We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.
– Jacques Maritain, Philosopher
I love the Muppets.
I love them like I love other things I deeply love.
Meaning, I can’t give you a good reason why I love them. “The heart,” the mathematician Blaise Pascal once said, “Has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” making him the first mathematician to ever utter anything even vaguely poetic. But I love the Muppets, with a deep, familial fondness. Like Cream of Wheat on an Ohio winter morning. Or Star Wars. Or Calvin and Hobbes. Or Ohio State athletics. I love the Muppets. Less than I love my own children. But more than, say, money.
Some evidence to prove how unbalanced my affections are:
1. My first memory of watching TV was the Muppet Show. I was probably 3 or 4. I would take a bath, wrap myself in a towel, race down the hall, put on my PJs, and go into the living room where Dad would turn on the TV. I’m pretty sure at one point, there was an episode where C3-P0 and R2 guest starred with Mark Hamill. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Muppets and Star Wars? Jesus, you can return now. It is *not* going to get better than this.
2. When I was 10, I spent $15 dollars (which was a lot of money) collecting all three of these Muppet plush toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals. Those three plush toys sat in my room on my bookshelf for the next decade. I still have them. They are probably mostly dust mites by now. I don’t care.
3. The hardest I have ever laughed in my entire life was because of the Muppets. It was in college with my best friend from high school, Eric, who happened upon an old VHS tape (from 1987!) of The Muppets Family Christmas while he was house-sitting for some family friends. For some reason, the large bear in the back’s expression at the 12:05 mark was the funniest thing Eric had ever seen in his life, and he started laughing so hard that he couldn’t talk, which made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk. You’ve probably experienced that. Anyone who says laughter isn’t contagious is a fool. Eric almost killed me that night from asphyxiation.
4. When I became a teacher, the first decoration I added to my room was a poster of the Muppets.
5. When deciding what tattoo to get permanently etched on my body, the finalists were an ancient Celtic symbol that lived on the inside of my Bible (and Led Zeppelin albums) that represented the Holy Trinity, and Fozzie Bear. Fozzie narrowly lost[*].
Here is why.
I love the Muppets, mainly because they’re a bunch of weirdos and cast-offs with deep flaws and insecurities, but they are a family.
There’s Fozzie, who is an addict to approval (“I’m trying so hard”).
And Animal, who has problems with self-control.
And Piggy, who is vaguely narcissistic and emotionally needy.
And Gonzo, who is a self-described “weirdo.”
And yet, they shrug and love each other and stick by each other no matter what. It’s as though the only other option is to live life utterly alone and rejected, so they choose community and friendship and devotion. It’s actually quite inspiring, if you think about it. Which I have, obviously.
Jim Henson’s Muppets.
Craig Yoe, former creative director of the Muppets, once shared a story about how Jim Henson gathered all the creatives into a room and said, “Let’s think of an idea that will bring peace to the world in our lifetime.”
The Muppets were a product of that idea. They imbued the virtue of kindness in a cruel world. The were relentlessly optimistic and hope-filled in the face of despair. And above all, unwavering devotion and fidelity to each other in a world that increasingly doesn’t make promises, let alone keep them.
Me and Fozzie
As an adopted kid who was often unsure about my place in the world, the Muppets helped me see an important truth about life: family is not simply bloodline. Family is created by devotion. I know, it sounds nuts, but that message helped me.
Because if a Frog and a Bear can find each other and become best friends, maybe there’s a Frog out there who I could become friends with. And maybe there’s a whole big group of others out there who can become my family, too.
This is good news of hope for an adopted only child. Especially considering I didn’t even have a blood-relative until my son and daughter were born.
When the Muppets stopped being Muppets
Which brings me to 2015. Nearly 40 years later. And the most recent version of the Muppet Show on ABC.
I don’t know how to say this.
It’s just depressing.
I’m not going to wade into the useless moralizing and posturing of our culture wars like Franklin Graham or One Million Moms, because getting angry about intellectual property that you don’t own is probably pointless.
But, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentson, “I knew the Muppets. And you, sir, are no Muppet.”
Watching Kermit make dirty sexual innuendos just feels…wrong.
When Jimmy Kimmel put curse words in Cookie Monster’s mouth, or someone edited old footage to make Dr. Teeth perform ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” – it was super funny, because it was so incongruous. Completely out of place.
But when Muppets start overtly referencing penises
(ex: Zoot! Stop drawing dirty pictures on the get-well card.
Uh. I guess I can make that into a saxophone.)
and casual sex
(ex: ABC made a fake Tinder profile for Ms. Piggy that says, “Someone put this pig in a blanket”)
It’s just…like wow.
It’s a violation. Like the whole Calvin-from-Calvin-and-Hobbes-peeing-on-things phase we went through in the late 90s.
It just violates the artistic spirit of the thing. Ask Bill Watterson.
Jim Henson’s goal with nearly everything he did was to teach children – and adults – to lead peaceful, compassionate lives.
For the sake of Jim, I sure wish someone at ABC would have the courage, humor and heart to carry on that legacy.
And I know Kermit the Frog is not real. But I feel like I knew him once. And if I had to bet, I’d bet that Kermit misses his old pal Jim now more than ever.
- This was – as you might have guessed – before my opinions about Christianity changed considerably.↵