Sesame Saturday: Sesame Street Trumps Donald Trump

“There is one source that has always recognized Trump for being the absolute villain that he obviously is and that’s Sesame Street. Sesame Street has been touting the dangers of a Trump Presidency since the late eighties!”
 –Louie Pearlman, “Make America HATE Again: Ronald Grump on Sesame Street,” ToughPigs.com, January 29, 2016.

This is an excellent article that appeared on ToughPigs just before the 2016 primaries…so, almost two years ago?  Oh, how time flies when you’re in constant mortal dread for the future of humanity!  Anyway, the article is well worth a read, but I had a few thoughts to add from the perspective of being almost a year into the Orange Muggle Voldemort presidency.

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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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Songs for Puerto Rico

For years and years, whenever anyone ever mentioned the words “Puerto Rico” in my presence, my automatic response has been to sing the opening line of the song “America” from West Side Story.  There’s no reason for it; it’s just a silly, meaningless habit that I picked up somewhere along the way.  But in the current context of the devastation caused by the recent hurricane, that particular response doesn’t seem so silly but rather callous and cruel, which is why I didn’t quote the line here.

So I said to myself, “Man, I really need a new song to associate with Puerto Rico.”

Lin-ElmoRosita

Fortunately, Elmo and Rosita sang a song with the brilliant and Muppety Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was posted yesterday to Elmo’s Twitter feed.

(By the way, why does Elmo need a Twitter feed?  I mean, I understand it from a Doylist point of view, but from a Watsonian point of view it makes no sense whatsoever, because Elmo can’t even read. )

Sorry, I got distracted there for a second.  Anyway, the gifted and beautiful Lin-Manuel Miranda also wrote and produced another song for Puerto Rico called “Almost Like Praying.”  It is available on all digital media platforms, and all the proceeds go to hurricane relief.

On Amazon, it costs less than a buck and a half, so it’s one small way that we can all help out our fellow Americans and fellow human beings who have experienced horror and degradation the likes of which most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

 

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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Thoughts on October

In spite of what T.S. Eliot said, I’ve felt for years–even before the Schism–that October is really the cruelest month, because a disproportionate number of the worst things that have ever happened to me have happened during October.

I wrote some non-Muppet-related thoughts on it and put them under the Slightly Off-Topic menu.  You can read them here.

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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The Henry Doorly Zoo, and related matters

Three years ago, the Muppets were featured on “A Capitol Fourth,” the yearly Independence Day special that airs every July 4th on PBS.  In order to promote the special, Kermit the Frog and host Tom Bergeron did a series of satellite interviews with local TV new programs.  One of these was an affliate in Omaha, Nebraska, which is about 175 miles, or a 2-3/4 hour drive, south of where I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

In the interview, Kermit mentioned the zoo in Omaha, and I freaked out: “OHMYGOSH!  Kermit the Frog just mentioned the name of a place that is relatively close to where I live, and that I’ve actually visited!!!”  

These are the scraps that you have to console yourself with when you’re a Muppet fan who lives in South Dakota.  Although, there may be an obscure Muppet connection for those of us to live in Sioux Falls: Raven Industries is based here in town; their main thing is the manufacture of balloons and inflatables, including some of the big balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that sort of thing.  I’m not able to verify it now, but I think I remember hearing once that Raven Industries had made the Kermit the Frog balloon that appeared in the parade from 2002-2012.  I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but it’s certainly possible.

Anyway, getting back to Omaha: what really impressed me is not only that Kermit mentioned the Omaha zoo, but he actually called it by its proper name: the Henry Doorly Zoo.  I think that was the first time I’d ever heard someone not associated with the zoo call it by its real name; most people just call it “the Omaha zoo,” as I have done all throughout this post.

I asked Steve Whitmire, in a comment on his blog, if he had ever actually been to the zoo in Omaha.  He didn’t respond at the time, so I still don’t know, but I am not without hope that he will be able to address it someday.  

But anyway, the other reason that I wanted to post this interview is because it’s really a beautiful example of the lovely, fluid, dynamic facial expressions that Steve gives Kermit when he performs him.  It really makes Kermit alive and vibrant.

We don’t have footage of five consecutive minutes of Matt Vogel performing simula-Kerm yet, (at least, not through official channels) so I’m not yet able to make a fair comparison, but thus far simula-Kerm’s face seems very static.

I’m also a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and there’s a phrase related to that show that keeps running around in my head.  When Bill Corbett took over performing Crow T. Robot from Trace Beaulieu at the beginning of Season 8, he had not done a lot of puppeteering before, and he apologized for the resulting mediocre performance by telling people, “Crow has had a stroke.”  

And I’ll just say that, if I didn’t know what was going on with the Muppets and Disney and Steve and the whole thing, if I looked at those videos with Matt performing Kermit without knowing what was going on, I would have said, “What’s the matter with Kermit?  It looks like he’s had a stroke.”

 

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.

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.