Dear Dave, Matt, Bill, Eric, and Peter:
Recently I used a quotation from Alexander Hamilton to illustrate my thoughts about Disney’s decision to cut ties with Steve Whitmire (which I refer to as the “Schism,” because I am fancy). The quotation that I used is from a revolutionary pamphlet that Hamilton wrote as a teenager with the somewhat clunky title, A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress:
“In a civil society” Hamilton wrote, “it is the duty of each particular branch to promote not only the good of the whole community, but the good of every other particular branch. If one part endeavors to violate the rights of another, the rest ought to assist in preventing the injury. When they do not but remain neutral, they are deficient in their duty, and may be regarded, in some measure, as accomplices.”
I wanted to let you know that that sentiment was not directed at you in any way. It was directed squarely at the Muppet fans who remain complacent. I want you to know that I don’t consider you to be accomplices in the Schism, nor do I consider you to have been deficient in your duty. I understand and appreciate the difficulty, complexity, and potential volatility of your situation.
If I have been instrumental in confirming or adding one friend to his country, I shall not regret the time I have devoted to that laudable purpose.
–Passage from Alexander Hamilton’s “The Farmer Refuted,” slightly reworked to fit the current context.
Sometimes when I post something that I think is going to be controversial, my conflict aversion kicks in and I actively avoid looking to see if it has garnered any response.
Therefore, even though it happened in October 2017, I just found out today that, even if I haven’t succeeded in changing any hearts or minds through this blog or my related efforts, I did manage to gain a concession from one of Steve’s most vocal critics on the Tough Pigs forum (I ordinarily wouldn’t like to use the forum’s name in an instance like this, but since I’m linking to it anyway, it seems a bit silly to be coy about it).
It may have been a small victory, but I nevertheless feel that it is significant. It’s extremely gratifying to know that (a) all those years studying rhetoric–not to mention the student loans–have not been a complete waste and (b) my words have made a difference, no matter how small.
I believe in all of you. Let’s go out there and keep making a difference.
Have I mentioned that I love this song? I love this song.
I wrote about this song almost five years ago and observed that, even when Steve is performing characters originated by someone else, “there is an ineffable Steve-quality to his voice because, as this song echoes around my cranium, I can imagine Wembley Fraggle singing it too. Like, as a duet with Ernie. And now I really wish that could be a thing.”
Now I really, REALLY wish that could be a thing that existed outside my own head. Add it to the list of Muppet duets that I’d like to hear but are either impossible or extremely unlikely to occur.
I agree with every sentence Joe Hennes has written here, with the possible exception of the last one.
However, I also think that it is important to recognize that evil is not confined to national government, nor to the world of politics and government at large. For all its vile, despotic tendencies, the Trump administration and its obsequious enablers in Congress do not yet have the monopoly on greed, corruption, and wanton acts of injustice in this country.
“Hamilton had now written 60,000 words in just a couple of months. For perspective, the book you are holding clocks in at 58,000 words and, I’m embarrassed to say, took much longer.”
–Jeff Wilser, “Seek the Core Principles,” Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life.
From November 1774 to February 1775, teenaged college student Alexander Hamilton wrote two political pamphlets defending the American Revolutionary cause. Specifically, he was responding to pamphlets written by British loyalist Samuel Seabury. While Wilser estimates Hamilton’s word count for the two pamphlets to be 60,000, according to my estimation, it is closer to 65,000.
I mention this because I was looking at my statistics page for this blog and found that over the course of five months, from July 31 to December 31, 2017, I wrote 66,089 words on this blog. So I’m almost keeping pace with Alexander Hamilton, in quantity if not in quality.
I was feeling quite smug about this until I did the math and realized that–depending on whether the 60,000 or 65,000 word figure is more accurate–Hamilton still outstrips me by approximately 3000 to 4000 words a month because he created his content in a shorter amount of time. Also, he was writing everything out in longhand and didn’t have the Internet to assist him in research.
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,–
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
I remember first reading this poem in high school and being horrified by it, because the anger and resentment that the speaker harbors not only poisons the speaker’s foe, it also poisons the speaker, to the point that the speaker is “glad” to see his (her?) foe lying dead on the ground.
I never want to be that kind of person. I decided a long time ago that I would try never to derive pleasure from another human being’s misfortune. I don’t always succeed, but I do try.
DANNY HORN: Hey, did I ever tell you about my theory that Mew’s death is a metaphor for AIDS? It’s 1986, and gay men are dying all over the place. The creators are TV puppet people from New York and LA, so obviously a lot of their friends are dying. So in this special, you get Mew — the despised, unfairly judged cat-toy — dying suddenly. Rugby realizes how precious Mew is… but he figures it out too late. […] Then the fantasy is that the dead loved one can be resurrected and vindicated, just through the power of love and Christmas. You can see how this was an appealing fantasy for artsy people in 1986.
KYNAN BARKER: Did I ever tell you MY theory that sometimes a kids’ TV special is just a kids’ TV special?
–ToughPigs.com, “My Week with Another Christmas – Day Two: Doll Be Home for Christmas,” December 24, 2003.
Today is Epiphany, so I wanted to do not only a Christmas-themed article but one with some real substance to it, and this 14-year-old conversation about The Christmas Toy is a good jumping-off point for a discussion of allegory versus applicability.
An allegory is a detailed, in-depth metaphor that represents a situation or event in the real world. Authors who write allegory are usually not very subtle about the point they’re trying to get across. For example, I would consider A Christmas Carol to be an allegory: There’s not much to speculate about what the three spirits represent; it’s right there in their names.
On the other hand, a work has applicability if it can support multiple interpretations, regardless of what the author’s intention may have been. As J.R.R. Tolkien explained it, “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other resides in the purposed domination of the author.” Tolkien ran up against this attitude often when Lord of the Rings fans would ask him questions about the allegorical meaning of the novels, to which he would respond that there was none, but that it was applicable to many real-life situations or events.
Today I want to talk about It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, or “VMX” for short.
Now, VMX is not my favorite Muppet thing ever, not by a long shot. But I would forgive anybody just about anything for the sake of “Everyone Matters,” a beautiful song from the special:
I love this song, partially because it gives such good Sad-Gonzo. Sad-Gonzo is my favorite Gonzo. As far as I’m concerned, the worst thing that ever happened to Gonzo’s character is when his eyelids became mobile and he could change expressions.
It’s time we leave our doubt behind and find what life’s about:
Kermit believes in Santa Claus. I believe in Steve Whitmire.
This is my 100th post on this blog, and I wanted it to be something special. So I want to go a little more in depth about my thoughts and feelings on “Muppet Family Christmas.”
Let me take you back to a time in December 1987, when I was a tender and callow seven-year-old. I had seen The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan, (and possibly The Great Muppet Caper, although I think that actually happened later) so I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Muppet Show troupe, but we didn’t own any of those movies on home video yet, so while this wasn’t my introduction to the Muppet Show gang, it was the means by which I got to know them. This was also one of the two times in my young life that I ever got to see the Fraggles on television, so that was really exciting for me.
“WHAT?!? The cave is…is empty! There is no bell! It’s all a lie!”
–Gobo Fraggle, who apparently never thought to look up to see if there was a clapper in the ceiling of the bell-shaped cavern.
In starting a Muppet blog, my goal was to try to strike a balance between the serious and the silly, as the Muppets have always done so effectively. While I’m still proud of the content I have created, I do feel that perhaps I’ve been less than successful in that regard.
I hoped that Christmas would be a time that I could lean more toward the lighthearted side of the spectrum, back off a bit from the Schism, and temporarily beat my sword back into a ploughshare.
(Although you don’t want to try plowing this time of year; at least in this hemisphere, the ground is frozen.)
Throughout this month, I’ve been watching Muppet Christmas productions in preparation for an article series that I see now that I’m not going to have time to do properly until next year. However, instead of being a temporary respite from the Schism, they reminded me of it all the more, especially the productions made subsequent to 1990.
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.
Let me set the stage:
Apparently, Eric Trump tweeted that it is inappropriate for ABC News White House Correspondent (and my fellow South Dakotan) Jonathan Karl to criticize Donald Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” as a derogatory term because ABC’s parent company, Disney, once made a movie about the historical Pocahontas.
Sonny-boy, leave the Disney-bashing to the experts:
“The [ABC] news division as a whole was reliably profitable [in the ’90s when Disney bought the ABC network]. But it [the news division] often balked at the idea of promoting other Disney ventures, persisted in making unflattering references to Disney (an investigative piece on sweatshops that mentioned Disney products especially infuriated Eisner), and, in general, was sanctimonious, in Eisner’s view. Its ability to appeal directly to the public by invoking its mission of public service journalism–a higher, nobler purpose than making money–also meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for Eisner to control the New York-based news division from Burbank.” (James B. Stewart, DisneyWar, page 410)
After acquiring the ABC network in the mid 1990s, Michael Eisner and Bob Iger tried to make a deal with David Letterman to bring his late-night talk show to ABC, planning to give him the timeslot otherwise occupied by Ted Koppel and Nightline. When that deal fell through, “Iger [negotiated] a more radical approach to the news division: spinning it off into a new company that would merge ABC news with CNN […] ridding Eisner of an increasingly unwanted stepchild from the ABC acquisition.” (page 412)
“The Gorgs might be the bullies at school, but they might also be a mean boss, or an abusive boyfriend, or the Taliban. It’s a good thing we have Fraggle Rock, to help us figure it out. For all we know, there might be Gorgs everywhere.”
–Danny Horn, “My Week with Fraggle Rock, Part 2: Big Shots,” ToughPigs.com, November 4, 2004.
I’ve wanted to write about this episode of Fraggle Rock for four years now, long before I had a Muppet blog, and long before the Schism. I hope I can do it justice.
Let’s start things off with a song. Take it, Wembley:
This song plays a relatively minor role in the episode, but I wanted to highlight it because it is one of my very favorite Wembley songs. Steve’s voice here is like a soft, cozy blanket–warm and fuzzy and friendly. Which, come to think about it, is a good description of Wembley’s character in a nutshell.
Now, instead of looking at the episode chronologically, let’s jump around and look at it thematically. To that end, let’s get started at the end of this episode, in which Wembley makes a very profound statement: “I guess some slavery feels like freedom.”
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