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June 8, 2012 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet types. Dahlia Lithwick poses a taxonomy of muppets based on chaos vs. order.
posted by Verdant (71 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mrs. gauche and I spent the morning via email deciding who would be what sort of muppet. The limitations of a one-dimensional personality alignment quickly became apparent.

Sure enough.
posted by gauche at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the chaos/order muppet is also known as Straight man/Funny man?

Vaudeviile (think also Fozzy Bear) is a constant muppet theme.
posted by vacapinta at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am a Chaos Muppet. I'm not sure about my monkey. You decide.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:04 PM on June 8, 2012


I'm an Order Muppet for sure. It's so accurate I may put it on my business cards.

Likewise, Chaos Muppet is the best description of my 15mo. old son that I've ever heard.
posted by sonika at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2012


Brilliant article!

I'm chaos all the way down.
posted by veedubya at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2012


Above the chaos muppets are the elder muppets.

Cower, Gonzo.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:12 PM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I dunno... Big Bird? Rowlf? Snuffleupagus? Miss Piggy? Fozzie? Clifford? Sprocket the dog? A lot of the muppets don't seem to fit very neatly into either category. I hate to besmirch the authors, but frankly, I think the whole premise of this article about personality identification based on Muppet typology is lacking in serious scholarship.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


You know those moments you get every once in a wonderful while, when you find something that you never knew your life was missing?

A comprehensive, unified Muppet-based secular philosophy for life would be one of those things.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


This explains why Cookie Monster is always shouting, "Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!"
posted by The Tensor at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm trying to classify Count von Count here. On the one hand, the counting (Order). On the other hand, he has random thunderstorms following him about, and he gets distracted every time he comes across something in need of numbering (Chaos). So, hmmm.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the whole premise of this article about personality identification based on Muppet typology is lacking in serious scholarship.

Of course an Order Muppet would say that.
posted by The Whelk at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


I was kinda expecting a mapping of muppet types on to a D&D ethics matrix...
posted by Bwithh at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


This would be better served by using the three-by-three grid from D&D et al for classification, imo.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


This explains why Cookie Monster is always shouting, "Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!"

C is for Chaos because it's good enough for me!
posted by KingEdRa at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


he gets distracted every time he comes across something in need of numbering (Chaos)

I promise you the "C" in "OCD" doesn't stand for chaos.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2012


Obsessively Chaotic Disorder?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:35 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some muppets just wanna see the world burn.
posted by The Whelk at 2:36 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I wonder if muppets have the moment where they wake up and realize they've become their father, except instead of father it's just Sam the Eagle.

I hope it is just as painful.
posted by Shadax at 2:44 PM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I dunno... Big Bird? Rowlf? Snuffleupagus? Miss Piggy? Fozzie? Clifford? Sprocket the dog? A lot of the muppets don't seem to fit very neatly into either category.

Well, Fozzie & Piggy are chaos, for sure. The others I would say demand a "neutral" classification.
posted by smirkette at 2:50 PM on June 8, 2012


I'm not sure whether I'm the Order Muppet and The Girl is the Chaos Muppet, or the other way around.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2012


When I was a little boy, my mother, who worked for Harry N. Abrams publishing, was negotiating the rights to do a book on the Muppets. So I got a tour of what I can only remember as the Muppet Mansion (I also got a tour of the real Hershey factory, not the ride, because she was negotiating the rights to that as well--go Mom!). They took me down to the workshop where they were fabricating these things called Fraggles that would be on television soon, they told me.

Then, as we were going up the stairs, Jim Henson was coming down. My mother of course stopped him to say hello. He asked me if there was a voice I wanted him to do.

I said, "Animal!"

Animal was and is my favorite Muppet.

He made a face that I remember as being between amused and pained--of course, I didn't know that he didn't do Animal's voice, that's Frank Oz--but he didn't correct me. He didn't ask me if I wanted Kermit instead.

Jim Henson did Animal for me. Then he continued on his way.

Reading this article, and following the link in gauche's comment, my request makes even more sense to me now. The Animal is deep in me.

(and thank you, Mr. Henson).
posted by oneironaut at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2012 [43 favorites]


oneironaut - you get my jealous face, simply because you actually met Jim Henson. There I said it. I'm not gonna lie. Total jealous face in your direction.
posted by daq at 2:58 PM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm the Chaos Muppet yet I'm also the one who pays all the bills. I can tell you this is a BAD STRATEGY.

Animal was always my favorite too. He's probably why I became a drummer.

Also, I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I really don't consider Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar, or Snuffleupagus to be "Muppets" per se. They are "Sesame Street puppets" to me.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2012


It's tempting to try to apply an D&D-style two-axis alignment system, it might actually work better.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:23 PM on June 8, 2012


Animal was always my favorite too. He's probably why I became a drummer.

I was always a big fan of Gonzo, which is likely why, as I matured, I found myself with such a strong proclivity toward fucking chickens.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2012 [19 favorites]


So that's where that .gif comes from!
posted by The Whelk at 3:33 PM on June 8, 2012


Gauche already linked to the D&D version, but I don't buy it.

The trouble is there's very little recognizable evil on the Muppet Show. At most you get oblivious and self-absorbed. Bunsen is lawful awkward; Piggy is neutral clueless. Crazy Harry is, okay, chaotic evil, but he isn't really a primary character, more of a force of nature. I guess if you want to take the recent movie as canon you could call Uncle Deadly neutral evil. But in the show he's just occasional spooky atmosphere, again not really a character at all.

I'd argue it's actually a pretty significant piece of Henson's aesthetic that evil is basically missing from most of the stuff he's done. Fraggle Rock was the peak of this: the gorgs turn out to be friendly-but-misguided rather than being real villains; the fraggles turn out to be helpful garbage collectors from the doozers' point of view rather than clumsy greed-monsters.

You do need a two-axis system. But I think the second axis has to be something like idealistic-vs-snarky.
  • Kermit is lawful idealistic.
  • Scooter and Rowlf are neutral idealistic.
  • Gonzo is chaotic idealistic. (So are Fozzy and Bunsen, but less intensely so.)
  • Sam the Eagle is lawful neutral.
  • Animal is chaotic neutral.
  • Statler and Waldorf are lawful snarky.
  • Floyd is neutral snarky.
  • Piggy is chaotic snarky, but she spends most of her time trying to pass for lawful idealistic. The purest and most shameless example of chaotic snarky would be Rizzo, though he didn't become a major character until the later movies.
True neutral is hard. (Using brainless characters is cheating.) The only really good example I can think of from the whole Henson canon is Madam Trash Heap. True neutral characters are supposed to be motivated by a desire for balance and a sort of Taoist conviction that everything should take its natural course and everyone should accept what's coming to them and quit trying so hard. Henson preferred characters who were trying their goddamn hardest and going way off-balance in one direction or another, even if it was just going off-balance in the direction of kindness and generosity. Rowlf comes close out of sheer mellowness and gentleness, but I guess if you wanted a really solid example from the Muppet Show it would have to be George the Janitor.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:12 PM on June 8, 2012 [40 favorites]


Big bird, Rowlf and Sprocket are clearly Order Muppets, Snuff's a Chaos. This is obvious. Whose shoulder does Kermit cry on when he's been betrayed by a Chaos muppet? Rowlf. Always a calm head in a crisis, Rowlf. Who patiently endures jobian trials in a quest to find his mother, thus restoring the natural order? Big Bird, in Follow That Bird. Who desperately keeps trying to warn his negligent owner that Fraggles are wrecking havoc in his workshop? Sprocket. Who shows up to party down and then disappears in a blink the minute an authority figure shows up, leaving them to call him your "imaginary" friend? Snuffleupagus. These things are simple.

Now, Dr. Teeth presents a bit of a classification challenge. My heart says chaos. The band is, of course, the Electric Mayhem. But is not Teeth the leader of that band, responsible for restraining Animal when he goes, well, animal? I fret over this. Dr Teeth is my favourite, and as anybody who's seen the state of my living room will attest, I am a definite Chaos Muppet.
posted by Diablevert at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of those little ideas that pops up in my head from time to time is a kind of Toy Story role-playing game. I didn't know it needed an alignment system until I heard lawful snarky, so thanks for that nebulawindphone.
posted by JHarris at 4:53 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Do it!)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:56 PM on June 8, 2012


S'at's my favorite: the Apollonian vs Dionysian. Classic dialectic.
Rowlf is tough, like Tom Waits. Order? Chaos?

The classic muppet dichotomy:

Menuhmenuh or Doododododo?
posted by es_de_bah at 4:56 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


People people people...

Rowlf is Henson's alter-ego in the Muppets.

Hence: True Neutral

There you have it.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


C is for Chaos. Good Enough For Me!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2012


This just made me think: 9 justices, nine alignments. Anyone want to take a crack at it?
posted by Navelgazer at 5:50 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, not "neutral clueless." Piggy is chaotic unreflective. All unexamined drives, all the time. But I guess "chaotic snarky" is a decent approximation of that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ridiculous. Anyone who knows me knows I'm half Gonzo, half Bert.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2012


el_lupino (my spousenated one) and I have long had characterizations of each other that fit this scheme - I am a Chaos Muppet (Grover specifically) and he is an Order Muppet (Kermit specifically). My Grover comes out in unbridled enthusiasm, soft-heartedness, ADD, and sense of justice. And he is a total Kermit - the guy who people always seem to be following and who, because of his crippling self-doubt, can't really ever figure out quite why.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Came here for Zoot, left disappointed.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:05 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting, though loses points for not properly calling "the blue guy who is perennially harrassed by Grover" Fat Blue - he has a name, people!

I think I'm an Order Muppet...probably Scooter, honestly. But I'm marrying an Order Muppet. The way I see it, he brings out my inner Chaos Muppet, so it's okay.

What we need is the Muppet Myers-Briggs for a more thorough discussion.

(True story: a student in my The Novel class last semester described our novel's protagonist as "Lawful Good" in his paper, and it really amused me.)
posted by ilana at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2012


Ridiculous. Anyone who knows me knows I'm half Gonzo, half Bert.

Marry me?
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2012


Mods, please consider sidebar-ing oneironaut's comment.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:29 PM on June 8, 2012


Oh man. The MP and I love the Muppets so much. We've also discovered that yet another way we are well matched is that while we can both imitate Muppet voices, I can only do the Henson voices, and he can only do the Oz ones.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:33 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


You want chaos? Watch a drum solo by Animal. I mean, he's in a band called The Electric Mayhem. QED.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:43 PM on June 8, 2012


I can't even figure out which kind I am. I guess "faux chaos muppet" might fit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 PM on June 8, 2012


a student in my The Novel class last semester described our novel's protagonist as "Lawful Good" in his paper

Ha! Which novel/protagonist was this?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:18 PM on June 8, 2012


You want chaos? Watch a drum solo by Animal. I mean, he's in a band called The Electric Mayhem. QED.

Any excuse to link to:
- Animal & Harry Belafonte
- Animal & Rita Moreno
posted by smirkette at 9:01 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Count is definitely a lawful character. The fact that chaotic events happen around him doesn't change the fact that he's trying, most carefully, to impose order on the world.
posted by Malor at 9:04 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dr. Ian Malcolm: If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:17 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one's yet linked to the brilliant Cookie Monster cover of "God's Away on Business"? Well here you go then.
posted by emjaybee at 9:55 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Count is definitely a lawful character. The fact that chaotic events happen around him doesn't change the fact that he's trying, most carefully, to impose order on the world.

Good point. Whatever shit goes down, Count never stops counting.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 PM on June 8, 2012


"And by all that is holy, don’t marry your same type if you can help it. That’s where Baby Elmos come from."
posted by jeffburdges at 11:38 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can always count on Count to count.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:53 AM on June 9, 2012


This explains why Cookie Monster is always shouting, "Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!"

So you've heard the new Morbid Angel.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:10 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of when I lived in Italy, an Italian friend informed me sincerely that in their opinion, in Italy people tend to divide themselves into two camps: you can be either Furbo or Pignolo.

The Furbo tries to play the system and abuse bureaucracy for their own gain (chaos); they are eternally at war with Pignolo, (order) who tries to enforce the rules without absolute unbending force in order to thwart the Furbo and take the spoils for themselves.

The whole country could be divided into these two camps, constantly scamming each other back and forth, and therefore keeping the social structure in equilibrium. Perhaps it's the same everywhere.
posted by colie at 4:37 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


*with* absolute unbending force...
posted by colie at 4:39 AM on June 9, 2012


Piggy is chaotic snarky, but she spends most of her time trying to pass for lawful idealistic.

Piggy (unlike everyone else on your list) is also a woman, so what she really wants is... sort of complex...
posted by colie at 4:43 AM on June 9, 2012


Now, Dr. Teeth presents a bit of a classification challenge. My heart says chaos. The band is, of course, the Electric Mayhem. But is not Teeth the leader of that band, responsible for restraining Animal when he goes, well, animal? I fret over this. Dr Teeth is my favourite, and as anybody who's seen the state of my living room will attest, I am a definite Chaos Muppet.

Fear not. Dr. Teeth is the de jure band leader and guides the band's artistic direction, but the mundane day-to-day tasks like Animal-handling are usually carried out by Floyd. The binary paradigm breaks down the Mayhem thusly:

Dr. Teeth, Animal, Janice: Chaos
Floyd, Zoot: Order

Whereas by nebulawindphone's more nuanced paradigm, we get these results:

Dr. Teeth: Chaotic Idealistic
Animal: Chaotic Neutral
Janice: Neutral Idealistic
Floyd: Lawful Snarky
Zoot: Neutral Snarky

(Good morning, everyone. I'm MetaFilter's self-proclaimed resident Electric Mayhem expert, and I can overthink a band of Muppets.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:43 AM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is how religions start.
posted by alexisallen at 6:11 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love everything about the Muppets. Mrs. Gronk agreed to a first date because of a long conversation about the Muppets the first time we met. We had Muppets as our cake toppers at our wedding.

This whole conversation makes me so happy. It's not a conversation about whether or not the newest offering (movie, show, whatever) is acceptable, good or bad. It's just pure, unadulterated wallowing in Muppet-y goodness and whatever personal philosophy you might have about the Muppets. Thanks all!

(Side note: As a burgeoning 40K fan for the last five or six years, I offer kudos to the headline as well)
posted by Gronk at 6:20 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where do the Martians fit into this? Is their desire to classify a lawful quality?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:21 AM on June 9, 2012


nebulawindphone: The trouble is there's very little recognizable evil on the Muppet Show. At most you get oblivious and self-absorbed. Bunsen is lawful awkward; Piggy is neutral clueless.

This is mostly how a lot of 'evil' happens in real life, too - Oblivious people following self-absorbed agendas without thinking about the consequences.

Apparently, I'm an order muppet.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:57 AM on June 9, 2012


Another (probably nonsense) theory: are there not also Adult Muppets vs Child Muppets?

Kermit's a neurotic adult, Piggy's an impulsive child.
Fozzy's a depressed adult, Animal's a wild child.
Sam the Eagle is a sighing adult, Gonzo is a frustrated child.

Some of the double acts exploit the kid's-eye reversal fantasy about this: Blowing up everything and not caring, Bunsen Honeydew is the child who's gained control, while the rational, nervous Beaker is actually the adult in the situation.
posted by colie at 8:21 AM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Beaker is the biggest Chaos Muppet there is. The article writer even linked to proof that Beaker is a Chaos Muppet, while calling him an Order Muppet (the musical link in the article). He might be Chaos with Ordered intent, but he's Chaos nonetheless.
posted by BurnChao at 11:17 AM on June 9, 2012


I think Beaker's shifted a lot over time, is the thing. In the original Muppet Show he was, as colie says, mostly just Bunsen's terrified victim — and not actually the source of the chaos at all. He was a powerless Order Muppet who never actually got the satisfaction of establishing any order.

More recently as he's stopped being Bunsen's sidekick and started being used as a freestanding character, he's gotten reinterpreted as a Chaos Muppet. Same behavior — meeping and running around in little panicky circles — but different causes and consequences.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:42 AM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK, so it seems Beaker was terrified of both order and chaos.

Know how that feels.
posted by colie at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I want sooooo badly to be an order muppet. I just adore Bert. But honestly I'm just a Bipolar Ernie. Somehow I can make depression as chaotic as mania. And then every once in a while I turn into Kermit, waving his arms and yelling "why is everything such a mess around here?".

I can't wait to tell my psych doc that I've figured out my cycles. Now I just need elaborate musical numbers and guest stars.
posted by Biblio at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think Beaker's shifted a lot over time, is the thing. In the original Muppet Show he was, as colie says, mostly just Bunsen's terrified victim — and not actually the source of the chaos at all. He was a powerless Order Muppet who never actually got the satisfaction of establishing any order.

That makes him a Chaos Muppet with Ordered intent, as I said earlier. What you are saying there is just like saying: "Oscar was not actually a Poor Person. He was a powerless Rich Person who never actually got the satisfaction of being rich."or: "I would've been on time if I got the chance, but I never got the chance. Therefore, I was on time."

It doesn't matter what Beaker wanted to be, it matters what he actually was. Shoulda Woulda Coulda been an Order Muppet, but that necessitates the fact that he was a Chaos Muppet.
posted by BurnChao at 4:55 PM on June 9, 2012


(Good morning, everyone. I'm MetaFilter's self-proclaimed resident Electric Mayhem expert, and I can overthink a band of Muppets.)

I just want to say that I imagine I'm the only mefite who ever spent three months of his life putting together a pitch for an Electric Mayhem Behind the Music episode, poring over every clip of the band and putting together an EDL for such a thing, and getting the pitch in front of Lisa Henson (who then of course explained that she'd had the idea in internal development for the same timeframe.)

That said, I will defer to Faint of Butt's analysis, because it is completely correct.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most people have grouped Kermit with the Order Muppets, but as the frog has reminded a guest star at least once when she said he seemed like the sanest one, "I hired the rest of them!"
posted by JHarris at 11:19 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't matter what Beaker wanted to be, it matters what he actually was.

Beaker was a 'guilty secret' favourite for many viewers because we could see that he hoped Bunsen would be a responsible proper adult, every time, and we knew we were about to watch his hopes for Order be dashed. His meeping was a form of hysteria brought on by the enormous emotional burden this placed on him.

Eventually his psyche broke down altogether, he presumably lost his job with Bunsen, and that's why we see him collapse into the full-blown madness of running around in circles meeping at everything. To anyone who's followed his descent, Beaker is a victim of chaos rather than a creator of it, and that surely makes a difference.
posted by colie at 12:38 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to say that I imagine I'm the only mefite who ever spent three months of his life putting together a pitch for an Electric Mayhem Behind the Music episode, poring over every clip of the band and putting together an EDL for such a thing, and getting the pitch in front of Lisa Henson (who then of course explained that she'd had the idea in internal development for the same timeframe.)

Marry me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:09 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


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