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How the Muppets created Generation X
April 9, 2014 5:44 AM   Subscribe

"We all have our nostalgia. But, at least for me, my love of Henson’s work goes beyond that. I don’t think we love the Muppets simply because they came from our childhood. We love the Muppets because they gave us a worldview – a profoundly idealistic, yet profoundly realistic worldview – that many of us carry into our adulthoods. It is only rarely that we take the time to consider where we picked up such ideas."
posted by jocelmeow (81 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
This article *SANG* to me.

(PS: Read the Jim Henson bio and her book too)
posted by DigDoug at 5:57 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Also because they were funny.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:05 AM on April 9


Is there such a thing as eleven year-old self-parody?
posted by graphnerd at 6:09 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Also, that might be the first Longform listicle I've ever read.
posted by graphnerd at 6:15 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I don't think it was just the Muppets. TV was so much bolder and more creative in pushing boundaries in the 70s - think of The Carol Burnett Show, Hee-Haw, The Benny Hill Show, All In The Family, etc etc. All these shows took the culture around us and fashioned it into something we could digest as both funny but deeply engaging. I mean the breadth of talent to appear on the Muppets and The Carol Burnett Show and others like the was staggering - you could get anyone from Liberace to Alec Guinness to Dudley Moore to Lawrence Olivier and they all had their identities remixed and made accessible to kids in a way that both exposed the greater culture of the adult world but made it fun and funny for us kids. I learned so much about music, art, culture from these shows, not to mention my sense of humor. I just don't see anything like the freedom these shows had in the 70s today where everything is so rigid and segregated and controlled. It's a shame.
posted by spicynuts at 6:16 AM on April 9 [18 favorites]


Also because Frank Oz is high in the running for the best puppeteer of all time. He was so good that when Jim Henson first saw him, he was 17, and reportedly Henson wanted to hire him on the spot; he was working for Henson at 19.

Although Oz demurs about his relationship with puppets, saying they don't mean much to him, I can't think of anybody who was greater at finding the essential neurosis of a character and then articulating that through a puppet.

Think of his characters. The fussy irritability of Bert. The preening, easy hurt Missy Piggy (whose hurt instantly turns violent.) The eager-to-please incompetence of Fozzy.

They are marvelous characters, puppets or no, and they wore their troubled emotions on their shirtsleeves. As a child, they appealed to me, because I too felt barely in control of my emotions. As an adult, they still appeal, as those emotions never really went away.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:16 AM on April 9 [34 favorites]


I don't think it was just the Muppets. TV was so much bolder and more creative in pushing boundaries in the 70s - think of The Carol Burnett Show, Hee-Haw, The Benny Hill Show, All In The Family, etc etc.

I like nostalgia as much as the next dude awkwardly shoehorned into Gen X, but this is of course nonsense. Especially holding up Fnar Fnar Benny Hill as bold and creative.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:21 AM on April 9 [11 favorites]


The conversation around this article among my friends has included the important detail that the Muppets gave us permission to be weirdos. They made it okay, because there's not just one Muppet weirdo; almost every one of them has a degree of it. Plus, they have so much dimension that we understand their neuroses and feel like we know them in a way that allows us to know what they would do in certain situations. They're very human, and the weirdness seems like a (terrific) reaction to mid-century conformity.

Also, it's been a lot of fun to see how people I know self-assess as Muppets - almost inevitably, the character they choose as most representative of them is both hilarious for its accuracy and illuminating.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:21 AM on April 9 [29 favorites]


Well, it's not quite a mop and it's not quite a puppet... but man (laughs). So to answer your question, I don't know.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


Strauss and Howe wrote “divorce struck the [Gen Xers] harder than any child generation in U.S. history.” With parents on heroic journeys of self-discovery encouraged by the “Awakening” of the 1960s, Xers were often latchkey kids raised by television. It is not surprising we distrust authority. And even for those of us with married, attentive parents, Jim Henson was practically a third parent to many of us – at least he was to me.

I would add to this that for those homes not affected by divorce, they were affected by both parents needing to work, leaving a portion of the parenting up to Henson's creations.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:24 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I'm enjoying the article, but Kermit does NOT have a permanent smirk. *HARUMPH*
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:28 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I am 45 years old and until a couple of years ago I would have said that I love the Muppets as much as the next guy. However, those years have shown that no, I do not love the Muppets as much as the next guy, not by a long shot. The next guy really, really loves the Muppets.
posted by Legomancer at 6:32 AM on April 9 [26 favorites]


Also, it's been a lot of fun to see how people I know self-assess as Muppets - almost inevitably, the character they choose as most representative of them is both hilarious for its accuracy and illuminating.

My whole life has been one long transition from Scooter into Waldorf, with a few brief forays into Gonzo

but all along I really wanted to be Dr Teeth
posted by ook at 6:34 AM on April 9 [58 favorites]


Another vote for weirdos. I loved Fozzie and Gonzo as a little kid because they were so strange.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Since we're on a Muppet kick lately ... The Muppet Movie screen test
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:46 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Great article, thanks. I'm a late 70's kid, and can't recall if Kermit et all ever visited Sesame Street. They seemed like two different worlds - one a street with Snuffy and honking monsters, the other a theatre with adult conversations and chickens.

I don't think I want to google to find out if the worlds collided, Henson did such a great job of creating two distinct worlds for me.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:47 AM on April 9


BlerpityBloop, Kermit was a reporter on Sesame Street before he got his big break.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:51 AM on April 9 [19 favorites]


can't recall if Kermit et all ever visited Sesame Street

Kermit has always been a central character on Sesame Street, but none of the regular Muppet Show characters have appeared there (except perhaps one or two of the human-sized monsters like Sweetums).
posted by briank at 6:52 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


“I have the sense,” Chee said, “that it’s about a sensibility — a way of finding humor in things, in loving the ridiculous you find in the ordinary. That's one of the things I love the most about the Muppets: the joy of finding love and beauty in the common and everyday, and even in the "ugly." We're so often bombarded with the message that things and people need to be extraordinary or perfect to be worthwhile. The Count's giddy glee at finding one more random object to count, Oscar's delight at an old newspaper, the gang's optimism at piling into a broken-down old bus for Hollywood, Kermit's finding all the beautiful green things to compare himself to... these are all the perfect antidotes to that kind of toxic, self-defeating thinking.

As catchy and cute on the surface as the "No room for boring" ads are, I can't shake the feeling that the Muppets sound a little weird saying, "Get rid of that perfectly good car and pay someone else to entertain you with a bunch of bells and whistles." I keep hearing Betty Draper's voice saying, "Only boring people are bored."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:52 AM on April 9 [20 favorites]


Also, it's been a lot of fun to see how people I know self-assess as Muppets - almost inevitably, the character they choose as most representative of them is both hilarious for its accuracy and illuminating.

I've always thought of Miss Piggy as my personal feminist icon, but if I'm honest with myself I'm probably more of a female Fozzie.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:54 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


BlerpityBloop, you can forego it if you want, but Kermit did appear on Sesame Street, most notably (as others have mentioned) in the Sesame Street News Flash bits. There are a fair number of others, but the ones with tortured composer Don Music are some of my favorites.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:57 AM on April 9 [10 favorites]


I'll be serious for a moment: I had an epiphany after watching The Muppets in 2011. I realized something about myself that has always been true since my earliest childhood, but I never was consciously aware of it or put it into words before. You see, I love performing. I love entertaining people and making them smile and laugh. There's no better feeling than basking in applause after a perfectly executed performance. I'm terrible in social situations, but put me up on stage or behind a microphone and I'm in my element. I even sing in a pirate band. Why do I do all this? It's because deep down, in my heart of hearts, in the most sincere core of my being...

I want to be a Muppet.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:58 AM on April 9 [10 favorites]


As a baby boomer I'd first seen the muppets on variety shows like the Jimmy Dean show and Hollywood Palace as an act. As a not yet jaded adolescent I found them hilarious and subversive. And I now see them as my peers..the muppets are baby boomers.
posted by judson at 6:59 AM on April 9


I was always much more attached to Fraggle Rock. The mutual, but good natured, incomprension, between the many worlds that coexisted in the show was really interesting and drove many of the plots. There was much deep philosophy but taken lightly and in a way that you might not see it unless you were looking for it. And it was really funny and clever. I love(d) it.
"The Trash Heap has spoken!"
posted by drnick at 7:03 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Miss Piggy was a revelation to young me, the first truly kickass woman I ever saw, although I always wondered what she saw in Kermit, who was clearly married to his job. (nice fellow, just not husband material)

Fozzie was everyone's embarrassing but lovable friend.

Gonzo was everyone's secret weird self that popped out at inopportune moments. I thought of him the Halloween I painted my face silver and wore a space helmet and trash-bag costume while all the cool kids were vampires.

Beaker is anyone who's ever worked for an incompetent boss who won't listen to reason.

Dr. Teeth's band was like every musician/coolness/stoner stereotype wrapped up together, so that as a young person, I was prepared when I met people exactly like that.
posted by emjaybee at 7:06 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


Kermit the reporter. Omg. Flashback.

Also, the pinball number count Song had a profound impact on me growing up. Years of listening to my parents steely dan and traffic albums and then all of a sudden whapow, syncopation, odd time signatures, funk, big beats, counting!. It blew my mind, 30 + years on and I still love that track, which was written by a random person.

The other music was good, but nothing had the impact of that pinball song, it was the first piece of music I ever physically responded to.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 7:06 AM on April 9 [20 favorites]


Dr. Teeth's band

The Greatest Hits of the Muppets’ Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
The Mayhem consisted of five members, all loosely based on real-life musicians. Fittingly, Muppet creator Jim Henson voiced the Mayhem’s lead singer, Dr. Teeth. The doctor’s deep, gravelly tone and colorful vests were a nod to New Orleans legend Dr. John. (previously)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:11 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


Sure, doctor teeth, but they would be blown off the stage by the Riverbottom Nightmare Band. They take what they want, they do anything that they wish.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 7:15 AM on April 9 [12 favorites]


Loved this. Whenever someone used to call us the "MTV Generation," I would always respond that no, we were the Sesame Street Generation - it had all the elements MTV was blamed for (quick cuts that gave us short attention spans, countercultural messages that made us distrust authority figures, trippy animations that I dunno made us do drugs...), and as opposed to MTV, pretty much all of us watched it.

And totally agree that they were seminal in helping form some of our modern approaches to comedy (and certainly my own). Kermit was, IMO, the best straight man in the business (at least for our generation). Somewhere out there (and I keep on googling because someday someone MUST upload it) is a SS sketch where Grover is selling eyeglasses and comes to Kermit's house. And after he says that they go on your eyes and Kermit says he doesn't need glasses, Grover then pushes on and explains that the end pieces go on your ears. And Kermit looks at him and simply says, "My ears, Grover. My ears." And there's this amazing long pause as Grover just doesn't get it, and starts talking about how the little piece in the middle rests on your nose, and again all Kermit says is, "My nose, Grover. My nose." And makes that face again, as he waits for the penny to drop. It is the definition of a slow burn. And then, because you know it has to happen and you can't wait for it to happen, Kermit loses it and freaks out on Grover and chases him out of the house and that's funny too, but OMG that delicious moment when Kermit knows and you know and you know that Henson / the writers / the gods of comedy / whoever is in charge of the universe knows that Kermit has no ears and no nose and you don't even have to say it for it to be funny... That's a master class in comic performance, right there.
posted by Mchelly at 7:25 AM on April 9 [19 favorites]


According to my parents, as an baby they would let me watch Sesame Street and I would be utterly rapt, entirely focused on the screen, as long as there were Muppets. As soon as there was a cartoon or some humans, though, I started to fuss.
posted by nonasuch at 7:28 AM on April 9


And omg as soon as I hit post I thought to check again, and the gods have heard me and it is here(!) Not exactly how I remembered and exactly how I remembered at the same time. Wow.
posted by Mchelly at 7:28 AM on April 9 [8 favorites]


I'm dating myself here, I remember Rolf on Ed Sullivan. The rest of it was boring, but I loved Rolf (and maybe Señor Wences).
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:30 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


And omg as soon as I hit post I thought to check again, and the gods have heard me and it is here(!) Not exactly how I remembered and exactly how I remembered at the same time. Wow.

You'd think Grover would be a bit more sympathetic, considering he doesn't have ears either.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:39 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


the Muppets gave us permission to be weirdos

That hit the nail on the head. (And so many of the comments about Sesame Street, more so than the Muppet Show itself.)

I was prepared to deny that Muppets really had much influence, but there it is.
posted by Foosnark at 7:40 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I loved, and continue to love, the Muppets too. I don't think I've ever recovered from the loss of Muppet yogurt though. I still have vivid memories of the packaging...
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 7:40 AM on April 9


The thing is that they continue to stay weird and to true to Henson in the movies. They've never sold out and gotten watered down by focus grouped scripts or whatever. The movies still feel like the same weirdos and the same weirdo aesthetic.
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I still love that track, which was written by a random person.

ahem!

Music for Pinball Number Count was composed by Walt Kraemer and arranged by Ed Bogas. The vocals were provided by the Pointer Sisters.


The Pointer Sisters!!! My mind was blown when I found that out.
posted by spacewaitress at 7:44 AM on April 9 [20 favorites]


Also because Frank Oz is high in the running for the best puppeteer of all time....

Which makes his non-participation in the latest Muppet movies all the more telling.

"I turned it down, I wasn’t happy with the script. I don’t think they respected the characters."
posted by fairmettle at 7:47 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


This article was too damn long. It could have been cut in half and still covered the same ground. I don't see any need to analyze the Muppets. When you've said that they're fun, hilarious, cute and subversive, you've said pretty much all there is to say.

I adore the Muppets. I nearly fainted for joy when I first read about the Lady Gaga Thanksgiving special last fall, and was thrilled when I saw the preview for The Muppets Most Wanted. Tina Fey with a faux Russian accent and the Muppets? What could be more perfect?

I still have the Kermit mug that my brother gave me the Christmas I was eight. (My brother died in 2011 and I think it's the only thing I have that he gave me which is all the more reason for me to treasure the mug.) And on one of those "which Muppet are you" tests, I recently took, I was told I was a Kermit. I don't know if I agree with that, but then I don't know which muppet I would be.
posted by orange swan at 7:49 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


People probably get tired of me talking about Jim Henson's work. But he's on the very short list of people who deserve every accolade they ever received, and many they didn't.

His mastery of capitalism, his willingness to stretch and to occasionally fail should make him a model for every generation. We (Gen X) got lucky.
posted by DigDoug at 8:08 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]



I just had the biggest 'duh' moment that I've had in a long time. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he says in the article. This is my generation. I grew up with Sesame Street and the muppets and find myself getting all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia when one appears. Kermit feels like an old friend. I was pondering the notion of the values Henson's worlds that I picked up and how much it unconsciously influenced me when I suddenly realized just how deep it must go.

Sounds silly when I think about it (and now write it) but the Muppets are apparently so much part of my world view that in my mid 20's when a bunch of us decided to get a tattoo I went original and designed my own, baby kermit on a snowboard, tattoo. The tattoo has multiple personal meetings but in light of this article my choosing to etch Kermit permenantly on my body means even more now. I just didn't realize it at the time. Hell yeah I'm of the Henson Generation!
posted by Jalliah at 8:15 AM on April 9



Music for Pinball Number Count was composed by Walt Kraemer and arranged by Ed Bogas. The vocals were provided by the Pointer Sisters.


The Pointer Sisters!!! My mind was blown when I found that out.
"

Another Sesame Street brush with greatness: The classic Ladybug Picnic counting song was performed and animated by Pixar's Bud Luckey, who has become best known as the voice of Agent Dicker from The Incredibles and Eeyore in the newer Winnie the Pooh cartoons.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:44 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


I'mma let you finish, but Kermit and Joey sing the Alphabet is the best Kermit on Sesame Street sketch of all time... of all time!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:50 AM on April 9 [12 favorites]


I remember seeing The Muppets with my sister. I kept saying, "I'm not going to get emotional, I'm not going to cry." And I was fine.

Theeeeeen... Kermit came onstage with his banjo. And I knew what was coming. And the theater got a little dusty. By the second set of plinks I was weeping openly. And I wasn't the only one.

And I used a tissue and a half just writing this comment.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:56 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


You could lose your purse, or you might lose something worse on the SUBWAY!
posted by Mchelly at 9:03 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I liked the muppets when I was a kid but I do not really share the fond memories and nostalgia like I do with some other things from my childhood for some reason. I had no idea they were such a huge deal for people still, it's interesting.

I do remember a friend of mine a few years back telling me a story about how he was showing some summer interns around the office, cracked a corny joke and said "Wakka wakka wakka!" afterwards. The interns, maybe 18 years old, just stared at him blankly. He says "you know, Fozzy Bear?" Nothing. "The Muppets?" Silence. "OK then, moving on."
posted by Hoopo at 9:29 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


The interns, maybe 18 years old, just stared at him blankly.

This is a problem - an entire generation communicates entirely in quotes from pop-culture media. Someone is going to need to publish the Great Generation X Concordance in order for nursing home aids and historians of the end of the 20th century to understand what the doddering old fools in concert-T's and flannel shirts/chunky-heeled mary janes are babbling on about. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, you know?
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:40 AM on April 9 [20 favorites]


"GE Capitol" - they only wish.
posted by stevil at 9:43 AM on April 9


nothing had the impact of that pinball song, it was the first piece of music I ever physically responded to

A thousand times this. I still remember that wrenchingly palpable anticipation, roiling in my little 5-year-old tummy, just waiting and waiting for that bit to come one. Are they gonna do the pinball song? Come on come on come on com- YES! YES! YES! IT'S THE PINBALL SONG ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD AGAIN I'm 31 years old now and I still catch my self humming that tune from time to time.

Several years ago, while I was playing keys in a jam band, I was asked to come up with a new song for our upcoming set. Without even realizing what I was doing, I patched in a real greasy synth, plugged in the CryBaby, and started jamming. The drummer picked up the groove, then the bassist, then the guitarist. By the end of it all we had a pretty funky psych-rock thing going on, everyone was having a blast. At the end of the jam the bassist remarked "so how much acid did you drop today, damn!"

Reader, I hadn't done any acid at all. It was The Sesame Street. It took me a few days to realize the seed of the groove, because the end song was a completely new thing. But the first five notes? 100% PINBALL SONG, BABY

That song ended up being one of the highlights of our sets for the rest of the band's lifetime.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:44 AM on April 9 [10 favorites]


It's almost like we learned that we are from the mountain, living in the mountain, go back to the mountain, turn the world around.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:51 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


The Muppets loved and respected kids -- there were a lot of people in the 70's who loved and respected kids, and I'm glad I grew up with them. Muhammad Ali loved and respected kids.

We don't love and respect kids anymore. We surveil them, measure them, and judge them harshly.

Besides, Mummenschanz!
posted by vitabellosi at 9:54 AM on April 9 [10 favorites]


Fuckin a Mummenschanz! I loved them. My parents took me to see them at least twice when they were on tour. Something about the combination of freaky almost scary beings doing hilarious shit with toilet paper was a perfect balance for me. I totally dug them.
posted by spicynuts at 9:57 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


"I turned it down, I wasn’t happy with the script. I don’t think they respected the characters

I'm glad to see that Frank Oz and I are of the some mindset here! I found the newest Muppet movie to be rote and boring and coasting more on familiarity with the characters than on good writing or performance. The Muppets were once fantastic, but are getting blander and blander as Disney continues to try to wring profitability out of them. If you meet The Kermit on the road, kill him.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:14 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


I am a fully grown man, but nothing in my life prepared me for seeing how Miss Piggy is transported. In a box, with the head separated from the body.
posted by nevercalm at 10:25 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


nothing had the impact of that pinball song, it was the first piece of music I ever physically responded to

What you're saying, then, is that you didn't have Schoolhouse Rock. Because if you didn't sit there on the couch with the tears streaming down your face while Blossom Dearie sang the fucking eight times tables, then you have no soul.
posted by The Bellman at 10:47 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


The Underpants Monster: That's one of the things I love the most about the Muppets: the joy of finding love and beauty in the common and everyday, and even in the "ugly."

I've always loved their take on "I Feel Pretty."
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:00 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


I was completely in love with Kermit when I was five. I really thought it was.possibe AND a great idea to marry him later in life. Now at 41 there are still qualities in men that I like that I first remember liking in Kermit. Community minded - check, musical - check, oddball sense of slapstick humor, check.

Come on guys...banjo playing frog. There's no way that's just not the best.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:32 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


The Pointer Sisters!!! My mind was blown when I found that out.

Coincidentally, I am listening to Venetian Snares' treatment of Pinball Number Count right now.
posted by Foosnark at 11:41 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, twenty-ish years after my first time viewing them, are still the pieces of art that probably enjoy the most subconscious influence in my creative decisions day-to-day. I rarely encounter anyone who agrees with me, but imho Dark Crystal is Henson's masterpiece. FFS the man spent, like, seven years just crafting the universe before they even began shooting! It's a crime against humanity that he died before being able to film the sequel :'(''''
posted by Mooseli at 12:44 PM on April 9


I hear that I'm in the "MTV" generation, but I'm not in that version of my generation—cable didn't come to our neighborhood until I was in my late teens, and my parents thought of paying for anything on TV but PBS as the action of fools. I'm told that, for my generation, Star Wars is some kind of magical touchstone moment, but it's just an okay movie. There are lots of things meant to describe my generation, but they seldom apply to more than the self-appointed tastemakers and super-celebrities.

The Muppets, though? I'm apparently a weirdo in that I look back on the years of my youth, and that gauzy filter of sweet nostalgia just isn't there. The seventies mostly sucked. The eighties most definitely sucked. The things people think back on with such fondness were generally cheap, tawdry, and cynical, and most of the people who love those things love them now because they were briefly happy and with it back then and it's all been downhill since. I get less fond of the culture in which I lived through my formative years, except for a few magical things, and one of those was the Muppets.

Like Fred Rogers, Kate Bush's early albums, and Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva, they just get better the more closely I look back, and the core of what they were and, mostly, remain just gets hotter and brighter and more full of life and light and positivity. The Muppet Movie didn't make me cry in 1979, when I was eleven and had barely lost my tadpole tail, but man, does it get me now. Ernie and Bert were funny to me as a kid, and oddly comforting, but it's as an adult that I recognize that they, along with Laurel & Hardy, were my role models for the kind of relationships I've had with other men. I've identified with Gonzo as someone one-of-a-kind in the world, and I've taken the lessons in cultivated chaos on The Muppet Show.

I have learned so much about just being.

People seem surprised that something for children is so universal, but it was never for children—the Muppets have always been for all of us, everywhere, in all our shapes and sizes and types and kinds and predilections and fixations, from as soon as we can process images until we start to fade with age. Henson was, like Mr. Rogers, Brian Eno, the Beatles, and a precious few other people in the world, standing at the fault lines dividing the tired old world from the joyous future, reaching across with a smile and an open hand and carrying us over the gap into less claustrophobic times.

When I was born, the world was a much colder, much more regimented, and limited place, and thanks to that happily haphazard singing circus of felt and foam rubber saints, now there's palm trees and warm sand, though sadly we just left Rhode Island.
posted by sonascope at 1:01 PM on April 9 [10 favorites]


Mchelly: " it had all the elements MTV was blamed for (quick cuts that gave us short attention spans"

IT DOES NOT. You go watch yourself some Sesame Street -- classic or current. You go. I'll wait. It has the LONGEST DAMN CUTS IN THE WORLD, like "Buffy just found her mom dead" long, because the Sesame Street people figured out early on that small children have trouble understanding a story when it cuts, especially between characters (like back and forth between two characters talking and one is in frame and the other is out. Toddlers can't follow that at all). Being able to follow multiple VISUAL points of view and understand them as all part of a unified narrative is an acquired skill, and Sesame Street's target audience mostly haven't acquired it yet. Sit down and watch an episode of Sesame Street (the long story pieces are now shown all in a block in the first 15 minutes of the show), and you'll see these long, long, long steady camera shots that sit there FOREVER, and when the characters need to walk to a different camera (like they're going down Sesame Street to a new set), it's very careful about showing them leaving and returning to frame so there's continuity. When it zooms in on things (like to show the petals of a flower that a monster is counting), it's very careful to retain some kind of reference so it's not disconnected from the larger narrative by being isolated.

In classic unexplained Sesame Weirdness, I leave you Me and My Llama. Why does she have a llama in New York City? Why is the tune so damn catchy that I still catch myself singing it 30 years later?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:47 PM on April 9 [16 favorites]


Totally agree with you when they're on the street or in those visit-the-bubblegum-factory segments. But at the same time the animated pieces, like the pinball segment previously discussed, or things like this one, which were really cutty for the time (especially compared to say, Mr. Rogers, which goes at a glacial pace in comparison). And the overall pace, where the next segment could come from literally anywhere with no natural progression from where the last one left off, was also fairly new (Laugh-In did it, but I don't think too many other shows did) (then again, I was 3 so maybe not the best expert on the sunject).
posted by Mchelly at 1:59 PM on April 9


Also, the Muppets (along with Flip Wilson) introduced drag to the masses in a sympathetic, loving, laughing-with-it-not-at-it way (i.e. not that old school Milton Berle meanspirited hurf-durfy kind of drag).
posted by sonascope at 3:56 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


The other music was good, but nothing had the impact of that pinball song, it was the first piece of music I ever physically responded to.

Yeah, that song was amazing. My big Sesame Street music moment was "Geometry of Circles" -- not because I remembered it, but because I didn't, until I happened to see it on YouTube or something and it triggered an overwhelming experience which I can't put into words but strongly suspect was a flashback to what it was like having my mind blown when I first saw it as a toddler.
posted by No-sword at 5:44 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this. This might sound weird but when I saw the trailer for the Jason Segel Muppet movie, I got teary-eyed, like I was seeing my long-lost friends. Since then, I've been trying to figure out why the Muppets mean so much to me and I haven't been able to put my finger on it. I haven't been able to come up with a good explanation but one of the things I think is that they're all really weird and that's okay. No one ever tells any of them that they're stupid. They seem like they're all friends and they care about each other. So even if I'm a weirdo, I should be able to find people who love me anyway. That might not seem like a big deal but that's really powerful for a weird kid who has never felt like she fits in anywhere.

Also, if you haven't seen The World According to Sesame Street, I highly recommend.
posted by kat518 at 7:30 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


No one ever tells any of them that they're stupid.

Um... Statler and Waldorf. All the time.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


I really think that part of what sort of broke me as far as being prepared to live in The World As It Actually Is was growing up on a diet of Sesame Street, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Villa Allegre, The Muppet Show and more shows in a similar vein.

Because I honestly grew up with a worldview that people shared with each other, sought out opportunities to be kind, didn't lie for selfish gain, didn't backstab, tried to understand what others find interesting and to share what they find interesting themselves, that bullying is unacceptable and living a life of friendship and caring is how the world really works.

I'm now 46 years old, and I carry with me a low-level seething anger that the world is not actually this way, and I wish I had been warned and taught some street smarts about how people REALLY behave toward each other when I was young so I could have armed myself to live an adult life.

If I could live in the world of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, I would. It's the world that makes sense to me, because it's what I was taught the world should be.
posted by hippybear at 7:47 PM on April 9 [11 favorites]


::gives hippybear a hug::
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:50 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Music for Pinball Number Count was composed by Walt Kraemer and arranged by Ed Bogas.

Whoa, and Ed Bogas made Studio Session for Mac - I don't know how many many hours I spent playing with that program. I wonder if I still have some unreadable 400K floppy disks with music I wrote in it.

[sudden change of topic] Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear is one of my favorite songs because poor starving Simon doesn't even expect his audience to be generous, he expects them to be fair, and he thinks it's just amazing.
posted by moonmilk at 7:52 PM on April 9


Um... Statler and Waldorf. All the time.

Yes, but they still come every week. They secretly love the mayhem, they just enjoy heckling it.
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:01 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I rarely encounter anyone who agrees with me, but imho Dark Crystal is Henson's masterpiece. FFS the man spent, like, seven years just crafting the universe before they even began shooting!

Here's something interesting: as far as I know, The Dark Crystal is the only mainstream film ever made with almost no ties to earth. Most films, even the ones set on alien worlds, have humans in them. The only thing that ties Dark Crystal to earth is that they all speak English, and my understanding is that originally, Henson wanted to have all characters speak a made up language and have no subtitles, (the idea being that people would understand what was going on anyway if the story was strong enough,) but the studio balked at that idea so he put it in English.
posted by nushustu at 12:00 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Yes, but they still come every week. They secretly love the mayhem, they just enjoy heckling it.

My theory about Statler and Waldorf is that they're a retired Vaudeville comedy duo. They're too old for the rigors of touring and regular performance, but to leave show business altogether would be unthinkable, so they sit in on the Muppet Show every week and heckle from the balcony. They don't hate the Muppets; they're delivering tough love to help them live up to their full potential.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:14 AM on April 10 [5 favorites]


This thread reminded me of just how much I loved The Muppet Show as a kid. I couldn't wait for Sunday(?) night (primetime!) to roll around so I could watch with my gran, whose love for Ms. Piggy I just couldn't fathom. And now I want to roll a fat nostalgia doobie and get happy watching all those old episodes again on YouTube or some such.
posted by nowhere man at 4:31 AM on April 10


And now I want to roll a fat nostalgia doobie and get happy watching all those old episodes again on YouTube or some such.

For your viewing pleasure
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:54 AM on April 10


I'm afraid the links in that post are now dead.
posted by Shmuel510 at 7:28 AM on April 10


Yesterday someone brought Cracker Barrel mashed potatoes to work. "Mashed Potatoes?" I asked, like a not-entirely-with-it Porcupine. Now, anyone who knows Emmet Otter knows there are a few possible answers to that question. I was hoping for "Is the pay regular when we play regular?"
Unfortunately they didn't get the reference, and I just sounded like a dork.
posted by Biblio at 4:24 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Jim Hensen knew how to grab the attention of children and adults alike and keep it with the laughter and comedy. The current Muppets, don't have quite the same je ne sais quoi that the original guys do. Ever since Jim Hensen passed, the Muppets are not the same and probably never will be.
posted by jvnathreen at 10:06 AM on April 11


The Line it is Drawn #185 – Muppet Mash-Ups!
posted by homunculus at 2:15 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


It's nice to see Generation X acknowledged as existing. It seems that it was all Boomer, Boomer, Boomer, and then for a brief moment in the 90s we were given some attention (if only to call us slackers) and since then it's been Millenials, Millenials, Millenials!
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:07 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see Generation X acknowledged as existing.

We're slowly taking over late night talk shows, one by one. Apparently we're the new favorite generation to hang out with when you need to unwind and have a laugh before bed.

Of course, I've felt that is true about myself for YEARS!
posted by hippybear at 5:32 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Of Muppets & Men: The Making of the Muppet Show " is a 52 minute documentary produced during the fifth season of The Muppet Show. It was syndicated in 1981."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:12 PM on April 14


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