“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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“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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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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“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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“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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Kermit’s Appearance on “Dancing with the Stars”

MY MOM:  You were in kind of high dudgeon [about Kermit’s recast] before.
ME:  Yeah, I still am.
           –Excerpt from phone conversation, October 29, 2017.

Well, it’s been two weeks, so I should really talk about this. 

It’s hard to find good clips of this on YouTube.  Here’s a short, official clip:

Here’s a bootleg clip, which is very tiny and has a flashy background that I think should come with an epilepsy warning:

Some general comments before I get to the Kermit-specific stuff:  Drew Scott’s Miss Piggy impression sounds more like Yoda, which (a) is hilarious, and (b) may have just become my new OTP (Yoda and Kermit, that is).  

During the actual performance, I didn’t like the style of the vocalist that they had singing “Rainbow Connection”–and also she got the words wrong, which really rubs me the wrong way (as my mom could tell you, I’m sorry to say). 

Nevertheless, I’m glad they didn’t have Kermit sing it; it’s still too soon.  Not “Rainbow Connection.”  Not now.  Not yet.  

Also, the fact that they had Kermit judge the dance but that his score didn’t count is strangely ironic and sadly fitting.

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My Perspective on the Aftermath of Jim Henson’s Death

I address myself to the Muppet fans who were either not born yet when Jim Henson died or are too young to remember it:

I’m very impressed with you and the depth of your passion and your dedication and your knowledge of Jim Henson and his work–which, for a variety of reasons, often outstrips my own.

I know that you love Jim Henson, just as we all do.  I know that you grieve for him, and I know that you mourn for the opportunity that you never had to have first-hand knowledge of the time that he spent among us here on Earth.

I was approximately 10 when Jim died, so I have some first-hand knowledge of both his life and his death.  Elsewhere, I’ve discussed his death subjectively; i.e., how I reacted to it and how it affected me, but now I’d like to take sort of a broader, more objective look at the effect that his death had on everybody.

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What Would Walt Disney Do?

(or “WWWDD?”)

I think I was about seven years old when I learned that “Walt Disney” was the name of an actual person.  Prior to that point, I assumed that it was just a meaningless, made up brandname, like “Kodak.”  I bring that up because it seems to me that a lot of people, even–and perhaps especially–those who work for the company itself, sometimes forget that there was a real person behind the name, a man behind the mouse.

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Quiz: Who Said It–Jim Henson, Frank Oz, or Steve Whitmire?

In the renewed interest of reaching out to fans, both casual and mainstream, about my concerns about Disney, the Muppets, and Steve, I created a quiz to see if Muppet fans could correctly identify quotes by Jim, Frank, and Steve.  Please feel free to share it through social media, if you are so inclined:

Who Said It:  Jim Henson, Frank Oz, or Steve Whitmire?

(Please take the quiz before reading any further.  Thank you.)

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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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“Unacceptable Business Conduct”

When I heard that Disney’s rationale for dismissing Steve Whitmire from the Muppet Studios was “unacceptable business conduct,” I laughed–loudly and derisively, without mirth.

Paging Mr. Kettle: Phone call from the Walt Disney Company regarding your color!

Disney’s shady business dealings are the stuff of legend.  They could fill several books–and have.  What follows is not intended to be a comprehensive account of Disney’s propensity for screwing people over.  We’ve got a loooong journey ahead of us; this is just the first step.

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