Fraggle Friday: “A Friend is a Friend”

This is from episode 304, The Grapes of Generosity:

I assume that most people reading this know what’s going on in this episode, but just in case there are some other latecomers to the Fraggle party, I’ll give a brief synopsis:  Gobo discovers the magical Grapes of Generosity, which are so delicious that he refuses to share them with his friends.  As karmic retribution for his selfishness, Gobo becomes weightless as a result–because apparently Fraggle karma doesn’t follow any discernible logic.

The puppetry in this is quite impressive.  If I get the chance, I’d like to ask Steve Whitmire how it was all done.  I recognize a few effects, ChromaKey being the most obvious, and at one point it looks like they’re using a “throwable” Gobo, and towards the end, it sort of looks like Jerry was on a different, higher level from where Steve was on the floor.  So I can kind of piece it together from what I can see, but it’s always interesting to get the real behind-the-scenes story.

This song is an example of what I was talking about earlier in the week, about the otherwise indecisive Wembley always sticking up for his friends.  It’s interesting that when Wembley stops to think about what is the right thing to do, he gets bogged down by indecision, but when he reacts instinctively in defense of a friend, his instincts are always spot-on.  

I envy him that.  I have to put a little more thought into things.

For example, I have a personal policy of not feeding internet trolls.  It’s tempting to fight back, and I’ve been known to succumb to the temptation, but since they feed off of attention, to fight back against them is only to make them stronger and hand them weapons.  The only way to win is not to play.

But then, what to do when a friend is being harassed by a troll?  I observed just such a situation earlier this week, and it posed a bit of a dilemma.  On the one hand, I had just got done talking about Wembley not standing by when someone is being bullied, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to follow Wembley’s example.  On the other hand, feeding the troll could make things worse for everybody.  Ultimately, I decided to ignore the troll completely but address a comment to my friend with words of support and encouragement.

As another example, what do you do when someone you care about has been accused of something awful?  

There was a time in my life when I suspected one of my dearest friends of untoward behavior based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.  This is the first time I’ve ever been able to talk about it outside of a confessional.  I can’t even go into detail about what happened; it’s just too embarrassing.  

(Also, it requires too much exposition to be worth my time or yours.)

Suffice it to say, I was relieved when my friend turned out to be innocent, but I was wracked with guilt for having assumed the worst of him, especially for what turned out to be really no good reason at all.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to ask him about what happened instead of flying off the handle making baseless accusations, and I think I was successful in not letting on what I had been thinking about him–and, as far as I know, he still doesn’t know.

Nevertheless, I felt burdened by the knowledge that I had committed an act of betrayal against someone that I loved, even if it was only in the secret recesses of my innermost heart.  I had no one to blame but my own foolishness and credulity; it was entirely my own fault.  I never want to feel that way again.  So I decided that, from that moment on, I would rather give someone that I care about the benefit of the doubt and risk being proven wrong than to automatically assume the worst.  

Therefore, if somebody accuses someone whom I respect and admire of “unacceptable business conduct” or “brinksmanship,” etc., the burden of proof is on the accuser(s).  If they want to convince me, they’d better be able (and willing) to produce some incontrovertible evidence.  

I’ll check with Sam the Eagle but, as far as I know, in this country we’re all still innocent until proven guilty.

Fraggle Friday: 30 years late to the Fraggle party

When I was a kid, my family had access to three TV channels: ABC, NBC, and PBS (which was really grainy).  We couldn’t afford cable.  At the time, it kind of bothered me, but in retrospect, I have very few regrets about not having cable as a kid (I don’t have it now, either, and I find I don’t miss it).

One regret I do have, however, is missing out on Fraggle Rock as a kid.  Since I was born in 1980, I would have been right at the perfect age for it when it debuted in 1983.  We did, however, somehow obtain a subscription to the Weekly Reader series of picture books, though I’m not entirely sure how that happened, whether my mom made a splurge or we had a sympathetic family friend who was willing to act as a benefactor…maybe Santa Claus did it; I don’t know.

So that was my introduction to Fraggle Rock.  I loved those books; they were a good, solid introduction to the characters and the world and the whole cultural enviroment of Fraggle Rock.  The fact that they came to us via subscription was neat too; it was sort of like having a birthday every month.  I think my mom really loved reading them to us too (“us” meaning me and my younger brother); I got a kick a few years ago when my parents were visiting me in my old apartment, and I don’t remember specifically what triggered it, but we were playing cards, and for some reason my mom quoted at me, “Don’t worry, Mokey.  I’ll protect you!”  (A quote from the book Best Friends, although it definitely sounds like a line from the episode “Wonder Mountain.”)

So I became acquainted with the Fraggles through the books, but I only got to see them on TV twice: once, circa 1986-87, I was visiting at the house of a friend whose family DID have cable, and I saw one complete episode of Fraggle Rock: “Let the Water Run,” which I enjoyed very much, and it stuck with me for a long time after that.  Then, of course, the Fraggles appeared in “A Muppet Family Christmas” and sang “Pass It On.”  But that was pretty much it for me, as far as Fraggles went, for about 30 years.

When I started getting involved in the online Muppet fan community circa 2011, I saw all these conversations that people were having about Fraggle Rock, and all their references and inside jokes that I didn’t understand, and their quoting song lyrics that I didn’t know…it made me feel kind of resentful.  I felt like everybody was having a big Fraggle party that I wasn’t invited to, and I was left out in the cold looking in.

Well, the 30th anniversary DVD set of Fraggle Rock came out right before my 33rd birthday, which meant that the previous DVD set had now been reduced in price so that I could justify the expense of buying it.  So I splurged on it as a birthday present to myself, and binge-watched it over the course of the entire weekend after my birthday (it was on a Friday that year).

It may well have been the best birthday I’ve ever had.

My first impression was that, for a 30-year-old TV show, it has stood up well to the test of time.  Granted, some of the Doc-and-Sprocket things are a little dated–I have to smile when Doc gets a new computer and brags that it has “64 kilobytes of RAM!”–but the Fraggles themselves are more or less timeless.

Another thing that impressed me is that, for all its silliness, Fraggle Rock is actually quite sophisicated–the concept, the writing, the special effects,  but particularly the music.  I find it a bit unfortunate that the one song that everybody knows from Fraggle Rock is the theme song–which, in my opinion, is a bit overexposed. Even though I didn’t get to watch Fraggle Rock as a kid, I could still sing the theme song–it was that ubiquitous. The music from the show is so varied and eclectic–it’s sort of like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get, but you know it will be delicious.  My family are all singers, and it’s too bad that we didn’t get to watch Fraggle Rock together and add those songs to our repertoire.

The thing that struck me perhaps most of all is how daring and honest Fraggle Rock is.  In spite of the fact that we only had three channels, I watched a lot of TV in the ’80s, and it was all very formulaic and sort of artificial.  I’d say that Fraggle Rock seems ahead of its time, but even by today’s standards some of the things would be edgy–like the Fraggles’ preoccupation with death.  But then, Fraggle Rock is a dangerous place to live.  If the Fraggles aren’t being thumped by Gorgs or menaced by Poison Cacklers or Invisible Garboils, they have to worry about more mundane hazards like rockslides and pebble pox.  So maybe it isn’t surprising, then, that they’re so casual and matter-of-fact about death.  It’s fascinating to me that, despite all the gravitas about it, Fraggle Rock nevertheless manages to be so lighthearted and fun and silly.  Maybe “joyful” is the word I’m searching for here.  In my experience, you can’t experience the deepest joy unless you’ve also tasted the deepest sorrow.

For my part, I want to make Fraggle Fridays a recurring feature here, but I’m not sure what to do with it.  Initially, I was going to do synopses and commentary on every episode, in order, but that sounds like an awful lot of work.  I’ll just have to make like a Fraggle and figure it out as I go along.

And like a Fraggle, let’s finish things off with a song: