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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Manny’s Land of Carpets–Redux

(Well, so much for the peaceful, quiet relaxation.)

First it was a migraine, then it was personal/professional issues…maybe there are forces out there that don’t want me to say what I was originally going to say about the Fraggle Rock episode “Manny’s Land of Carpets.”  Or maybe last week, or even yesterday, just wasn’t the acceptable time for me to be able to do it full justice.  In any case, I think I’m ready now, and I feel compelled to revisit my original ideas about this episode:

GOBO: Why does the Wish-Granting Creature promise so many things in so many different voices?  Something’s wrong here! […] I wish I knew which voice to believe.
ECHO: Believe!…believe!…believe…
[…]
GOBO:  All of a sudden, I know which voice to listen to!

We live in a schizophrenic society.  There are more voices now than ever before, all saying different things and all with different–and often sinister, or at least selfish–motivations.  We live in a world in which foreign agitators promulgate fake news stories across social media platforms to influence our elections.  We–well, I and at least some of you–live in a country in which those in authority try to undermine the credibility of those journalists who are actively TRYING to be truthful–or, at least, accurate–by disingenuously calling them “fake news.”

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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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Let Me Be Your Birthday Song

Happy birthday to Steve Whitmire and Jim Henson!  Steve, this year you get top billing; I don’t think Jim would mind.  🙂

I’m sure there are probably other examples of Jim and Steve singing together in harmony, but I can’t think of any of the top of my head, and it doesn’t matter because this one is probably the best anyway.

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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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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. 

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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. 😉

Performer as “parent”; character as “child”–an extended metaphor

“How many of you are parents? If you are, then in all likelihood, you view your children as your most important ‘creations’, your ultimate concern, your life’s work. It doesn’t matter how old they get, or if they are adopted, you’re still going to do all that you can to protect them forever, to give them a safe place to grow and be themselves. That’s how I view the Muppets.”
        –Steve Whitmire, “Acceptance, Fear & Hope” (August 1, 2017)

Even for those of us who aren’t parents, this lovely analogy from Steve offers us a lot of insight as to why he feels the way he does, why he’s made the choices that he has, and why he refuses to stop fighting.  Therefore, I think that it is worthwhile to dig into it a little, to try to unpack it and see what new understanding we can uncover.

Potentially the most damning allegation against Steve in this whole smear campaign is the claim that he “blackballed” puppeteers that auditioned with Disney when Disney wanted to cast multiple performers for singular Muppet characters.  Steve has addressed the issue on his blog and made it clear that, while he has been outspoken about character integrity and was one of the loudest critics of the “multicasting” initiative, he never had any authority when it comes to Disney’s hiring decisions…which makes sense, when you think about it, because if he did have that kind of power and authority, wouldn’t he have been able to, I don’t know…un-fire himself?

Nevertheless, it’s an idea that has gained some traction, and the people who want to discredit Steve just love to paint a lurid picture of Big Mean Stevie, throwing his weight around and acting too big for his britches, callously crushing the hopes of the innocent little puppeteers who dared to dream of working with the Muppets.  It’s an idea that’s so insidious, it has even planted some seeds of doubt in the minds of some of Steve’s staunchest supporters.

To be perfectly clear: I do NOT give any credence to these allegations of Steve blackballing fellow puppeteers.  But even if some inconvertible evidence were to come to light proving that he did so, I can see how he would feel justified in doing so.  When viewed through the prism of this parent/child metaphor, the alleged behavior that has been characterized as “blackballing” theoretically seems like a reasonable and responsible reaction.

Consider this scenario: let’s say that you are married with one or more children (if–like me–you are not, then just pretend).  And let us further assume that your in-laws are the interfering type, and so they get it into their heads to hire a babysitter for your kids–without your knowledge or consent.  So all of a sudden the doorbell rings and there’s the babysitter that your in-laws hired standing on the doorstep saying, “Hi, I’m here to take care of your kids!”  Would you welcome this babysitter into your home?  Would you entrust him or her with the care of your children?

Of course you wouldn’t.  You wouldn’t leave your children in the care of a total stranger.  Instead, you would ask the prospective babysitter to leave.  And it wouldn’t be a reflection on the babysitter herself (or himself); for all you know, the babysitter could be qualified and competent.  But you wouldn’t know, because you wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to vet the babysitter yourself.  To entrust the care of your children, in your home, to an untested stranger would be irresponsible parenting, if not outright negligence.

And if you are a nice person (and I assume that you probably are) you might well feel sorry for the babysitter, who was led to believe that he/she had a job lined up, only to have it fall through at the last minute, by no fault of his/her own, because someone who was not the parent of the child(ren) overstepped their boundaries.*  Still, in that case it would be the in-laws who misled the babysitter, made the babysitter promises that they couldn’t keep.  You couldn’t take the responsibility for their inappropriate actions.  And you certainly couldn’t potentially endanger the well-being of your children, and the sanctity of your home, just to spare the babysitter’s feelings.

Just to be perfectly clear, in the preceding analogy, Steve is the parent, the Muppets are the children, Disney/Muppets Studio are the meddling grandparents, and the aspiring puppeteers are the prospective babysitter.  The aspiring puppeteers may have felt ill-treated, and it is appropriate to feel sorry for them, but let us just keep in mind that it was Disney that falsely raised their expectations and made them promises that it couldn’t–or, at least, didn’t–keep.  

At this point, I’d just like to restate Steve’s thesis statement, putting it into my own words as I understand it: Steve sees his responsibility to the Muppets as  being comparable to that of a parent to his children, and even if some of his “children”–for example, Kermit and Beaker–are “adopted,” that doesn’t lessen his love and concern for them, and it certainly doesn’t lessen the responsibility that he feels toward them.

If that’s the case, then when Steve got the call from Disney last October saying that his puppeteering services would no longer be required, I imagine that it must have felt similar to being a parent and having Social Services just show up at your door one day–with no advance notice or warning, mind you–and announce that they had arrived to take your kids away.**

Imagine that you were a parent in that scenario.  Would you just give up?  Let it go?  Move on with your life?  Of course you wouldn’t!  You would speak up.  You would fight back against the injustice of it.  You would do everything you could think of to get your kids back, no matter what the cost.  Even if it were hopeless, you would have to explore every legal avenue and try everything that you possibly could…because you would know that if you didn’t, you would never be able to look yourself in the mirror again, and you would spend the rest of your life wondering if there was more that you could have done.  Most of all, you would do it because you would know that your children would be counting on you to do the best that you could for their sake.

Moreover, if you didn’t try–if you didn’t make an effort–if you just passively accepted the decision, wouldn’t that only go to support the original argument that you were an unfit parent, because you apparently didn’t care enough to fight back?

Now, instead of imagining that you’re the parent, imagine instead that you are acquainted with a parent in this situation.  And let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you believe the allegations to be true, that you believe that the parent is unfit.  Would you say so to his face?  Would you tell him to give it up, let it go, move on with his life, stop digging himself in deeper?  Would you tell him that the kids are probably better off, and that he’s only hurting himself by prolonging the inevitable?

Assuming, as I have already done, that you are a nice person, I don’t think you would do any of those things.  Even if you believed those things, it would be unnecessarily cruel to say them to his face.

Would you talk about the beleaguered parent behind his back?   Would you post messages about him on a public Internet forum that, for all you know, he could very well be reading?  Would it make a difference if you knew, or suspected, that he was reading it?  That’s a trickier thing to answer; it’s a lot less cut-and-dried.  

As Muppet fans, I think we should be discussing this issue.  As I’ve said before, I started this blog in the interest of keeping the conversation going, to promote a dialogue in the interest of fostering understanding, rather than trying to sweep it under the rug.  Because, as my beloved Phil Dunphy points out on Modern Family, in that scenario, eventually you end up with a lumpy rug.

(“It becomes a tripping hazard…”)

 But at the same time, I think it is important to remember, first of all, that Steve is a part of our community; second–and most importantly–he is also a human being with feelings.  As a rule, I would never say or write or post anything about Steve that I would be ashamed to say to his face.  You never know what he might be reading, and when.

And by the way, that policy of not posting anything online that I wouldn’t say to Steve’s face goes for all the other players in this sad little drama as well.  Disney presents itself to the public as a monolith, and so that is how I treat it, but I do try to be mindful of the Hensons as human beings and try to be sensitive about their feelings with regards to their father and the pain they must still feel over losing him.  Nevertheless, I’m not going to afford them any special privileges on that account; I’m not going to hold back on calling them out on their hypocrisy in this matter just because they are Jim’s children.  Some people may think that I’ve been overly harsh or critical in that regard, but I stand by every syllable that I’ve put out there in regard to the Hensons.  They shouldn’t dish it out if they can’t take it.

If I regret anything that I’ve said about anyone in this scenario, it’s what I said about Matt Vogel after his Kermit video dropped.  In this whole extended metaphor of parents/children, I view Matt’s role as that of a “foster parent,” taking care of Kermit for an undetermined period of time in the hopes that his “adoptive father” (Steve) will someday be allowed by “Social Services” (Disney) to take custody of Kermit and his other “children” (Beaker, Rizzo, etc.) once again.

Ideally, that’s the goal of the foster care system.  In reality, of course, it rarely works out so neatly, and it seems unlikely to do so in this scenario either.  Especially since Disney, the analogue to Social Services in this scenario, is more like Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford from Sweeney Todd than a modern-day social worker.

To those outside the Muppet fan community, and perhaps even to a few within it, it may seem overly precious or self-indulgent for a puppeteer to regard his characters as his “children.”  But Steve’s not the only one who has said something to that effect.  No less a personage than Mr. Caroll Spinney, performer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, has said on more than one occasion that he regards Big Bird as his child.

The documentary about Mr. Spinney, I Am Big Bird, tells a story about when the Big Bird puppet was vandalized.  The Sesame cast was on tour, they were rehearsing on a college campus and had the local ROTC contingent guard the unoccupied Big Bird puppet while they went out to lunch.  Whether the ROTC students were temporarily possessed by some destructive demon or they were just horrible people at baseline, I don’t know, but apparently they thought it would be neat to have some of Big Bird’s feathers as souvenirs.  And then, what might have seemed at first like a harmless prank escalated into something like a scene from Lord of the Flies.  They plucked one side of Big Bird bare, they tried to remove one of his eyes and, when they couldn’t do that, they left it “broken and hanging off.”  Then they apparently got bored of the brutality and left him lying on the ground.

Mr. Spinney describes the aftermath thus: “[Big Bird] was lying in the dirt, and I saw it and I burst into tears.  It was like seeing my child raped and thrown on the ground and destroyed.”

I think most feeling people, if they have any sort of connection to Sesame Street at all, would have been moved by the gruesomeness of this senseless brutality against Big Bird.  But as I have argued elsewhere, Kermit the Frog has recently suffered an act of cruelty and violation at the hands of Disney that is just as senseless and just as brutal.  However, since it involves injuries to the soul of the character instead of to the outward, physical manifestation of the character, I think it is harder for people to understand or to take as seriously as the concrete, observable reality of a vandalized puppet.

Let’s go back to our extended metaphor and carry it to the other logical extreme:  Have any of you ever had an elderly loved one suffer from dementia?  If you have, then you know how painful it is to watch as someone you love slowly loses himself (or herself) and everything that makes them who they are.  You know how disturbing it is to look into their eyes and see a stranger looking back at you.

That’s sort of how I view Kermit now, as someone that I love suffering from sudden-onset dementia.  Just like that, all of Kermit’s memories of the Muppet Show days, and especially his memories of working with Jim, are all second-hand.  Not only that, but his memories of everything that happened before the Muppet Show are now third-hand.

And at the risk of sounding like a scratched CD or a poorly buffered audio file (which I imagine are the 21st-century equivalents of a “broken record”), this is not, in any way, a criticism of Matt.  I’m sure Matt is well versed in Muppet lore at baseline and will do his due diligence to keep Kermit conversant in his own history.  Nevertheless, I fear that now, as Data says in the very best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, those memories will be “reduced to the mere facts of the events.  The substance, the flavor of the moment, could be lost.” 

The attitude that really infuriates me from other fans is the idea that Steve is somehow being selfish or self-serving by wanting to regain custody of his Muppet “children.”  To go back to the metaphor, any parent would try to get their kids back if they were taken away…and granted, some of them might do so for selfish reasons, but the overwhelming majority would do so out of concern for their children and a wish to protect them.  

Furthermore, if trying to exert authority as to how Kermit is handled by Disney makes one selfish, then Jim Henson–according to that logic–was the most selfish bastard ever to come down the pike.  Because, in the days of the original Disney deal, Jim wanted Kermit to have a separate, privileged status from the other Muppet characters.  As told by Brian Jay Jones in The Biography:

“While Jim was prepared to hand over all of the Muppets to Disney, he didn’t intend for Kermit to go with them unconditionally.  He was too important.  ‘Kermit should be treated in the negotiations as a separate issue,’ recommended a confidential Henson Associates memo.  ‘Since Kermit the Frog is so closely associated with Jim Henson, Jim must have control over the use of Kermit.’  For Disney, however, getting the Muppets without the free use of Kermit was like getting the cast of Peanuts without Snoopy.  For the moment, Kermit was in a kind of legal limbo as both sides tried to figure out, Solomon-like, how to split the million-dollar baby.” (page 446, emphasis in original)

No one would admit to it now, of course, because nobody wants to speak ill of the dead, but I’d be willing to bet that some of the people working on the Disney side of the deal thought that Jim was making “outrageous demands” and being “difficult to work with.”

It’s clear from Jane Henson’s words in 1990 that Jim intended Steve to be Kermit’s “guardian” in the event that something happened to him.  And regardless of what Brian Henson thinks about it now, he’s the one who appointed Steve as Kermit’s guardian after Jim passed away.  Based on what little evidence that Disney has offered as to Steve’s alleged “unfitness,” it looks to me that Steve was fired for doing exactly what Jim Henson intended and expected him to do: not only to keep Kermit alive, but to care for him and protect him, as any parent or guardian would.

 

____________________________
*This actually happened to me once when I was about 12 or 13.  It’s a long story, as so many of my stories seem to be.
**”Like in The Sims,” I was going to say, but even in the Sims games, they usually give you one warning before the social worker comes.

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.

 

Severing the rainbow connection

Well…Disney finally released the Muppet Thought of the Week video with Vogel!Kermit.  You can watch it here:

Oops!  Sorry, wrong video!  This is the one:

But seriously, I think Matt is great…as Uncle Deadly.  His Kermit, though…sheesh.

Okay, that sounds harsh.  I’m sorry.  I usually don’t go for the joke at the potential expense of other people’s feelings like that.  I’m just feeling bitter and, well, it was right there.

But I certainly mean no disrespect toward Matt.  He’s not the one I have a problem with…

…(but part of me is hoping that he’s purposely trying to be terrible as Kermit so that Disney will bring Steve back.  I’m not proud of myself for hoping that, but there it is.)

I said at the beginning that if Disney insisted on this course of action and refused to be dissuaded, Matt was an excellent candidate to play Kermit because of his talent and his ethos.

But having actually heard Matt do it…I’m sure it’s NOT something that he’s doing on purpose, but Matt’s Kermit sounds too much like Constantine.

HOW CAN I TRUST A KERMIT THAT SOUNDS LIKE CONSTANTINE?!?!?!?!?  

If I may paraphrase my thesis statement from my review of the first episode of the muppets. (2015), this video made me want to cry…and NOT in a good way.

And I reiterate again, this is nothing against Matt.  But just as a Doozer can’t become a Fraggle, Matt cannot become Steve.  It’s not a bad thing, and it’s nobody’s fault.  It’s just the immutable laws of nature; they’re there for a reason.  And I have my doubts as to whether a Constantine can become a Kermit…but, in fairness, I suppose it is a little soon to judge.

I remember when Muppet Christmas Carol was about to come out back in 1992.  I was talking to my eldest brother about it, and he said that he couldn’t bear to watch it because, regardless of how close the voice was, he would just know that it wasn’t Jim Henson performing Kermit.  And I don’t think that that was supposed to be a slight against, or a criticism of, Steve in any way (I’m not entirely sure that my brother knew specifically that it would be Steve performing him–I certainly didn’t); I just think that the wound was still too fresh.  

At the time, I rather thought that my brother was cutting off his nose to spite his face in regards to the Muppets.  Just because Kermit was different doesn’t mean he would be bad, and my brother might have been missing out on something great.

But now…I kind of get where my brother was coming from.  I don’t know–I sincerely don’t know–if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to watch new Muppet stuff ever again.  And I reiterate, yet again, that it is nothing in the world against Matt; if it be so that he is not purposely trying to be bad, I am sure he will get better over time, just as Steve did.  But it’s something that he should never have been asked to do in the first place–certainly not under these circumstances.  

At the risk of sounding like Sarah in Labyrinth, it’s just not fair.  It’s not fair to Steve, to Matt, to Jim, to Kermit, the other Muppet performers, or to us fans.  The whole thing is just so contrived, so corporate…so artificial, so unnecessary…so WRONG!!!

I’m sick of trying to be diplomatic about this; this whole thing is WRONG!  It is WRONG to casually and cavalierly sever Kermit’s connection to Jim like this.  It is WRONG to rip Kermit’s soul away from him!

I’d like to believe that the ideal spirit of Kermit exists somewhere on the platonic plane, so that he will continue to live no matter who’s performing him…but I’m not sure I believe that anymore.  If this had been a necessary course of action, and if Steve had been allowed input into the decision, then maybe the spirit of Kermit could continue to flow on through Matt (or whomever Steve had chosen) and into the puppet.  But maybe the circumstances have to be exactly right; maybe it can’t happen when the decision is made arbitrarily under false pretenses.

I don’t know.  All I know is that today has been an awful day.  And I feel so bad.

Neither Constantine nor Matt Vogel can give me what I want: I want Steve back as Kermit.  Only Disney can give me what I want, but I don’t believe their promises are any more sincere than Constantine’s are.

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?

Empathy

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
             ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I have empathy for Steve Whitmire.  Let me tell you why:

During my brief, undistinguished teaching career, there were two separate occasions in which students misrepresented things that I said, took well-intentioned statements that I’d made and blew them all out of proportion.  I wrote about it last week, but because it was lengthy and not strictly Muppet related, I put it on a separate page.

One thing that I didn’t put in that story is that during the first year of my teaching assistantship in grad school, I had a student who was clearly guilty of plagiarism.  It was a dead giveaway when the paper used the wrong documentation style, because we only taught MLA in Comp 101, and this paper used APA documentation.  When I had to confront the student about it, the director of writing backed me up all the way.  Because of that, I felt that he was on my side, that we were all on the same team, that I could count on him to support me.  I don’t know exactly what changed over that summer between the first and second years of my teaching assistantship.  I hadn’t changed in my approach to school or to life; I was still working to juggle the demands of being a teacher and a student at the same time, but always trying to conduct myself with integrity and stay true to my own personal ethos.  In the past, that had always been enough…but apparently it wasn’t anymore.

Because of that experience, I know what it’s like to feel betrayed and abandoned by someone whose support you believed you could count on no matter what.  I know how frightening and lonely it can be to have to stand alone in the face of baseless accusations and (for lack of a better word) trumped-up charges.  

It feels exactly like this:

I can only imagine how disheartening it must be to have many, many people–who had previously claimed to love you–either turn against you outright, or else just turn away, stand back and watch while others are ganging up against you.

Two different students, on two separate occasions, bore false witness against me, dragging my name through the mud.  But I think it’s important to think about their motivations.  I think that the college student, in her panic at the prospect of potentially failing a required class, in her heightened state of emotion, exaggerated the event in her mind.  I think that she believed that she was being honest, that she told the events exactly as she remembered them, even though her version was grossly inaccurate.  I bear her no ill will.  

Perhaps the high school student believed that she was being honest too, but she had nothing to gain by rehashing the story over and over again except for the satisfaction of provoking my righteous indignation.  It wasn’t that she cared about the substitute teacher, either.  She was motivated purely by the thrill of causing a sensation, by the pleasure of inflicting pain.  

Basically, she was trolling me.  She was a real-life, flesh-and-blood, in-your-face troll.  And now that I think about it, in a way I have to admire that, albeit grudgingly.  At least she had the courage to stand up and say those things right to my face, instead of hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet and harassing me from behind an assumed name and a bunch of virtual sockpuppets, like a coward.

Therefore, I know how it feels to have people saying things about me that are exaggerated at best and, at worst, are outright lies.  I know how frustrating it is to feel powerless to defend yourself from people (a) bearing false witness against you, and/or (b) outright verbally attacking you.  

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”
–A quotation that has been falsely attributed to Mark Twain, ironically enough.  (Still relevant, however)

That’s why I empathize with Steve.  And why I stand with him.