“Who is that strange, bearded man?”: Muppet Family Christmas at 30

Jimchristmas

Today is the 30th anniversary of the special “A Muppet Family Christmas.”  I watched it originally when it aired in 1987.  We taped it off the television (except that we apparently were not prepared to do so and missed the first 6 minutes or so–tragedy!), and I’ve treasured it ever since.  I’ve watched it unabashedly at all times of the year, not only at Christmas.  After Jim Henson died, it was one of the sources available for me to turn for comfort.

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Phantom of the Opera: Everything’s better with Muppets

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Faust, a five-act grand opera, is by Charles Gounod with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.  It is loosely based on Faust, Part I, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Goethe’s lesser-known follow-up, 2 Faust 2 Furious, focused on a man who made a deal with the diesel.”

–Erik Forrest Jackson, pushing all my geeky English-major buttons in an explanatory footnote of Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

When I opened the book and saw that the epigraph was a quote from a renowned French philosopher and a line from an old infomercial, I knew I was going to like this book.

When I started laughing hysterically at the table of contents, I knew I was going to love this book.

When I finished reading it, I wanted to go back and read the original novel again to compare the two; the mark of a good book is that it makes you want to read more.

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The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is here…

…inside my house!

*dramatic organ music*

Remember when I entered a contest by The Muppet Mindset in which I drew a picture of Walter as Harry Potter and somehow won a copy of a free Muppet book, even though Walter looks like he only has one arm and the rampant Gryffindor lion on his Hogwarts insignia looks more like E.T.?*

Well, my 15 minutes of sketching and two months of patience have finally paid off, because today went to the mailbox (for the first time in the better part of a week) and received my Muppetized version of Phantom of the Opera!

YAY!

Before I forget, a big thank you to Jarrod Fairclough and Mitchell Stein at The Muppet Mindset for hosting fun contests and giving out free stuff, and specifically for their very generous assessment of my drawing.

Even more fortuitously, I have today, tomorrow, and most of next week off from my part-time job, so I really have nothing to do in those evenings except read.  So I’ll go start it now, and when I finish, I’ll come back and tell you what I thought about it.

In the meantime, give yourselves in to the “Music of the Night”:

______________________
*Although I am proud of one subtle Muppet reference that I put in there: the Ravenclaw crest is supposed to be a bronze eagle on a blue background, but I made the background bronze and the eagle blue as an homage to Sam the Eagle.  “Is nothing sacred?”

“Oh…may I?”

When I was a kid, I never understood this scene from The Muppet Movie.  I never understood why the waiter (Steve Martin) was being so mean to Kermit, why the scene was supposed to be funny, or really why it existed at all.

Eventually, of course, I grew up.  I entered the workforce and have had several jobs which involve customer service in some capacity…

…And now I understand.  

I recently took a second job that once again requires me to interact directly with other human beings, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bite my tongue to avoid imitating Steve Martin’s sarcastic, “Oh…may I?” when customers (or managers) ask/tell me to do something in a tone of voice that implies that they think they’re bestowing a great boon upon me.

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“Which one of you is the real Kermit?”

Answer:  Neither of them.  It’s a trick question.

So…this last Monday that just happened, there was a Pentatonix Christmas special on TV, and the report was that Kermit was going to make an appearance.  I debated with myself about whether or not to watch it, and ultimately I compromised with myself that I would watch it, but only with the sound down and the captions on.  And I hoped that Kermit would appear early on, because watching a musical program with the sound down didn’t really appeal to me.

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Manufactured Malfeasance

Let me set the stage:

Apparently, Eric Trump tweeted that it is inappropriate for ABC News White House Correspondent (and my fellow South Dakotan) Jonathan Karl to criticize Donald Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” as a derogatory term because ABC’s parent company, Disney, once made a movie about the historical Pocahontas.

Sonny-boy, leave the Disney-bashing to the experts:

“The [ABC] news division as a whole was reliably profitable [in the ’90s when Disney bought the ABC network].  But it [the news division] often balked at the idea of promoting other Disney ventures, persisted in making unflattering references to Disney (an investigative piece on sweatshops that mentioned Disney products especially infuriated Eisner), and, in general, was sanctimonious, in Eisner’s view.  Its ability to appeal directly to the public by invoking its mission of public service journalism–a higher, nobler purpose than making money–also meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for Eisner to control the New York-based news division from Burbank.” (James B. Stewart, DisneyWar, page 410)

After acquiring the ABC network in the mid 1990s, Michael Eisner and Bob Iger tried to make a deal with David Letterman to bring his late-night talk show to ABC, planning to give him the timeslot otherwise occupied by Ted Koppel and Nightline.  When that deal fell through, “Iger [negotiated] a more radical approach to the news division: spinning it off into a new company that would merge ABC news with CNN […] ridding Eisner of an increasingly unwanted stepchild from the ABC acquisition.” (page 412)

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“Carol of the Bells”

Okay, one thing you have to know about me: my taste in Christmas carols runs very traditional.  

I don’t mind pop singers singing pop songs in pop style, but when they start singing Christmas carols in pop style, it rubs me the wrong way.  (And some Christmas songs, like “Last Christmas,” need to be retired permanently.  Seriously.)

Tonight I was working at the store where I work part-time, and of course, ’tis the season when stores play Christmas music from morning to night; I heard a weird soul/R&B version of “Carol of the Bells.”  Let’s just say it was not to my taste.  Also, whoever was singing it left out some of the words, so some of the words didn’t fit with the music, which is a major pet peeve of mine.

So, to get the bad taste of that song out of my ears, here’s a good, Muppety version of “Carol of the Bells.”

Creativity

“Do something creative because you can’t NOT do it.”
–Kermit the Frog

Last week or so I was in a morbid mood, indulging in my self-defeat and wallowing in self-pity as I looked at my life:  Working two jobs to make ends meet, which sucks up all the time I’d rather be spending on researching and writing.  One job transcribing/editing other people’s words instead of writing my own; the other job working in retail, making me feel like I’ve come full circle and ended up right back where I started in high school, as though all my education and training and experience and suffering over the past 20 years has all been for naught.

Desperately in need of some inspiration, I turned back to Kermit’s TED talk from 2015, and that was very helpful.  One part was particularly helpful, and you know how much I love to take other people’s/frogs’ words and put them into big block quotes, so here goes:

“We need to help kids–and all of us trying to connect with our inner tadpole–to pursue our passion, even when the going gets tough.  Now, for grown-ups, that just might mean, folks, you gotta have a day job.  Cuz let’s face it, it’s easier to take creative chances when it’s not how you’re trying to support yourself.  That can be tough.”

That made me feel better about taking the second job.  No shame in doing what it takes to survive, so long as you don’t hurt others in the process.  And if that means I have to try to bang out part of a blog post in the time between stopping one job for the day and starting another, then I guess that’s what it takes.  It’s not ideal–it’s not at all the way that I prefer to work–but if that’s what the situation calls for, then I’ll just have to be flexible and learn to adapt, which is a professional skill on which I have always prided myself.

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Sesame Saturday: “True Blue Miracle”

Friends, this evening I witnessed something truly inspiring, and I wanted to share it with you.  A family of four came into the store where I work part-time and purchased nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of toys to donate to the less fortunate.

And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, I don’t know what one is.

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 102–“Wembley and the Gorgs”

“The Gorgs might be the bullies at school, but they might also be a mean boss, or an abusive boyfriend, or the Taliban. It’s a good thing we have Fraggle Rock, to help us figure it out. For all we know, there might be Gorgs everywhere.”
 –Danny Horn, “My Week with Fraggle Rock, Part 2: Big Shots,” ToughPigs.com, November 4, 2004.

I’ve wanted to write about this episode of Fraggle Rock for four years now, long before I had a Muppet blog, and long before the Schism.  I hope I can do it justice.

Let’s start things off with a song.  Take it, Wembley:

This song plays a relatively minor role in the episode, but I wanted to highlight it because it is one of my very favorite Wembley songs.  Steve’s voice here is like a soft, cozy blanket–warm and fuzzy and friendly.  Which, come to think about it, is a good description of Wembley’s character in a nutshell.

Now, instead of looking at the episode chronologically, let’s jump around and look at it thematically.  To that end, let’s get started at the end of this episode, in which Wembley makes a very profound statement: “I guess some slavery feels like freedom.”

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Thanksgiving

Character.chistmasturkey

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I know the holiday is not really a thing outside the U.S. and Canada (and in Canada it happened a month ago), but there’s never a bad time to be grateful for the good things in our lives, especially when the bad things threaten to overwhelm us.

Thank you especially to Steve Whitmire, for teaching us (back in 1987) that turkeys are selfish, ungrateful bastards and that we should eat them, because if we don’t, they will conspire to murder Big Bird. 😉

Seriously, though…

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“The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”

On November 21, 1990–twenty-seven years ago today,  and six months after Jim Henson’s death–the tribute special “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson” aired on CBS.  It was Steve Whitmire’s first performance as Kermit the Frog.  He had had less than six months to prepare.

Here is the finale.  Kermit enters at 04:27:

Puppetry-wise, Steve was spot-on from the very beginning, giving Kermit these beautiful, subtle facial expressions.  You can feel Kermit’s emotions as you watch; the sorrow and pride, the quiet joy and gratitude.

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Sesame Saturday: Episode 2096–Retrospective on a Revelation

“When Snuffy wasn’t being used, cables were attached to his head and back and he was hoisted 40 feet in the air, where he was out of the way and safe. […] What made this so much fun was that in those days, we had a lot of kids on the show […] Many of these kids spotted Snuffy hanging overhead.  When they did, they went nuts!  Kids would grab the leg of the nearest adult and yell, ‘Look!  Look!  It’s the Snuffle-upagus!’  And, the adult response was always the same: ‘Aw, c’mon, kid.  You can’t fool me.  There’s no such thing as a Snuffle-upagus.'”
                  –Joseph A. Bailey, demonstrating the sadistic attitude of the adults on Sesame Street in the ’70s and early ’80s in his book, Memoirs of a Muppet Writer.

Someone once asked Street Gang author Michael Davis, in an interview that seems to have become lost among the shifting sands of the Internet, what was the most significant episode of Sesame Street.  

I thought about the question myself and I decided that, for me, there’s an objective answer and a subjective answer.  The objective answer is the same that Davis gave, the death of Mr. Hooper.  But the subjective answer, for me, is the episode in which Snuffy was revealed to be nonimaginary, which aired 32 years ago on November 18, 1985.  I was five years old at the time, and I was watching.

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Street Trumps Donald Trump

“There is one source that has always recognized Trump for being the absolute villain that he obviously is and that’s Sesame Street. Sesame Street has been touting the dangers of a Trump Presidency since the late eighties!”
 –Louie Pearlman, “Make America HATE Again: Ronald Grump on Sesame Street,” ToughPigs.com, January 29, 2016.

This is an excellent article that appeared on ToughPigs just before the 2016 primaries…so, almost two years ago?  Oh, how time flies when you’re in constant mortal dread for the future of humanity!  Anyway, the article is well worth a read, but I had a few thoughts to add from the perspective of being almost a year into the Orange Muggle Voldemort presidency.

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“We will march against the mighty; we will march against the strong”

“Why are you wasting your time with those puppets?” asked Rudy Pugliese, one of Jim Henson’s college professors.

I sometimes hear a similar question in my head: “Our democracy is imperiled, our Constitution is in crisis; why are you wasting your time worrying about the integrity of a bunch of puppets?”

To which the short answer is, in the words of Cantus, “No time is wasted time.”

Yes, the Muppets are puppets; that is undeniable, and it would be pointless and silly of me to argue otherwise.  But they are so much more than that.  They are symbols; they are fuzzy mirrors in which we see our own flaws and foibles reflected; they are useful rhetorical tools with which one can make subtle arguments against injustice and demagoguery in a nonthreatening way.  In the words of Steve Whitmire, “These characters stand for all of us, and we’re worth defending.” (my emphasis)

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