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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Fraggle Friday–“Why?”

In my opinion, this beautiful song from Mokey is one of Fraggle Rock‘s most underrated.

This song is from the episode “The Preachification of Convincing John,” which I always think is something of a misnomer.  I mean, obviously Convincing John is in it, and he does preachify (or whatever the verb form would be), but it’s really a story about Mokey, and Convincing John is pretty incidental it.

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 507–“Gone, But Not Forgotten”

This may well be the most discussed Fraggle Rock episode of them all.  I don’t think that I necessarily have anything new to add to the discussion.  But it’s October, and I always get to feeling morbid in October, and this episode suits my current mood, so I’m just going to go with it.

It’s interesting that, for all the Fraggles’ preoccupation with death, and notwithstanding the numerous close calls, this is the only episode that deals directly with it.

 

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 215–“Manny’s Land of Carpets”

“‘Manny’s Land of Carpets’–I love that show.  It was really a show about television; a show about the kind of delusional system that’s projected by people’s belief in, you know, the world that seems to be inside that box in the corner of the room, and that’s the way I saw it in the beginning, anyway.  And then it just got crazier and crazier as time went on, and it’s sort of one of those one-sentence ideas that you can crack it open and start to uncrack it a little bit, and it starts to really suggest there’s an entire universe in here–Manny’s Land of Carpets.”
             –David Young, writer of “Manny’s Land of Carpets

So, here is David Young, a writer working for a TV show, writing an episode of said show about how television is a “delusional system.”  You’ve got to admire his audacity and the unapologetic relish with which he bites the hand that feeds him.

(This is the topic about which I was going to write last week but had to postpone when I was beset by a migraine.  But maybe it’s just as well, because what I’m going to write now is different than what I would have written last week.)

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 218: “The Day the Music Died”

Well, the best-laid plans of Fraggles and frogs often go awry, I suppose.  I had a whole Fraggle Friday feature all planned out…and then I developed a migraine, with its attendant photosensitivity, which means I can’t turn on a light to see my notes, at least not without feeling as though a Doozer with an ice auger is standing on my head trying to bore its way into my skull.

So instead, let’s focus on the night when the lights went out in Fraggle Rock: episode 218, “The Day the Music Died,” aka The One With the Ditzies.

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 207: “Mokey and the Minstrels”

What follows is an open letter to Steve Whitmire:

Dear Steve,

Although I am a child of the ’80s, Fraggle Rock was, regrettably, not a significant part of my childhood.  I saw bits and pieces of it back in the day, but I never got to watch the series in its entirety until 2013–although I’ve been trying to make up for lost time ever since.  In a way, though, I think I’m kind of lucky because I think that maybe I get more out of watching Fraggle Rock as an adult, bringing my education and life experience to it, than I would have as a kid–a relatively blank slate.

Be that as it may, I identify strongly with Mokey.  Her abstract, fanciful, introspective approach to life, and her idealistic worldview, remind me a lot of myself.  In particular, however, I relate to Mokey in this episode of Fraggle Rock, in which she attempts to discern her vocation.  I’ve been trying to discern mine for 37 years, and I still haven’t quite figured it out.

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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.

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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. 😉

Fraggle Friday: “Eye to Eye”

Let’s take a moment to appreciate one of the most upbeat and positive Fraggle songs that there is (which is saying something):

The irony here, of course, is that the Doozers actually are NOT seeing eye-to-eye with one another and are not communicating.

There seems to be a lot of that going around.

We haven’t been doing a very good job of seeing eye-to-eye in the Muppet fan community lately.  I don’t exempt myself from that; I haven’t exactly been my best self the last few days.

I’ve been venting a lot of frustrations lately, and while that’s therapeutic, it’s not necessarily very friendly or congenial.  It’s important to me to be straightforward in expressing my point of view.  I won’t apologize for my loyalty to Steve, but maybe I could make more of an effort to be more diplomatic and less antagonistic.  That might be more rhetorically effective.

I think that it’s important for me to say that I don’t fault anyone for making a conscientious decision.  Wherever you stand on the Schism, if you’re there because you believe with all your heart and mind and soul and every fiber of your being that that is where you’re supposed to be, then I respect that.  The best that any of us can do is to obey the inscrutable exhortations of our souls.

With that said, however, I think it might be a useful thought experiment if we were each to think about how we would justify ourselves and our position on the issue to Jim Henson if we had to…if we could.

I’ll have to think about that; there might be a future post in that.

 

Fraggle Friday: Skenfrith

Skenfrith monster

Skenfrith needs our help.  You see, we’ve gotta believe he’s not a monster […] He hates being a monster; only we can help!”
–Wembley Fraggle

I recently read a post by my friend Marni Hill on her blog, Just for the Halibut.  (Fair warning: her post contains explicit language, but if that’s not an issue, you can read it here.)  In it, she described feeling skeptical and working through lingering doubts she still had about Steve Whitmire as a result of the nasty rumors and snide insinuations that have swarmed unpleasantly around him.  It was a challenging piece, and I had difficulty processing it.  As I was thinking about how to respond, I was suddenly put in mind of an old saying, regarded as something of a cliché, if not an outright glurge: “Believing is seeing.”

It made me smile.  It reminded me of my best friend from college, who hated that expression and wasn’t shy about saying so.  (Truth be told, I’ve never known him to be shy about saying so when he didn’t like something.)  I’m not necessarily inclined to agree with him, however; I think there’s some truth in the saying.

Then that put me in mind of the Fraggle Rock episode “Believe It or Not,” which introduced us to Skenfrith, a magical shapeshifting creature whose form changes as a reflection of the beliefs of those around him.  To put it another way, he becomes whatever others believe him to be.  It’s kind of a complicated concept; why I don’t I just let Skenfrith himself explain it:

When Jocelyn Stevenson created the character of Skenfrith for Fraggle Rock, she was trying to make the point that “belief affects perception [and] perception affects belief […] what you believe about things is then how you see them.”

And whether we’re aware of it or not, our beliefs about other people also affect our perception of them.  For example, I recently read a fascinating article about how preconceived notions about another person’s emotional state can influence how we interpret their facial expressions.  Not only that, but as we interpret the facial expressions of others, we subconsciously reflect the emotions that we are interpreting on our own faces.  So, in a way, we’re all kind of reverse Skenfriths.

As I was thinking about all this, I was suddenly hit with another epiphany:  What if Steve Whitmire is Skenfrith?

Not literally, of course.  I’m well aware that Dave Goelz played Skenfrith on Fraggle Rock, (and, as far as I know, Steve is not a shapeshifter).  But in a metaphorical sense, suppose that Steve is Skenfrith, and suppose that Disney and the Henson children are the Gorgs who–with a depth of malice only rarely plumbed by the actual Gorgs themselves–have gone out of their way to convince the Muppet fandom that Steve is a monster: a disrespectful, unacceptable-business conducting, outrageously demanding, understudy-eschewing, blackballing, destructive-energy emitting, brinkman-shipping, bitter, angry, depressed, unfunny, monster.

I’ve now come realize that, for the fans who have been convinced of Steve’s multihyphenate monstrosity, everything that he says and does to try to justify himself gets filtered through that perception, like a funhouse mirror that twists and distorts the reflected image, so that the things that he says in his own defense are perceived as reinforcing Disney’s claims instead, and he is perceived as some sort of unhinged, bullying diva when, really, all he’s trying to do is stand up for himself.

And while I am dismayed and frustrated by this…*ahem*…phenomenon,  at least now I understand how Steve can post fundamental Muppet truths on his blog–stuff that I consider to be really basic, like “the Muppet performers are not interchangeable“–and be met with eye-rolling contempt by certain factions of the fandom.  While I don’t agree with the people who say things like, “Steve should have taken the ‘retirement package’ from Disney…he’s so disrespectful of Matt…he’s just digging himself in a hole…who does he think he anyway is to dictate what’s best for the Muppets?…” etc., at least now I understand where those comments are coming from.  To me, it’s similar to what Red says in “Believe It or Not”: “I know that [Skenfrith’s not a monster]…but I found the two heads very convincing!”  

One of my favorite authors is Madeleine L’Engle.  Best known for writing A Wrinkle in Time, she was a prolific and eclectic author.  There’s an idea that shows up in several of her works, but is perhaps best expressed in her novel The Young Unicorns: “People become trustworthy only by being trusted […] Not stupidly, you understand, but fully aware of the facts, we still have to trust.”

Notice that she doesn’t say that we have to be aware of all the facts.  That would be ideal, of course, but oftentimes in situations like this, facts can only take us so far.  And when it gets to that point, that’s when we have to make a choice whether or not to make a leap of faith in trusting someone.  That’s a difficult, dangerous thing to do; to trust someone else is to make oneself vulnerable, to risk being hurt.  It’s much easier and safer to sit back, to be passive, to accept what those in authority tell us.  But the easiest choice isn’t necessarily the right one; in fact, in my experience, it’s more often the opposite.

It is now incumbent upon each of us Muppet fans to make a choice:  Are we going to make Steve trustworthy by trusting him?  Or are we going to make him into a monster by making him out to be a monster?

Fraggle Friday: Episode 406 “A Tune for Two”

It goes without saying that we’ve all witnessed some horrific events over the last week, and it’s hard to know how to address it.  I want to acknowledge it in a way that’s respectful and sensitive to the pain that people are feeling.

At the same time, I think it’s important that, in the words of Jon Stewart, we grieve but we don’t despair.  The moment that we give into despair, the moment that we start believing that nothing can change and what we do doesn’t matter, is the moment that our enemies win.  

And by “our enemies,” I mean those who foster divisions among us, those who embrace the darkness at the expense of the light, those who seek to build walls instead of bridges. They are easy to recognize, especially when they march through the streets wielding torches (tiki or otherwise), as well as when they get up and make speeches that give comfort to the violent agitators while blaming the victims.

So we need to fortify ourselves against the despair by affirming hope, and there’s a lot of hope to be found within Jim Henson’s body of work.  In fact, this is exactly the sort of situation that Fraggle Rock was created to address.  And when it comes to addressing the events in Virginia last week, one Fraggle Rock episode immediately came to mind: “A Tune for Two,” which deals with the issue of racism perhaps more directly than any other episode of Fraggle Rock.  Now, I could just  focus on the song “Children of Tomorrow,” which is the triumphant culmination of the episode and its message of unity, but I think that won’t mean as much unless we really delve down into the episode.  So that’s what I’d like to try to do now.

“A Tune for Two” is episode 406 of Fraggle Rock.  Of the main Fraggle characters, it features Wembley most prominently.  The episode was written by Laura Phillips, whose work on Fraggle Rock I consider to be a bit uneven, but she always gives good Wembley.  She really gets into the character and brings out all his subtle nuances, all his various lights and shades, and whenever she and Wembley come together, something magical happens.

Like all Fraggle Rock episodes, this one starts out in the workshop with Doc and Sprocket, and while we’re on the subject, this may be an opportune moment for me to point out something about Sprocket.  Sprocket was performed by Steve Whitmire, but I keep forgetting that, because Steve makes Sprocket seem so lifelike that I keep forgetting that he is not a real dog.  Jim Henson said in the documentary “Down at Fraggle Rock” that Steve’s performance as Sprocket was “very doglike, and also somehow more than human,”  and I humbly and wholeheartedly concur.

Anyway, Doc’s houseplant “Lucinda”, a spathiphyllum, is wilting, and he declares that “the way to give a plant the will to live is to talk to it.”  Personally, I would have tried watering it first, but to each his own.  Doc’s attempt to revive his plant by talking to it will absorb most of the rest of his portion of the episode.

Meanwhile, down in Fraggle Rock, Wembley is beside himself with excitement about the Duet-a-thon, an event that we’ve never heard about until now but is apparently Wembley’s favorite Fraggle event.  Following some obligatory exposition from Red and Mokey, Wembley goes bouncing off to his room to ask Gobo what they’re going to sing.

Gobo, meanwhile, is working on writing a new song, which I always think is kind of funny that Fraggles can just make up songs as they go along, but then when they sit down to try to write a song, they have trouble.  In this case, Gobo is trying to think of a word that rhymes with “treacherous.”  Here is where it makes a difference if you’re like me and you’ve only gotten to see Fraggle Rock as an adult: the first, and perhaps only, word that comes to my mind when trying to think of a word that rhymes with “treacherous” is “lecherous.”  Of course, if you were a kid watching, you would never think of such a thing.  It doesn’t make sense in a Fraggle context either, and indeed, Wembley instead suggests the nonsense word “bletcherous,” but this is one instance wherein watching Fraggle Rock as an adult kind of ruins the joke for me.

Anyway, just at this moment Traveling Matt arrives from Outer Space, saying that he has returned for the Duet-a-thon and that singing a duet with his nephew Gobo will make him the proudest Fraggle in the Rock.

Obviously this puts both Gobo and Wembley in an awkward position.  And, in all honesty, I have to admit that if I were in Wembley’s position, I probably would have just stood there quietly to watch what Gobo would do, hoping all the while that he would end up picking me.  But not Wembley; he insists that Gobo sing with Uncle Matt:

GOBO: Hey Wembley, you don’t think I’d let you down, do you?
WEMBLEY: I think if you don’t sing with your uncle Matt, it will break his heart; that’s what I think.  Now, get in there and start rehearsing!
GOBO:  Yeah, but–
WEMBLEY: March!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Wembley Fraggle, a character whose primary trait is supposed to be indecision, but in reality, his primary character traits are empathy and selflessness.  His goodness makes me feel ashamed of myself.

Wembley’s self-sacrifice necessarily comes at a personal cost.  Holding back tears, Wembley goes off by himself and meets Cotterpin Doozer, apparently for the first time.  It’s funny to me how four of the Fraggle Five become friends with Cotterpin, but only ever one at a time.  But no matter.  Wembley gives a brief explanation of why he is so upset, and Cotterpin tells him that he shouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Encouraged, Wembley bounces away again and runs into Boober.  He asks Boober to sing with him in the Duet-a-thon but Boober, being Boober, refuses and says that he hates the Duet-a-thon.  At that moment, Tosh shows up with a special song that she wrote especially for Boober: “The Sun Set in the Sky Like a Rhubarb in a Pie.”  Enticed by the prospect of…pie, perhaps, Boober agrees to sing in the Duet-a-thon with Tosh.  Wembley doesn’t take this well; his angry face is absolutely priceless.

Alone and depressed once again, Wembley sings “Duet for One,” which is truly one of my favorite Fraggle songs of all time.  “Children of Tomorrow” gets most of the attention in this episode, and deservedly so, but this one…I don’t know, maybe it just resonates with me because when we had to pair off in school, I always seemed to be the odd one out.

Anyway, Cotterpin finds Wembley in tears yet again, and even though she doesn’t quite understand what the Duet-a-thon is at first, she comforts him.  And when she finds out it’s a singing contest to find out who can sing the best duet, she offers to sing with him.  They have a hard time coming up with a song at first because Wembley can only think of songs about “Fraggle stuff” and she can only think of songs about Doozer stuff.  Wembley acknowledges the difficulty but suggests that they write a song about “friendship stuff.”

Meanwhile, Gobo, Red, and Mokey are trying to figure out a way to include Wembley in the Duet-a-thon.  Gobo starts out by asking Uncle Matt to drop out so that he, Gobo, can sing with Wembley per the original plan, but of course, Uncle Matt misunderstands and decides to sing with Wembley instead of Gobo.  Then we have some funny Abbott-and-Costello-style antics wherein the Fraggles keep switching partners trying to resolve the problem.  The effort everyone goes to is nice, but they expend a lot of effort trying to fix a problem that no longer exists, and if they would just talk to Wembley, they would know that.

Unfortunately, Wembley is about to have an even bigger problem.

Gillis Fraggle is registering Fraggle pairs for the Duet-a-thon.  Now, I have to take a moment and mention how much I love this character.  He is performed by Richard Hunt, who used exactly the same voice for Gillis Fraggle that he did for my beloved Don Music on Sesame Street.  I’d like to think that Gillis Fraggle is really just Don Music in Fraggle form (minus the headbanging).

Unfortunately, Gillis Fraggle is not so awesome this time around.  He initially laughs  when Wembley says that he wants to sing with Cotterpin, and then he says that Cotterpin can’t participate because the Duet-a-thon is a “fine old Fraggle tradition.”

Wembley’s response is lovely: “If this contest is a ‘fine old Fraggle tradition,’ then I don’t know if I want to be a Fraggle anymore!”  And he storms off.  Gillis Fraggle isn’t impressed, but I think it’s one of the greatest Wembley moments ever on the show.

Unfortunately, Cotterpin doesn’t get to see Wembley’s noble freak-out on her behalf.  She’s too busy excitedly discussing the Duet-a-thon with other Doozers, who try to convince her, as bluntly as possible, that Wembley is going to let her down:

DOOZER #1:  My mom and dad told me you can never trust a Fraggle.
DOOZER #2:  They’re just too silly to depend on.
DOOZER #1:  My mom and dad told me Fraggles lie all the time.
DOOZER #2:  And they forget everything they say right after they say it.
DOOZER #1:  My mom and dad said all Fraggles hate Doozers.
DOOZER #2:  And they don’t care about what we feel at all…

The Doozers’ description of Fraggles sounds more like Donald Trump than any Fraggle I’ve ever seen.  But I guess that the point; the Doozers regard Fraggles as outrageous caricatures rather than seeing them as they really are.

Of course, Fraggles don’t always present themselves in the best light, either.  Just at this moment Wembley rushes up and says, “Cotterpin…you can’t be in the Duet-a-thon,” thus seeming to confirm the worst suspicions of Cotterpin’s Doozer colleagues.

Dear little Wembley, why on earth would you start off like that?  Why didn’t you start off with the line about how you don’t know if you want to be a Fraggle anymore?  Cotterpin would understand that; she’s been there herself.

But then Wembley redeems himself, at least as far as I’m concerned:  “All I know is you’ve got just as much right to sing in the Duet-a-thon as anybody else!  And I’m going to go back and tell the other Fraggles that a Duet-a-thon without you in it isn’t worth having.”  But poor Cotterpin, nursing a raw wound and poisoned by her Doozer friends, doesn’t believe him…at least not yet.

And now we come to the last scene before the finale.  I’m mostly just going to quote from it because it’s so good on its own:

WEMBLEY:  The Duet-a-thon is supposed to be fun, but I don’t see how it can be if it means leaving someone out!
GILLIS:  But we’re not talking about “someone,” you foolish fellow!  We’re talking about a Doozer.
WEMBLEY:  Well, SO WHAT?!?

“So what?!?” indeed!  This is so ironic for us in the audience because we’ve already seen the Gorgs make similar assumptions about Fraggles, that they’re little more than garden pests without the dignity of names.  The Fraggles aren’t much better when it comes to the Doozers.

GILLIS: The Duet-a-thon is just for Fraggles!  That’s the way it’s always been!
WEMBLEY:  Well, I’ve got news for you: just because something’s “always been” doesn’t make it right! […] And if my friend Cotterpin can’t be in the Duet-a-thon, I don’t want to have anything to do with it!

At this point, Gobo speaks up:

GOBO:  I agree with Wembley!  If Cotterpin Doozer can’t sing in the Duet-a-thon, I won’t either!

And what with Gobo being the designated voice of reason for all of Fraggledom, all the other spectating Fraggles start up a chant of “WE WON’T SING!  WE WON’T SING!”

By this point, Cotterpin has arrived on her little scooter thingie and has heard every word.  Meanwhile, Gillis is distraught by the turn of events:

GILLIS:  But that leaves no one to sing in the Duet-a-Thon!  We’ll have to call the whole thing off!
WEMBLEY:  Listen, I’ve got a better idea.  Instead of cancelling the Duet-a-thon and making everyone unhappy, why not just let Cotterpin sing?”
(beat)
GILLIS:  Why, that’s the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard!

At this point, I’d like to point out, in case there was any doubt in anybody’s mind, that Fraggles are much nicer than humans.  Not once do any of the other Fraggles accuse Wembley of having ulterior motives, of championing Cotterpin’s cause just because he wants someone to sing with in the Duet-a-thon…make of that what you will.

Cotterpin and Wembley reconcile, and they enter the Duet-a-thon together; Wembley wearing a visor like Cotterpin’s, and Cotterpin wearing a tiny banana-tree shirt like Wembley’s.  And so they sing, with Wembley taking the gorgeous harmony line:

And everyone in Fraggle Rock joins in, including Junior Gorg and Sprocket, whose singing revives Lucinda the houseplant.  “There’s something magical about music,” Doc observes.

I had always thought the world was full of mystery.
I had seen so many faces that were strange;
And it sometimes seemed that each one was my enemy,
And I said our fighting ways would never change.

But I learned to meet my brother and my enemy,
And I learned that we are none of us alone.
For I found a friend who’s different, and he cares for me,
And I know a place we share can be our home.

As I was transcribing these lyrics for “Children of Tomorrow,” it suddenly hit me.  WE ARE, in fact, the children of tomorrow.  I, as a child of the ’80s, and any of you reading this who are my contemporaries or younger…we’re the ones the lyrics are referring to; we’re the ones the song was written for.

It’s a little bit humbling.  It’s a little bit frightening.  It’s a lot to live up to.

And as much as I want to use my own words to answer the charge, I find that my own words just somehow do not seem adequate.  So once again, I stand on the shoulders of geniuses and pull a paraphrase from J.K. Rowling:  Our enemies’ gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great.  We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.

Or, as the Fraggles–and all the denizens of Fraggle Rock–say, “Help us to live here with our other, our brother; one in heart, one in hope, one in pain.”

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: