Phantom of the Opera: Everything’s better with Muppets

phantom5

 

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

“Which one of you is the real Kermit?”

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

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

Continue reading

“Carol of the Bells”

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

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

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

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

Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

One of these things is not like the others…

Today, while doing research online, I found a quiz that was put together a week ago by Slate Magazine asking the reader to identify (by voice) the puppeteer performing Kermit in various audio clips.

Sarcastically, I thought, “Oh, that’s nice.  Turn Steve’s professional tragedy into a party game.”

But I took the quiz anyway, hoping to prove the point that, as wonderful as Matt is, he doesn’t sound anywhere near as much like Jim as some people would like to believe he does.  

Continue reading

“…the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

What follows is a clip from a 2014 benefit screening of Muppets Most Wanted at the White House for military families.  Kermit speaks eloquently to the children of military personnel about the challenges they face:

You know, I’ve watched a lot of interviews with Kermit, and Steve as well, and one question that comes up a lot is who are their favorite celebrities that they’ve met and worked with.  And, speaking strictly for myself, any or all of the Obamas would be near the top of the list.  But I imagine that getting to do things to help kids–like this, or like the Labor Day telethon, or Make-A-Wish visits–would be the most rewarding part of being a Muppet performer.  I imagine that that stuff would stick with you longer than the bits with the celebrities, although those bits would be fun too.

Continue reading

“To do the right deed for the wrong reason”

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
–T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

I have a confession to make: Kermit the Frog is more “real” to me than any of the other Muppets.  I remember when Jim Henson died, my first thought was not “What’s going to happen to the Muppets?” or “What’s going to happen with Sesame Street?” but “What’s going to happen to Kermit?”

So when news of the Schism broke, I was less concerned about Steve’s other characters than I was about Kermit.  But as I processed the news, I started worrying about Beaker.

Since Beaker doesn’t really talk, I feared that Disney would feel that it didn’t matter who performed him.  In fact, the opposite is true: a character who doesn’t talk needs a skilled, consistent performer who knows how to convey an idea nonverbally.

Continue reading

Labor Day

Well, it’s Labor Day, the traditional time of the annual MDA Telethon.  Videos have surfaced lately in memory of the recently deceased Jerry Lewis (R.I.P).  Among them is my new favorite rendition of “Bein’ Green” (with all due respect to Ray Charles, this one actually features Kermit).  It’s from the 2001 telethon.

I also love the bit at the end where Wayne Brady fanboys over Kermit saying his name.
I KNOW, RIGHT?!?

Getting slightly off-topic, I had the opportunity to fangirl over Wayne Brady once.  Back in the late ’90s or early ’00s, Wayne Brady actually came to my hometown–my podunky hometown in South Dakota–to do a show.  It was a show that had been booked quite a few years in advance–before he became famous doing “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”–but he still honored his previous engagement, which I thought was really classy of him.  So my younger brother and I scored tickets and went to see the show, and it was just fabulous.  It was an evening of “Whose Line” style improv, and he made a point at the beginning of saying that he wanted to keep things family-friendly because there were kids in the audience.  Then, in the very first game, he asked for suggestions of genres of movies and some wiseacre yelled out “Porno!” And Wayne shamed him by finding a little girl in the audience, sitting in an aisle seat, and saying, “Hello, little girl.  How are you? [then, to the wiseacre] Do you feel proud of yourself, sir, yelling out ‘porno’ when there are little kids in the audience?”  There were no more inappropriate suggestions after that.

After the show, my brother and I saw some friends who were also in the audience, and somebody got the idea that we should slip out in the hallway where Wayne Brady would be exiting the building.  So we did.  I thought it was not the best idea, but I gave in to peer pressure.  And Wayne did come down that hallway on his way out, and it looked as though he was kind of bewildered to see a bunch of awkwardly beaming white people standing expectantly in the hallway, but he just said something like, “Have a good night, folks,” as he walked by.

Anyway, my point is that seeing Kermit and Wayne Brady interact with each other makes me double-fangirl.

Getting back to the telethon, there was another number from the same year; Kermit singing “I Got My Mind Set On You” with the Snowths.  This is appropriate, because my mind is set on Kermit pretty much all the time, especially now:

Okay, so it’s not a perfect vocal performance.  But that’s what I like about it.  Sometimes true art is in the imperfections.  The imperfections can reveal the craftsmanship that goes into it.

For example, if you have a piece of furniture that was made by a machine, it will be perfect and look exactly like every other piece of furniture that was made by the same machine.  Compare that to a similar piece of furniture that was made by hand, and you see the irregularities and inconsistencies that reveal the human touch.  Machine-made furniture is serviceable and affordable; hand-made furniture is a work of art.

Much of the time, Muppet music is recorded by the Muppet performers beforehand, and the Muppets lip-sync during the performance itself.  I understand why that is often necessary, especially in situations where they are doing multiple takes.  But I love it when the Muppets sing live, because that seems so much more authentic, and it’s the little mistakes or ad-libs that reveal that it’s being done live, that reveals the craftsmanship that’s going into it.

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.

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.

 

 

Salient Themes: Duality

Mercury revolves around our mutual parent sun in such a way that one face is always turned toward the sun and is brilliantly lit and burningly hot; and the other side is always turned toward the cold dark of interstellar space.  But Mercury oscillates slightly on its axis, and thereby sunside and nightside are integrated by a temperate zone which knows both heat and cold, light and dark. So the two disparate sides of Mercury are not separated by a chasm; the temperate zone mediates […]  thereby making wholeness instead of brokenness.”
                  –Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season

I see this as a theme in a lot of Jim Henson’s work; the disparate halves of light and dark, warm and cold, inward vision and outward vision.  And while I don’t claim to know what he thought and felt about things–while I always have to be very careful not to assume that I know–the fact that the theme showed up as often as it did in his work implies that he thought a lot about it, and perhaps he struggled to find that temperate zone between dayside and nightside.

This duality is present all through Jim’s work with the Muppets.  It can reach the greatest possible heights of silliness, with explosions, boomerang fish, and characters eating each other, but it can also plumb the greatest depths of poignant emotion.

On Fraggle Rock, Jim played two different characters: Cantus and Convincing John–or, as I call them, the sage and the showman.  I think that each represented a different facet of his personality.

(As an aside, I’m always amused by the fact that Convincing John’s baloobius, i.e. the tuft of fur at the end of his tail, doesn’t match the color of the hair on his head.  The implication being that he dyes his hair.  I think that’s hilarious.)

When you watch Jim Henson in interviews–particularly when he doesn’t have a puppet in his hands–he always seems very gentle and soft-spoken and often somewhat ill at ease, with a simultaneously endearing and infuriating habit of putting his hands up by his mouth, often muffling his words somewhat.  In interviews, I find Jim to be very much the sage; for example, here’s an interview in which he makes some very farsighted predictions about the future of television technology.  This interview is also interesting because you can see the difference between the way that Jim casually chats and laughs a bit with the people in the room before the interview starts (and after it ends) with his more calm and serious demeanor during the interview itself.

But he could also be a showman.  There was a pitch reel–which, unfortunately, I can no longer find–for an early iteration of The Jim Henson Hour wherein Jim himself gets up and gives a pitch for this kooky TV show he wants to make, with a rotating schedule of content.  From what I remember of it, he seemed much more comfortable in front of the camera (perhaps because he was working from a script and not answering questions extemporaneously); he assumed something of the energy, the gestures, and the vocal tone of the carnival barker, and his hands never went anywhere near his mouth.  It’s a completely different attitude from that which he has in interviews.  So, which is the “real” Jim Henson–the showman or the sage?

Well, that’s the thing–they’re both real.  Or, in a sense, neither is real because a human being is more than the sum of his multiple facets.

There are other examples of this duality in Jim Henson’s work–Bert and Ernie come to mind–but perhaps the most dramatic example is the Skeksis and the Mystics (or urRu) in The Dark Crystal.

(WARNING: Thirty-five-year-old spoilers ahead.)

The first time I ever saw The Dark Crystal was fairly recently, within the last five years or so.  I was completely blown away by it.  At first the story seems like a rather familiar story of good versus evil.  We have our protagonist Jen who–like Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter–is a lonely young orphan, fostered by the gentle urRu after his parents were killed, with a special destiny to go on a quest and defeat evil by finding a MacGuffin, in this case the crystal shard with which he is to heal the eponymous Dark Crystal, by which the Skeksis will apparently be vanquished.

Ah, but then Jim Henson throws us a curveball: it turns out that the Skeksis and the urRu are actually the same creatures, unnaturally split apart when the Crystal was broken, and when Jen heals the Crystal at the time of the Great Conjunction of the three suns, he sets off a chain reaction that reintegrates the two divided halves–Skeksis and urRu–back into their singular selves; the glorious UrSkeks.

This is not a straightforward story about good and evil after all.  The Skeksis and the urRu need each other.  One cannot live without the other.  Without the Skeksis, the urRu lack agency.  Without the urRu, the Skeksis lack moral fiber.  It’s not that the Skeksis are evil and the urRu are good.  The real evil is the division between them.  

This is an old idea–dating at least as far back as Plato–with far-reaching social, political, historical, etc. implications around the world–but it’s applicable to the situation  that we, as Muppet fans, are in now with regard to the Schism between Disney and Steve Whitmire.

It is not, as one faction might argue, that Kermit is good but Steve is evil.  Nor is it, as another faction might argue, that Steve is good but Disney is evil.  It is not that one faction of Muppet fans are good and any and all other factions are evil.  But in each case, whenever we stop cooperating and start competing, whenever we start believing that some people’s contributions are not necessary or not important, whenever we start thinking, “I am right; therefore, anyone who disagrees with me is automatically wrong”…those are the things that divide us, and it is the division itself that is inherently evil.  As Dumbledore says at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

So how do we bridge the chasm between sunside and nightside?  How do we find the temperate zone that moderates the two?  How do we move from brokenness to wholeness without subordinating one side or the other?

The reason I started this blog is because I think it is imperative to keep the conversation going in a civilized way; to firmly but gently probe and palpate the bruises, the open wounds, and the recently formed scar tissue–not with the object of causing more pain but with the goal of diagnosing and treating the wounds that this Schism has caused.  

At the same time, I think it is equally imperative to respect and validate opinions with which we disagree.  All too often–not only as Muppet fans, but as human beings–we fall into the trap of thinking, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”  We assume that the dissenter must necessarily be wrong.  We equate “having a different opinion” with “having a bias.”  We regard anyone who disagrees with us as an evil enemy.  I’m as guilty of that as anyone, by the way.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way.  It is possible to see things from another point of view without losing your own, and it is possible to recognize a valid viewpoint while still disagreeing with it.  The more we are able to have a respectful dialogue, and try to see things from another point of view, the closer we can move toward a consensus.  

If there’s one thing that I have in common with Jim Henson, it’s that I’m averse to conflict of any kind.  And speaking strictly for myself, the reason why I’m conflict-averse is that I’m terrified of losing my temper.  I’ve always seen myself as something akin to Jekyll and Hyde, or the Incredible Hulk; when I get angry, it’s as though I turn into a completely different person, and I’m terrified of what I might say and whom I might hurt while in that angered state.  And I do work on trying to integrate the light and dark sides, and to channel whatever anger I feel constructively–to turn a negative into a positive–but it’s a constant struggle.

That’s why I prefer to write a blog, so I have the chance to rethink and revise my words before they are published, and also, so that I don’t come across as spamming other blogs and forums through lengthy, in-depth analysis.  

It doesn’t come easily or naturally to me to jump into the fray and take the risk of being provoked into that angry state that I so fear, but if it helps to get–or to keep–the dialogue going, it’s well worth the risk.

Salient Themes: Jim Henson versus bullies

“Dear Mr. Dionne: 
              What the fuck are you talking about?
                                                       Yours truly,
                                                       Jim Henson”
–Response to the 1960s equivalent of an Internet troll (quoted in Jim Henson: The Biography)

Well, last night I received my first insulting comment on this blog–and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed; it was a pretty pathetic effort.  In the ’60s, when trolls actually had to put pen to paper and make an effort to insult someone, people like Jim Henson got classy insults referencing ancient Roman emperors.  Now that people’s attention spans are limited to 140 characters, all the creativity has gone out of gratuitous insults.  Sad! 

However, in a way I’m glad it happened, because now this seems like an opportune moment to examine how Jim Henson related to bullies, both in his life and in his work.  

Jim was famously averse to conflict.  In Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones tells a story about how Jim would create an excuse to fly to London rather than get involved in a dispute within his legal department in New York.  From that anecdote, I think a person could get the impression that Jim was prone to be passive in his dealings with others.  But I think that impression would be false, or at least incomplete.  

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that–interestingly enough–Jim was similar to Wembley Fraggle in his approach to interpersonal conflict.  On Fraggle Rock, when there’s a disagreement or dispute among his friends, Wembley becomes paralyzed with indecision, not wanting to upset or disappoint any of his friends by choosing one side over the other.  On the other hand, deep down inside, Wembley has the ability to stand up for himself–and it comes out when the situation is truly dire, as it did in the matter of the mean genie.  Moreover, Wembley will never stand silently by while someone else is being bullied.  Whether it’s the miniscule Cotterpin Doozer, the gigantic Junior Gorg,* or anyone in between, if Wembley sees somebody being victimized, he will immediately rush to his/her defense.  It’s interesting to examine a previously unconsidered link between Jim Henson and Wembley because Steve Whitmire–Wembley himself–recently told a story on his blog about how Jim once stood up to some Disney lawyers on his (Steve’s) behalf.

In spite of his aversion to conflict, Jim was also known for his determination.  He was capable of standing up for himself if he felt he was being mistreated.  The early days of the original Disney deal were something of a love fest, but eventually the honeymoon period was over, and Jim found himself “in combat with [Disney’s] business affairs people,” as he put it.  Frustrated, Jim wrote the following in a letter to Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg:

“The tone of the negotiations does not seem to me to be the way two parties should be relating to each other if they intend to go into a long term relationship. […] The kind of deal I like is one in which both parties try to arrive at a fair settlement and everyone walks away satisfied.  […]  My impression is that Disney is standing firm on all issues, assuming that my company is committed to this deal and thus we will eventually cave in.  This is not a wise assumption.”–(quoted in Jim Henson: The Biography, my emphasis)

Oooooooh.  Here’s a guy who’s willing to go toe-to-toe with two of the most powerful and influential men in show business.  Cross Jim Henson at your own peril.

Another way that Jim dealt with bullies was through his work.  His sketches, especially those variety-show staples that predate The Muppet Show, often featured a situation in which one character would throw its weight around by harassing another–usually smaller–character.  Like in the story of David and Goliath, however, the bullying character usually–if not always–gets its comeuppance from the smaller character.  Here are some examples:

Early sketches:
Jim used this theme in a couple of sketches that he performed in Hamburg, Germany at the US Department of Agriculture’s US Food Fair in 1961.  One was a sketch about an army drill team being put through their paces by a nasty drill sergeant barking out unintelligible orders; at the end, the drill team turns around and blows the sergeant away.  In another sketch, a group of characters–denoted only by the puppeteers’ gloved hands–listens calmly to some soothing (read: “boring”) elevator music.  Another character comes along and spices things up with some band music.  The other characters attack the dissenter, beat up on him (her? it?), and destroy his radio equipment…however, things don’t end well for them.  Neither of these sketches have any dialogue, which is lucky, because the following footage has no audio:


(The drill team footage starts at 00:59; the other sketch starts at 02:39.)

Java:
In “Java,” a creature that appears to be a living dryer hose does a dance number, while a smaller creature wants to join in, sort of like a younger sibling tagging alongside an older sibling, like I did when I was a little kid.  Unfortunately, the larger creature is less tolerant than my older siblings were of me…to its detriment:

Hugga Wugga:

“Do not take my sunshine away!”  The way that little creature phrases it, it almost sounds like a threat–or at least a warning.

Beautiful Day:


“You are so awful that it is truly beautiful.  You’ve probably worked all your life to be perfectly awful–year after year–to be just as bad as possible, and now all of your toil and self-sacrifice has paid off! […] In fact, you are the perfect example of beautiful awfulness!”  Generally speaking, my policy is not to feed internet trolls, but sometimes I’m tempted to try this on some of the trolls plaguing Steve Whitmire’s blog.

The Muppet Movie:
But perhaps the most triumphant example of standing up to bullies in all of Jim Henson’s work is the climactic “showdown” scene of The Muppet Movie.  Threatened with a sadistic choice by Doc Hopper–either sell his soul to a small corporation or be gunned down where he stands–Kermit appeals to Hopper’s humanity and sense of decency:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.  But Hopper gets what’s coming to him anyway in what–to me–is the greatest and most Muppet-y moment of all time:


Not even the lousy video quality and strange, floating window-blind reflection can ruin this moment!

So…to all those who want to come onto my own blog to try to tear me down, this is your last warning:  You cannot hurt me.  There is nothing you can say to me that I haven’t heard before.  

In the past, I have endured verbal abuse that would make the Access Hollywood bus tape sound like a scene from Downton Abbey.  You think you can hurt my feelings by calling me a “moron”?  Please.  My classmates came up with more creative insults than that in the fourth grade.  

I’m a grown woman, and I’ve put up with more than my fair share of bullying nonsense in my life.  I’m not going to put up with yours.  I’m not going to indulge your pettiness and cruelty.  I’m not going to give you a platform from which you can attempt to build yourself up by tearing others down.  

You have no power over me.

 

_____________________________
*Yes, I’m aware that, in the episode I referenced, Junior Gorg had temporarily been rendered Fraggle-sized, but the point I am trying to make is that Wembley will stick up for a victim of bullying regardless of the victim’s size, color, species, etc.