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. 

I got my master’s degree nine years ago in December; sometimes I miss being a grad student.

Not the stress and the deadlines and the fees, etc.–and CERTAINLY not teaching Comp 101 as part of my assistantship–but sometimes I miss writing research papers.  The researching, gathering evidence, and constructing a coherent scholarly argument is sort of like an intellectual marathon.

I’ve been doing research on the Walt Disney Company so that I can put forth a well-supported, quasi-scholarly argument about why they suck.  But it’s difficult.  I haven’t really flexed those scholarly muscles for quite a while; they might be sort of atrophied.

It’s not because of a lack of evidence.  If anything, the opposite is true; there’s just so much evidence to sort through and classify and mark for later.  It’s hard to know where to even start, and it’s exhausting to figure out what to use, where to use it, what not to use, and how to filter through my own point of view, to use it to support my own argument instead of just reiterating it wholesale (or, as it is otherwise known, “plagiarism”).

Not helping matters is the fact that the recent history of the Walt Disney Company (“recent” meaning within the last 30 years or so) makes for compelling but depressing reading.  Few, if any, of the “cast members” in its sordid history seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Virtually everybody who’s worked at Disney at the corporate level in the last 30-35 years seems to have been a complete scoundrel.  It’s all very disheartening.

I don’t really have any desire to go back to grad school and pursue another advanced degree, but if I did, this whole thing about Disney and the Muppets and Steve and the Schism and all of it could be my entire dissertation.  

I have a lot to say about Disney, is the point I’m trying to make, and I won’t be able to say it all at once.  I’m about to start on a first installment, which I hope to publish within the next few weeks, but it will just be the tip of the iceberg.  I still have a lot of research to do, but I figured I’d better get something out there to back up the assertions that I’ve been making about Disney since July, because it’s rather hypocritical of me to fault Disney and the Hensons for making unsupported accusations against Steve while, at the same time, I’ve been making them about Disney and the Hensons.

Although, in my defense, I have been–if not citing sources per se–then at least mentioning works from which I’ve been getting my information.  Perhaps now would be an opportune moment to share a working bibliography here.  Where’s my MLA handbook when I need it?

Well, never mind about the MLA handbook (mine is almost certainly woefully out of date anyway).  I’ll just give a list of the books that I’ve been using for reference alphabetically by title:

DisneyWar, by James B. Stewart.
Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones.
The Keys to the Kingdom, by Kim Masters
Street Gang, by Michael Davis
Work in Progress, by Michael Eisner with Tony Schwartz (yes, THAT Tony Schwartz).

I’m afraid this post has been very dull, and I apologize.  Hopefully the next post will be more interesting.  Thank you for reading in the meantime, and please stay tuned.

 

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.