Archived Story

It’s time to play the music, light the lights

Published 9:11am Friday, February 17, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

I have a not-so-secret fondness for Kermit the Frog. And for Miss Piggy and Rowlf the piano-playing dog and Gonzo the … whatever he is. There’s a stuffed Kermit stored in my side of our bedroom closet (Disclaimer: It originally belonged to she-who-must-be-obeyed, but when I found her discarding old things one day, I claimed it).

If you recognize those names, not much more needs to be said. Except … so much more needs to be said.

I was already a teenager when the Muppets moved out of their apartments on “Sesame Street,” briefly into the first season of “Saturday Night Live,” but also into a primetime TV show set in a theater on Broadway and movies that I watched on big screens instead of on small ones. Apparently, my age didn’t matter; whatever hormones were pounding their way through my adolescent body didn’t interfere with my feelings about Muppets.

Along with “The Muppet Show” and the films, as a teenager and young adult, I tuned into (secretly) the “Muppet Babies” Saturday morning cartoon, watched as they turned into Fraggles on “Fraggle Rock” and stood in line to visit their attraction at an MGM Grand Studios theme park. All the merchandising wasn’t as endearing, to be honest, but I didn’t find that it tainted the Muppets themselves — just the Disney Co. (which never passes up an opportunity to make more money).

Why are the Muppets such a big deal for me? I can get defensive when people catch me watching Muppets on YouTube or if they accidentally come up as examples in class discussions (perhaps pointing out how their satire of the “serious” adult world is so often spot on). I make excuses. I act as if I only like them ironically.

Still, why do I like them? They were — and are — silly. And corny, and witty. They are only puppets, with the hands of real people stuck up inside them to make their mouths “talk” and their arms “move” as they “walk” across fields or sidewalks or alien planets. Yes, my affection for them was — and remains — illogical, but when it comes to these foam, furred and feathered creatures, I just can’t help myself.

In time, their creator, Jim Henson, turned to darker, more complex creatures: Skeksis, goblins, dragons and aliens — including Yoda. And I followed him into those worlds. The stories he told with his creatures were fascinating: “The Storyteller,” “Dark Crystal,” “Labyrinth,” “Farscape.”

All of that adult fare from Henson, however, does not diminish the power that Kermit, Piggy and the rest of the gang have over me. I may have been too old to watch “Sesame Street” as a child, but I enjoyed watching it with my own kids. I watch old episodes of “The Muppet Show” and “Fraggle Rock” on DVD.

My feelings, however, are not shared universally among adults. Marlon Brando despised them so much that he wouldn’t even enter the set of a film directed by Frank Oz (the originator and voice of Miss Piggy) until Oz had left.

Austin’s own Hormel Corp. sued Henson’s production company because of the boar character Spa’am in Muppet Treasure Island. They claimed that it harmed the reputation of their spiced ham product. Luckily the suit was thrown out by a judge who told them to get a sense of humor.

All that skepticism and negativity from humorless grownups doesn’t matter to me. When I heard about the new movie coming out last year, I immediately put it on my list of must see films for the year. It has been years since the last film (when we find out where Gonzo really came from). I even splurged and bought tickets for the whole family to see it. I didn’t care what more sophisticated adults might think.

The thing is, walking down the aisle at the Cinema 7 that day, I noticed a lot of other moviegoers my age, and older, along with kids of all ages — even some teenage boys were there in a group, sitting together without parents.

Maybe this relationship with the Muppets isn’t something to ask questions about. Maybe we Muppet fans don’t have to make excuses. Maybe, just maybe, having a soft spot in our hearts for them is something to celebrate.

 

David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.