, but if I did, this whole thing about Disney and the Muppets and Steve and the Schism and all of it could be my entire dissertation.  

I have a lot to say about Disney, is the point I’m trying to make, and I won’t be able to say it all at once.  I’m about to start on a first installment, which I hope to publish within the next few weeks, but it will just be the tip of the iceberg.  I still have a lot of research to do, but I figured I’d better get something out there to back up the assertions that I’ve been making about Disney since July, because it’s rather hypocritical of me to fault Disney and the Hensons for making unsupported accusations against Steve while, at the same time, I’ve been making them about Disney and the Hensons.

Although, in my defense, I have been–if not citing sources per se–then at least mentioning works from which I’ve been getting my information.  Perhaps now would be an opportune moment to share a working bibliography here.  Where’s my MLA handbook when I need it?

Well, never mind about the MLA handbook (mine is almost certainly woefully out of date anyway).  I’ll just give a list of the books that I’ve been using for reference alphabetically by title:

DisneyWar, by James B. Stewart.
Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones.
The Keys to the Kingdom, by Kim Masters
Street Gang, by Michael Davis
Work in Progress, by Michael Eisner with Tony Schwartz (yes, THAT Tony Schwartz).

I’m afraid this post has been very dull, and I apologize.  Hopefully the next post will be more interesting.  Thank you for reading in the meantime, and please stay tuned.

 

Sesame Saturday: All About Ernie

Not counting Kermit, who appeared on Sesame Street but wasn’t created specifically for it, Ernie is probably my favorite Sesame Street character of all time, although it is hard for me to choose between him and Bert (they’re always at their best when they’re together).  If you were to ask former classmates of mine whether I was more like Ernie or Bert in school, most of them would probably say Bert.  But in my own mind, I always identified with Ernie.  Certainly, Ernie is everything that I would like to be: clever, funny, easygoing, with an infectious laugh and a perpetual smile on his face.

And yet, I said before that, of all of the Muppet (and non-Muppet) characters that Jim Henson created, Kermit the Frog is the most “real” to me.  So when Sesame Workshop recast Ernie in 2014, my reaction was one of mild annoyance rather than panic.

It was the episode in which Bert learns to ride his bike without training wheels (clip).  At first, I was happy to see a street story featuring Bert and Ernie because that hadn’t happened since who knows when.  Then Ernie opened his mouth to speak and I said to myself, “Is Ernie going through puberty?  Because his voice seems to have changed.”

It was clearly not Steve Whitmire performing Ernie, and I didn’t quite know what to think, mostly because I didn’t know if it was a one-time thing or if it would be permanent.

Let me be perfectly clear: my preference would be for Steve to perform Ernie in perpetuity and, in a perfect world, that’s exactly what would happen.  But ours is not a perfect world, and I could understand why there might be practical reasons to want to recast Ernie, the most obvious (to me) being geography, because Sesame Street production is based in New York, and Steve lives in Atlanta.  So I could see how it would be advantageous to have a local puppeteer perform Ernie instead.

Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit organization that has done a lot of good in the world, both measurably and immeasurably.  They have an ethos and a bank of credibility that they’ve been investing in for almost 50 years.  Therefore, if they had to recast Ernie, I trusted that they had a good reason for it.  So my reaction was not grief and panic but annoyance that eventually settled into resignation.  My big concern was consistency; my thought was, “Okay, if you’re going to recast Ernie, then fine, do what you have to do, but please just pick one performer and stick to him; don’t keep switching them around all the time, because that’s not fair to anyone.”

But alas, my silent plea went unanswered (I probably should have said it out loud or, better yet, put it in writing).  From 2014 to 2017, Ernie was performed by someone named Billy Barkhurst, about whom I really know nothing else, then they replaced him with Peter Linz.  At first I was angry that they had recast Ernie yet again, (“Stop playing with my emotions already!”) but then I ran across a video from the Sesame Street YouTube channel of Barkhurst as Ernie singing “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon”–which, incidentally, is not only my favorite Sesame Street song but one of my very favorite songs, period.

It was terrible.  I couldn’t watch the whole thing.  I’m not even going to link to it because I don’t want to inflict such an ear-sore on anybody.

So then I started warming up to the idea of Peter Linz performing Ernie, because at least I know that he can sing.  Moreover, I do kind of like the idea of Ernie being distantly related to Walter.

Last week on his blog, Steve discussed Sesame Street and why Ernie was recast.  As I expected, it was nothing so dramatic or acrimonious as what happened at Disney; in fact, it was a story that has become sadly commonplace across many companies and organizations over the past 10 years or so: due to financial constraints, Sesame Workshop was restructuring, which resulted in a lot of people being dismissed from their jobs.

Coincidentally, I recently went through something similar back in the spring.  I had worked for nearly seven years doing medical transcription for a local orthopedic clinic.  Like Steve, I was an independent contractor.  But the clinic put in a new electronic health record (EHR) system that, when used to its fullest potential, eliminated the need for doctors’ dictations and, therefore, the need for transcriptionists.  It wasn’t something that they wanted to do; they had been resisting it for a long time, but they were facing heavy tax penalties if they refused to implement the EHR, and it was no longer cost-effective for them to hold out.  I understood that, and we parted on good terms.  There was no drama.

Anyway, back to Sesame Street.  It seems to me that the whole question of who’s performing Ernie becomes a moot point if they don’t write him into the show anyway.  He and Bert have been largely relegated to the status of background characters for quite a few years.  For a while, about the only way we saw Bert and Ernie was in claymation form with “Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures.”

I love “Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures.”  I really do.  They allow Bert and Ernie to go places and do things that it would difficult to accomplish in puppet form.  The stories are engaging, the writing is clever, the artistry that goes into making the claymation is masterful; what’s not to like?  And yet…I didn’t like that we seemed to be seeing Bert and Ernie less and less often on the Street in puppet form and more often as claymation.  At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy who walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways, etc., when I was a kid watching Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie were featured on Sesame Street (in puppet form) every day, sometimes more than once a day.  I think the claymation stuff makes for good supplemental material, but I didn’t like that Bert and Ernie’s actual, physical presence on the Street itself seemed to be dwindling, and that the primary, and sometimes only, exposure that kids were getting to Bert and Ernie was in claymation form.  I was afraid that, eventually, Bert and Ernie would be relegated to the same status as the “Teeny Little Super Guy.”  After nearly 50 years, they deserve better than that.

I said before that “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” is one of my very favorite songs of all time, and that is absolutely true.  My list of favorite songs is fluid and changes all the time, according to many different factors, including the time of year and my mood, but “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon is always near the top of the list.  I also said that I wasn’t going to link to the mediocre version, and I won’t.  Instead, I will embed one of my favorite performances of “I Don’t Want to  Live on the Moon,” in which Steve (as Ernie) sang it with Shawn Colvin in the Elmopalooza special from 1998.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the first time I saw this particular performance, it was a transcendent, almost spiritual experience:

(Thank you, Steve.)

Fraggle Friday: Wembley’s Way

Someone posted the following video in the Muppet Pundit comments.  Steve has yet to talk about it, so I don’t know all of the backstory, but it appears that Steve returned to his old high school in 1988 with some of his characters (Muppet and otherwise) in tow to participate in a concert of some sort.

Take it, Wembley:

I have another confession to make: in all my years of studying literature, I’ve found that, a lot of times, I don’t think that an author’s–or, in a broader sense, an artist’s–most celebrated or well-known work is necessarily their best.  I read The Red Badge of Courage in grad school and was underwhelmed by it; my favorite Stephen Crane work is called The Monster; you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s utterly brilliant.  Similarly, I love Madeleine L’Engle, and I love A Wrinkle in Time, but it was a early novel of hers, and I think her later works show a growth and a maturity that is missing in Wrinkle, as wonderful as it is and as much as I have always loved it.

My point is that “My Way” is so famous and so popular, and arguably so overexposed, that I’ve never been that impressed with it.  In fact, I’m not sure if I ever really paid attention to the lyrics before.  But watching Wembley sing this little duet, the lyrics suddenly smacked me in the face, particularly the last verse:

For what is a man?  What has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels 
And not the words of one who kneels.”

Those lyrics might have been written for and about Steve; that’s exactly what he’s doing on his blog, and he’s taken–and continues to take–the blows for it.

I think there’s something really important to understand about Disney: through their movies and TV shows and such, they frequently tell these stories about people who think for themselves and take a stand and fight for what they believe in, and a person could be forgiven to think that it’s a reflection of Disney’s values when they tell those stories.  It’s not.  They tell those stories because those are the stories that they think we will pay money to hear.  They don’t want to change the world, they don’t want to make a difference; all they want is to make money.

Disney is a corporation, and corporations value people who play it “the company way”: people who know their place and stay there, who go along, do as they’re told, and don’t make waves.  Unfortunately, people like that don’t make for the basis of an interesting movie because they deliberately try to minimize drama in their lives.   So instead Disney makes these movies about people who speak truth to power and question authority…and then they find it inconvenient when people who work for them speak truth to power and question their authority.

 

So what of Jim Henson?  Well, I think that, like Cantus the Minstrel, he sought out and hired people that were traveling “in the same direction,” i.e., people who shared his values and worldview.  Not everyone made the cut.

On the other hand, Jim valued contributions of other people, not only the jobs that he’d hired them to do, but their thoughts and ideas as well.  Speaking at one of Jim’s memorial services, Frank Oz called him an “extraordinary appreciator.”  He appreciated the work that everyone was putting into a given production.  He solicited feedback not only from the people he worked with, but from the audience as well.  For example, just subsequent to the release of Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones and Dave Goelz were doing a radio interview, and a woman called in to tell a story about visiting the set of a production that Jim was working on, and how, during a break, he came over to meet her and asked her opinion of what she had seen.  And the woman was surprised that he had taken an interest in the opinion of a random layperson, but he’d genuinely wanted to know what she thought.  (I know that story is in that interview somewhere, but I don’t have time right now to listen to the whole thing and get the timecode).

So, rather than “my way” or the “company way,” I think Jim Henson took a third, less-traveled path, and gathered people around him that were “traveling our way.”  Everyone was in it together, and no one was supposed to get left behind.

****
Random Thoughts:  
The above video is almost 30 years old, I wonder whatever happened to Jimmy Morriss, the singer in the video.

When Wembley sings the line “what is a man?” I half expect him to add, “No, seriously, what IS a man?”  Because, of course, to Fraggles, human beings are “silly creatures.”

“…the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

What follows is a clip from a 2014 benefit screening of Muppets Most Wanted at the White House for military families.  Kermit speaks eloquently to the children of military personnel about the challenges they face:

You know, I’ve watched a lot of interviews with Kermit, and Steve as well, and one question that comes up a lot is who are their favorite celebrities that they’ve met and worked with.  And, speaking strictly for myself, any or all of the Obamas would be near the top of the list.  But I imagine that getting to do things to help kids–like this, or like the Labor Day telethon, or Make-A-Wish visits–would be the most rewarding part of being a Muppet performer.  I imagine that that stuff would stick with you longer than the bits with the celebrities, although those bits would be fun too.

My point of view on the military is ever-evolving.  When I was young, I could never understand why anyone would want to join the military with the express purpose of hurting and killing other human beings.  I was exposed to a lot of M*A*S*H in my formative years, and maybe that accounts for my rather narrow-minded attitude.  Eventually, however, I came to realize that most of the people who join the military don’t do so out of a bloodthirsty desire to inflict harm on other people, but out of a wish to protect their loved ones and their home.  There’s a Bible verse that has always been a guiding principle in my life:  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13), and eventually I came to realize that that’s all that most people in the military are trying to do, and I’ve come to respect that.

A few years ago, Sesame Street was doing an outreach initiative for military families, and I realized how much is demanded of those families, particularly the children.  A person can choose whether or not to go into the military; a prospective spouse can choose whether or not to marry that person, but the kids don’t get a say in the matter.  Once they’re born into that situation, they’re in it whether they like it or not.  Of course, none of us can choose the situation that we’re born into, and we all have to accept our lot in life at baseline, but still…it’s a lot to ask.

When I look around at what’s happening in the world, and/or when I listen to the “The Rainbow Connection” in my head, I can’t help but think of another group of kids who weren’t given a choice.  I’m talking about the DREAM-ers, the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here to the United States as children by their parents, and whose status in this country is now imperiled.  Those kids weren’t given a choice either; they didn’t get a say in the matter of where their family lived, and now they’re being asked to pay a steep penalty for a decision that somebody else made for them.

I have another blog where I talk about politics, and I kind of wanted to keep this blog separate from all that stuff.  But this isn’t merely politics; this is a severe injustice that threatens to rip apart families and ruin the lives of many innocent people.  I can’t right all wrongs in the world single-handedly, but surely the least I can do is to take a moment to take a stand and say that this should not happen: not here, not now, not ever.

Instead, let’s let love open our eyes and see the DREAM-ers as brothers (and sisters) in our world:

 

Rebranding

This is just to say that my little blog here is undergoing a slight rebranding.  I deemed this necessary due to a rookie mistake I made when I first started this blog: I failed to Google the name that I intended to give my blog to see if it was already taken or in use in some other capacity.

It was brought to my attention a while back that there is a play called “Frog Quixote,” and that could potentially cause confusion.  I wasn’t specifically asked to change the name of my blog by either the playwright or the publisher, although I would have been happy to comply if it had been considered a copyright infringement.  But I don’t think there was much danger of my harming them; if anything, the existence of the play was potentially redirecting web traffic that would have come to me otherwise.  So this in my best interest as well.

I would have done it sooner, but I had a hard time thinking up a new name.  I only want to go through this rebranding once, so I want to get it right.  “Don Quixote” and “Man of La Mancha” are more or less synonymous, so this seems like a logical step.

Most importantly, the URL is staying the same for now.  If, for some reason, that changes in the future, I will definitely let you know. 

Thank you for your kind attention.  🙂

“To do the right deed for the wrong reason”

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
–T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

I have a confession to make: Kermit the Frog is more “real” to me than any of the other Muppets.  I remember when Jim Henson died, my first thought was not “What’s going to happen to the Muppets?” or “What’s going to happen with Sesame Street?” but “What’s going to happen to Kermit?”

So when news of the Schism broke, I was less concerned about Steve’s other characters than I was about Kermit.  But as I processed the news, I started worrying about Beaker.

Since Beaker doesn’t really talk, I feared that Disney would feel that it didn’t matter who performed him.  In fact, the opposite is true: a character who doesn’t talk needs a skilled, consistent performer who knows how to convey an idea nonverbally.

When I was an undergraduate, I had the distinct privilege and honor to perform in a play called Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire.  (As an actor, to be clear; not a puppeteer…although there is a puppet in the play.)  I played Gertie, a stroke victim who suffers from aphasia.  I had one intelligible line in the entire play; the rest was all gobbledygook.  (This actress plays it a little broad for my taste, but it will give you an idea.)

Because almost all of my lines were unintelligible, I had to really play the subtext.  I had to know what I was saying at all times, even if nobody else did–especially if nobody else did.  And I had to be really accurate in the nonsensical lines I was saying, because I knew that if I gave somebody the wrong cue, I didn’t have the improvisational skills to make up stroke-talk off the top of my head to get things back on track.  It was one of the most challenging–and most enjoyable–things I’ve ever done in my life.  I even ended up winning an award for it.

(For more thoughts on Fuddy Meers, click here.)

I imagine that playing Beaker would be similar to playing Gertie, except even more challenging.  There is a logic and a syntax–a grammar of sorts–to Gertie’s speech, where Beaker mostly only says “mee mee mee.”  As a human actor, I also had my facial expressions with which to convey emotion and meaning; Beaker’s face is not necessarily the most expressive of the Muppets’–especially compared to, say, Kermit’s.

So I worried about Beaker.  But if I’m being completely honest, I have to say that part of me was kind of wishing that Disney would screw up Beaker’s recast, in the hopes that it might spark outrage in the more complacent Muppet fans.  I’m not proud of wishing that.

But if there’s one thing that Disney is good at, it is doing wrong right.  Reports out of the Hollywood Bowl concert are that David Rudman is playing Beaker.  David Rudman, of course, has taken on the responsibility of performing most of Richard Hunt’s characters, and Beaker was originally performed by Richard Hunt as well, so that is…not entirely inappropriate.  

To be clear:  firing Steve was inappropriate; choosing David Rudman to replace him as Beaker was not inappropriate, although it wasn’t entirely appropriate either, since it was predicated and necessitated by the inappropriate act of firing Steve.  If that makes sense.

Anyway, so far it’s been one performance.  Time will tell how permanent that particular recast turns out to be.

(This was a fairly accurate representation of the comment section on the Muppet Pundit blog, at least until Steve’s recent “Pest ConTroll” efforts.  Thanks again, Steve!)

 

The Henry Doorly Zoo, and related matters

Three years ago, the Muppets were featured on “A Capitol Fourth,” the yearly Independence Day special that airs every July 4th on PBS.  In order to promote the special, Kermit the Frog and host Tom Bergeron did a series of satellite interviews with local TV new programs.  One of these was an affliate in Omaha, Nebraska, which is about 175 miles, or a 2-3/4 hour drive, south of where I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

In the interview, Kermit mentioned the zoo in Omaha, and I freaked out: “OHMYGOSH!  Kermit the Frog just mentioned the name of a place that is relatively close to where I live, and that I’ve actually visited!!!”  

These are the scraps that you have to console yourself with when you’re a Muppet fan who lives in South Dakota.  Although, there may be an obscure Muppet connection for those of us to live in Sioux Falls: Raven Industries is based here in town; their main thing is the manufacture of balloons and inflatables, including some of the big balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that sort of thing.  I’m not able to verify it now, but I think I remember hearing once that Raven Industries had made the Kermit the Frog balloon that appeared in the parade from 2002-2012.  I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but it’s certainly possible.

Anyway, getting back to Omaha: what really impressed me is not only that Kermit mentioned the Omaha zoo, but he actually called it by its proper name: the Henry Doorly Zoo.  I think that was the first time I’d ever heard someone not associated with the zoo call it by its real name; most people just call it “the Omaha zoo,” as I have done all throughout this post.

I asked Steve Whitmire, in a comment on his blog, if he had ever actually been to the zoo in Omaha.  He didn’t respond at the time, so I still don’t know, but I am not without hope that he will be able to address it someday.  

But anyway, the other reason that I wanted to post this interview is because it’s really a beautiful example of the lovely, fluid, dynamic facial expressions that Steve gives Kermit when he performs him.  It really makes Kermit alive and vibrant.

We don’t have footage of five consecutive minutes of Matt Vogel performing simula-Kerm yet, (at least, not through official channels) so I’m not yet able to make a fair comparison, but thus far simula-Kerm’s face seems very static.

I’m also a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and there’s a phrase related to that show that keeps running around in my head.  When Bill Corbett took over performing Crow T. Robot from Trace Beaulieu at the beginning of Season 8, he had not done a lot of puppeteering before, and he apologized for the resulting mediocre performance by telling people, “Crow has had a stroke.”  

And I’ll just say that, if I didn’t know what was going on with the Muppets and Disney and Steve and the whole thing, if I looked at those videos with Matt performing Kermit without knowing what was going on, I would have said, “What’s the matter with Kermit?  It looks like he’s had a stroke.”

 

Sesame Saturday: The Curious Case of Herry Monster’s Legs

And now for something completely different.

Today I was in the early stages of thinking about a new “Salient Themes” post which, if it makes it to the publication stage, will involve Herry Monster, that gruff but lovable stalwart of ’80s Sesame Street.  

That reminded me that I recently read that Funko had released a Herry Monster toy (it happened almost six months ago, but I only read it recently).  Which is very cool even though, like most Funko Pop figures, it has black, soulless eyes that look ready to swallow you whole.  But still, Herry needs more merchandising love, so let’s take what we can get.

I sneaked a quick peek at the responses on the forum, and they were talking about Herry’s pink-striped pants and whether we actually ever got to see them on the show itself.  And that reminded me: not only does Herry not wear pants on the show (as far as I know), but sometimes Herry doesn’t even have legs.

Look at this sketch in which Herry is sitting and talking with Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) in her gigantic chair:

You could assume that he is kneeling on the chair, with his legs tucked under him (that’s probably how I interpreted it when I was a kid), but in that case, wouldn’t he have …I don’t know…knees?

In this one, Herry plays a butterfly in the school pageant about the lepidopteran life-cycle, and at the end he is  hoisted into the air on a fly system, and it is readily apparent that he does not have any legs:

Didn’t they know ahead of time that Herry was going to be flying?  Why didn’t anyone think to build him any legs?  This is what happens when you let someone other than Prairie Dawn run the school pageant.

So I started getting quasi-philosophical about all this, and I thought, “Well, Sesame has always been good about including people/characters with disabilities; maybe from that we’re just supposed to assume that Herry just doesn’t have any legs, and they never bring it up because it’s not a big deal.”

But then I remembered the Monsterpiece Theatre sketch “Chariots of Fur,” in which Herry and Grover run down the beach together to awesomely inspirational music.  Running typically requires legs, and in this instance Herry does have them, and we get several close-ups of them:

So has Herry been to a prosthetist since the butterfly pageant?  Or maybe Herry doesn’t have legs, but the character he’s playing in “Chariots of Fur” does have legs, and Herry is just that good an actor!

I just blew your minds, didn’t I?  😉

 

Fraggle Friday: “Feel So Bad”

I apologize in advance because there are no good copies of the song I want to talk about on YouTube; at least, not that I can find.  There are two versions that I can find, both recorded by someone pointing a camera a television set.

This one has better video, in that there are no reflections on the screen:

This one has better (or at least louder) audio:

This is not one of my favorite Fraggle Rock songs.  Generally speaking, I don’t really like songs that consist of one four-word phrase repeated over and over.  That’s no fun for me to listen to and/or sing along with.  It makes me wonder if Dennis Lee was on vacation that week or what.

So usually, whenever I watch the episode of Fraggle Rock from which this song comes (“Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk“), I usually skip over this song and the reprise, which is basically the same thing but with the word “bad” changed to “glad”.

But last week I DID feel bad, so it felt appropriate to post a link to this song.  Before I did so, I actually watched the whole song for perhaps the first time ever, and I realized that this song is really a tour de force musical performance by Wembley.

Which, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, necessarily makes it a tour de force musical performance by Steve Whitmire.

It seems to me that if you only have four lyrics at your disposal, you’ve really got to punch up your vocal performance and make each repeated phrase different from the last one.  I imagine that you’d have to think about subtext and making each phrase slightly different.

The more I think about it, this may actually be one of the most challenging songs in the Fraggle Rock repertoire.  You get off easy when it comes to memorizing lyrics, but everything else would be a lot harder.

Steve’s commitment to the performance is wonderful.  Definitely worth a second look.  I “feel so glad” that I finally decided to pay attention. 😉

I wonder…

I wonder what would have happened if no one had asked Disney about Steve Whitmire’s status with the Muppets.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not making a value judgment either way.  But I just wonder what would be different now.  Would Steve have started his blog?  Would the Vogel!Kermit (henceforward to be known as “simula-Kerm”) video have dropped in July without fanfare?

That’s one thing that’s been gnawing at me all these almost two months, and nobody else seems to think that it is as significant as I do: when the news first broke back in July, Disney promised a “Muppet Thought of the Week” video with Matt Vogel as Kermit the following week.  The fact that they claimed to have it cued up and ready to go, and yet didn’t make an announcement regarding the recast until specifically asked about it, implies to me that they intended to just release the simula-Kerm video on the world without comment, to try to sneak it past us and hope that we wouldn’t notice.

It’s frankly insulting.  We’re Muppet fans, dammit!  We notice tiny details; what makes you think we aren’t going to notice a seismic shift in the Muppet universe?  We get pissed off when Fozzie wears the wrong color tie; what makes you think we’re going to let the end of the Second Muppet Era pass by without comment?  What have we been doing for the past 27 years but analyzing Kermit’s voice?  Of COURSE we were going to notice!  We were always going to notice!

Then the whole thing became a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Steve took a Harry Potter-like stand by starting his blog to tell the world the truth of what had gone on at Disney.  In response, Disney took a…well, to be fair, a relatively mild Dolores Umbridge-like stance and started trying to discredit Steve in the press.  And a sizable chunk of the Muppet fandom started taking an Dumbledore-specific-to-OotP-like stance and started ignoring Steve just when Steve needed them the most.  This was a rare miscalculation on Dumbledore’s part, but at least he had good intentions behind it.  Perhaps the fans that have turned away from Steve have good intentions as well; history will be the judge.  But I digress.

Amidst the fallout from all that, the simula-Kerm video drop was delayed by over a month.

This, I think, was a diabolically clever move by Disney.  It gave people the opportunity to get used to the idea of Matt performing Kermit, to convince themselves that even a simulacrum of Kermit is better than no Kermit at all.  (On which issue, by the way, I am still undecided.)

If, on the other hand, Disney had released its simula-Kerm video in July with no fanfare, the way it seems to have wanted to in the first place, not only would there have been confusion and uproar, but it would have demonstrated dramatically how little respect Disney has for us Muppet fans: the insult of thinking they could recast Kermit without our noticing or caring, added to the injury of ripping away the soul of our beloved froggy friend.

Then again, maybe it would all have come to the same pass anyway.  Forced to do damage control, maybe Disney would have still released their same statement about Steve’s “unacceptable business conduct” and the Hensons’ support of their decision, and maybe the Hensons would have chimed right in on cue with the Steve-bashing, and maybe that same contingent of Muppet fans would have been convinced that they are right.

I don’t fault the guys at ToughPigs or The Muppet Mindset for investigating and publishing their findings; if anything, I wish they had been willing to do more investigating, to use the unique resources available to them to uncover the truth of the matter. In any case, what had seemed initially to have been an embarrassing inconvenience for Disney actually ended up playing right into their hands.  Disney, with its Machiavellian efficiency, managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

On the other hand, it also led to Steve starting his Muppet Pundit blog, which has become a joy and a blessing in my life, so I’m grateful for that.  Nothing is so evil that good cannot come out of it, one way or another.