Let’s Just Be Real for a Moment

Kermit the Frog will be fine…..hopefully. Matt Vogel will do the absolute best he can, but as Disney has made abundantly clear, the Muppet Performers only have so much say before they just have to shut up and read the script.

Oh…and Muppet fans can be a bunch of dicks, including me.

Let’s be real, no side of whatever there is left to argue about is coming out of the conflict squeaky clean. This is what happens when a bunch of people who all came together to support and cherish something that condemns conflict wind up being thrown into the middle of it.  Jim Henson avoided confrontation as often as possible and it seems we had been following suit for the longest time.

Bad idea. Very bad idea. Once one cat was thrown out of the bag, the rest still inside started tearing each other to pieces.

I’m certainly not innocent in all of this. I’ve willingly involved myself in roundabout arguments, called people names and insulted their intelligence, probably losing the respect of several people along the way. When Kermit made his little comeback on Monday, I expressed my distaste for his new voice, pretty much forgetting about more important elements, such as puppetry and personality, cracking jokes and booing people who didn’t agree with me. A couple of days later, I’ve pulled my head in and realised that I really should be on the ‘wait and see’ wagon like any sensible person would.

Looking back on it, I should perhaps regret my previous behaviour, but I don’t. Some of the things I have said have been downright heinous, however, mistakes are made for a reason. I’d like to believe I’ve learned a valuable lesson in engaging with a fellow human being and will try to do better from here on out.

Look, if you’re one of the truly innocent parties, then well done, this post clearly isn’t addressing you. But to all the Muppet fans out there on either side of the tracks who are going to insist on treating this fandom like a battlefield for the foreseeable future, put your weapon of words down, take a spoon of cement and harden the fuck up. If we don’t agree to disagree, then the senseless conflicts will never end. If you really insist on going on a crusade, don’t knock other people over as you do.

Personally, I’m going to continue to be outspoken about the Muppets integrity and I fully expect my stance to repeatedly change as time goes on. I’m still very much on the ‘I wish open communication had saved Steve Whitmire’s career’ side of things. Again, if it were up to me, Steve would be heading off to rehearse for the Hollywood Bowl, but current circumstances being what they are, all I can do is work with what has been presented and that is Matt Vogel as Kermit the Frog.

Okay then, let’s give this a shot. If it turns to shit, which I rather doubt based on Matt’s immense talent, then we’ll deal with Disney’s casting decision. It’s Disney’s burden to prove to us that they have the best interests of the Muppets at heart, not the Muppet Performers. Have the core team not proven time and time again that they only look out for what is best for the characters they perform? It astounds me that people are still questioning that. And before anyone throws the ‘Yeah, but if they really cared about the characters, they would have tried harder to get Steve back’ argument at me, you try speaking up while the Mouse has your career in a stranglehold and see how that works out.

My attitude towards The Muppet Studio is going to shift quite a bit, including when it comes to the eventual recasting of Rizzo, Lips, Beaker, Link and the Newsman, especially Rizzo. I couldn’t give less of a damn as to where Foo Foo is thrown. The same goes for future Muppet projects, whether they’re viral videos or another attempt at a film or TV show. These are all bridges we will cross once we get there. I could speculate all day, but what’s the point?

There’s not much left to add other than that I feel like the Muppet Fandom has a certain flair for the dramatic that we tend to overuse. Let’s just be real for a moment, are we really willing to divide the already small space we take up in the bigger scheme of things? It’s about time we found some metaphorical duct tape and began to mend the rifts caused by our differences of opinion. If there is an afterlife, Jim is probably watching the proceedings with his face in his hands, shaking his head.

Let’s not make that anguish eternal, shall we?

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Late Night Nonsense: Adam Hills and The Swedish Chef

I was going through my collection of Muppet Performer photos after an already bad day and ended up crying out of anguish and loss (for obvious reasons).

So, to cheer myself up, I watched my absolute favourite interaction between a Muppet and human: wonderful comedian Adam Hills and the slightly unhinged Swedish Chef. The most potential bromance in Muppet history that will hopefully one day be pursued.

It really does remind me of a more innocent time for The Muppets, back when their future looked nothing but bright and fruitful for all.

“The Muppet God is smiling…”

Yup. Jim sure was. Not so sure about that right now.

Late Night Nonsense: What Do I Know?

Warning: Explicit Language

Okay, let’s do this.

Time for a rant.

You see, this is how Steve Whitmire is currently feeling:

And this is how a huge portion of the world outside of the fandom (and a few insiders) currently perceives Steve and his supporters:

(Could not find a better version)

And I’m just here like:

What the actual fuck am I doing? Everything I wrote in that open letter still stands, but there is still a part of me that has been having doubts about Steve and the whole debacle. I don’t get how people can so easily pick a side on something and just stick to it no matter what.

As an atheist, I’m a natural skeptic who will question things over and over again, sometimes beyond the point of reason. Everything I’ve said so far in favour of Steve is true to form: I will support him no matter what, I believe that he believes he knows what is best for the Muppets and if I had my way, he would be back with his characters in a flash.

That being said, I still have those doubts at the back of my mind and to be perfectly blunt, it’s annoying the fuck out of me! I don’t want any of the nasty rumours about Steve to be true, but you have to admit, a lot of people have come out, not just recently, but over the course of several years and have tried to knock him down a couple of pegs.

So…do I believe the naysayers, or the equal amount of people on Steve’s side who are calling bullshit on the accusations…..I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE, OKAY?!

I’ve always tried to be so, but this is the most honest I’ve ever been to my readers on the Halibut. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is admit when you haven’t got a clue about something or someone. Bottom-line: I don’t know Steve personally, I don’t know what goes on behind-the-scenes and I definitely don’t know what lead to the shamelessly loud cluster-fuck that has been the past 10 months!

Fuck, I hate saying ‘fuck’ so much, but it’s a bit hard not to when the fucking topic is this fucking frustrating! For fuck’s sake!

Meanwhile, the more rational part of me is asking, ‘Why is this shit so important to you anyway? Why not just move on with your life since it has nothing to do with you?’

To which the rest of me responds,’Bitch, please, this has everything to do with me!’

When I vowed to myself that I would support Jim Henson’s legacy 5 years ago, I took that shit seriously and it still stands to this day. Like it or not, he’s not all of it, but Steve is still a massive part of that legacy. When asked to, he stood up, placed Kermit on his arm and did his fucking best within the unfortunate situation Jim’s death had placed him and the other Muppet Performers in. Yeah, Steve tripped and stumbled over his own ass a few times in the beginning, but he got there in the end, didn’t he?

I may know nothing about Steve’s personal life, just as it should be, but if anything is clear, it’s that Steve has built up a type of philosophy and logic around the Muppets that accumulates everything he learnt from the original team and from his own life experiences-and fair enough, right? If you’ve been apart of the same franchise for that long, certain consistencies are going to add up in your head as important; important enough to try to be applied to new circumstances such as Disney acquiring the characters you’ve formed a strong connection to and want to protect at all costs.

Along with the other long-standing Muppet Performers, Steve stood stubbornly by the characters as Disney stumbled around, trying to figure out what to do with this new property they had in their hands. Seriously, the fact that Steve didn’t say, ‘Fuck it’, toss Kermit into the air and stride away flipping the bird during piss-poor projects like DC Almost Live is a testament to his dedication and resistance to bullshit. Go and read this ToughPigs interview from 2008: not only did Steve find something positive in working on that special, but nearly every answer he gives relating to the Muppets includes something about character integrity.

Actually, you know what? I think I’m starting to get it.

I, too, would have a multiple blog-post thesis on why letting me go was bullshit if I had accomplished everything Steve has in the past 38 years. Except I don’t have the same level of restraint Steve seems to have. My ‘thesis’ would just be an ongoing bitch-session between me and a few hundred of my closest fans and trolls. There have been a few times where I have cringed at Steve’s wording ever since he started Muppet Pundit, but from a fan’s perspective, I think I finally understand why he hasn’t dropped the subject.

Look at the first sentence of his last paragraph from this week’s post:

“I can be up to speed and ready for this show with little more than a day‘s rehearsal.”

That sentence is cocky as all hell, but between his desperation to jump back in there and the fact that he is in fact that goddamn talented, I think it’s rather justified in its nature. It’s pretty simple, ladies and gentleman, Steve’s not giving up on his position within the Muppets because A) the characters are his everything and B) say what you want about how he got there, Steve fucking earned that spot and he knows it.

Of course, I would be remiss to not touch on the accusations of blackballing, brinkmanship and all the bullshit that goes with it. If it’s all true, then yeah, I empathise with the people who got caught trying to mess with Steve’s vision and ended up on their backsides as a result. And if the The Muppets Studio were in fact justified in their decision that set the fandom on fire, then fair enough. However, it still stands that Disney took over a decade to do away with Steve even though he was apparently such a huge problem. What I really want to know is what type of warnings did they allegedly give him? Were they serious statements that placed marks against his name, or were they just little slaps on the wrist and 5 minutes in the naughty corner? Since that will never get answered, I guess we’ll never know.

See? This is why I love to write this type of shit out; I legitimately did not know who or what to believe when I started writing this rant and now I’m back where I have and always will be- right beside Steve unless some kind of evidence is brought forward to make me and many others look like an idiot for trusting the wrong person.

In the extreme off-chance that Steve is reading this, don’t worry mate, I still have your back after all of that. Unfortunately, being skeptical is apart of being human. Hopefully everything I’ve stated here and in other comments and posts I have written has been enough to reassure you and your other supporters that I’ve done my research in order to understand you and your situation as well as I can.

I apologise for the crude language, but honestly, this is my natural vocabulary that I force myself to filter out every time I write a new post. I’m glad I’m sharing these thoughts here rather on one of the fan forums because I would probably get eaten alive due to my reluctance to drop a subject everyone else is keen to let go of.

Doesn’t that predicament sound familiar, hmm?

 

Late Night Tid-bits: The Thing About Cantus The Minstrel

Here’s something I’ve never said in public.

Cantus the Minstrel is my favourite Jim Henson character. Ever.

Yes, even above Kermit the Frog and Rowlf the Dog…which is saying something because I love both of those characters to death and back.

The magical thing about Cantus is that from his very first few seconds, he immediately takes you to a new place, beyond reality and beyond Fraggle Rock.

If you have never encountered Fraggle Rock before, go ahead and watch this. If you have seen this before, watch it again anyway. It’s certainly worth revisiting.

Between that gorgeous music and that mind-capturing presence Jim provides him with, Cantus is a golden character from a golden moment in Henson history. I’m no expert in puppet design, but even I can tell you that his design is essential to his personality. He is definitely a Fraggle, but he’s different. He’s far taller than the average Fraggle and no one else possesses the same type of  hair (feather) style. In regards to the height, I’d be willing to say that height indicates age, however I think it has more to do with presence.  If a Fraggle wants access to his wisdom, they must look up to meet him eye to eye.

Character-wise, there is so much we don’t know about Cantus, but that just works in his favour. I believe there’s a part of him that rather enjoys being mysterious. Cantus certainly has the classic wit and playfulness that automatically came with being a Jim Henson character.  Along with his wisdom, he’s also in touch with the magic of the Rock through his connection with music and can wield it in subtle ways when he playing his horn.  Cantus’ obtuse method of speech when in conversation often confounds the Fraggles he addresses, but that’s exactly the point. Cantus will only say what a Fraggle needs to hear.

Look at the way he handled Gobo during The Bells of Fraggle Rock and The Honk of Honks. Cantus knew that Gobo is far too stubborn to break out of his hardheadedness once he has his heart set on something, so he passes along a riddle and waits it out until Gobo is in a good mind-space to reinforce the message. In The Honk of Honks when Cantus catches Gobo just outside of the hole to Doc’s Workshop, Cantus is clearly annoyed with the Fraggle, but he still gives Gobo a chance to work things out for himself. I like to think that all the wisdom Cantus has gained over the years came about from his own life experiences, so that’s he way he prefers to educate others.

A connection I love to make between Jim and Cantus is that whenever the puppeteer or Fraggle showed up for the show, it was always a special treat. Jim was mostly hands-off for this show, so on the occasions that Jim directed an episode and/or performed Cantus or Convincing John, it’s always wonderful because you just know he was on set to have some fun. The same goes for Cantus; he tends to show up whenever there’s an important celebration to be held. Just like the puppeteers when Jim showed up, the Fraggles are always overjoyed to see him again.

Yes, Cantus certainly is my favourite Jim Henson character. Even with what little information we know about him, I can’t imagine Fraggle Rock without it’s roving marvellous, musical Minstrel. There’s not much more I need to say then I believe that Cantus brought out the best of Jim’s traits as a performer and became the renowned sage he is because of it.

It’s more than likely that I’ll be bringing up Cantus in the future in a more in-depth fashion. For now, let’s all go and discover a new appreciation for music…

 

Just Like Wembley Fraggle

Do you know what’s missing from the world?

Unification.

We constantly find ourselves separated by gender, sexuality, race, religion (or lack of), nationality….pretty much anything and everything. Instead of celebrating our differences, we use them as a means to justify tearing each other from our identity downwards until there’s nothing left but confusion, sadness and lack of a unique personality. The world is so full of spite and jealously, prejudice and ignorance, that despite all the technology we have at our finger tips, we, as the most intelligent species on earth, have never been more disconnected from each other.

When I stare at the television, or my phone or laptop, I dread learning about what monstrosity humanity has committed within the past 24 hours. After a while, it gets to be a bit much and before I know it, I’m heading towards one of two places:

The Muppet Theatre or Fraggle Rock.

Taking inspiration from Jarrod Fairclough’s fantastic Be Like Grover post on The Muppet Mindset (and taking a break from my recent Muppet Crusade), I’m heading back through the nearest Fraggle Hole in search of my all-time favourite character from any Henson universe- Wembley Fraggle.

fraggle-wembley

Wembley, to me, is one of those characters I simply clicked with from the get-go (okay, maybe Steve Whitmire being his puppeteer had something to do with it too, but this post isn’t about Steve-shocking, right?) and it’s interesting to watch him develop from the baby of the Fraggle Five to the young and confident Fraggle he always had the potential to be. Gobo may have been the central Fraggle, and deservedly so, but Wembley’s character arc was just as interesting to follow.

By the end of the series, Wembley became a tolerant, kind, empathetic, forgiving, self-motivated and mature Fraggle that was ready and willing to take on the world…or at least take after Gobo. Why don’t I bring up a few relevant issues relating to the state of the world right now and discuss how Wembley dealt with them during the run of the show?

Self-Identity

Everyone is eager to define who they are and how they fit into this crazy world and apparently the same goes for Fraggles. In The Secret of Convincing John, after endangering Gobo due to his indecisiveness, Wembley goes to Convincing John to change almost everything about himself-including his name!

Wembley walks into John’s cavern as an indecisive mess and walks out as Wilfred Fraggle: assertive, confident, strong….but also arrogant, opinionated and just plain stupid! Wilfred berates his friends and decides that going into Outer Space is a bright idea, knocking himself out in the process. Gobo and the others have to drag him snapping and snarling back to Convincing John to have the effects of his convincing reversed.

As it turns out, Convincing John himself is a wembler! Who knew? As it turns out, you never can tell what someone is hiding behind their persona. Witnessing this, Wilfred tries to attack John (for whatever reason, I find Steve’s character doing this towards one of Jim Henson’s hilarious) and after a reversal ‘definite challenge’, Wilfred is back to wonderful Wembley again.

The lesson to take away from this is that you can’t force yourself to change. It isn’t as simple as hypnosis or some crash course that comes from a self-help book, this kind of thing takes time. Wembley goes back to his old self at the end of the episode, but he certainly doesn’t stay that way. As the series progresses, Wembley does in fact become more decisive and confident, never losing who he is in the process. That’s the healthy way to do self-improvement-with time.

Bullying and Trolls

No matter who you are, we all face a bully at some point in our lives, even if we don’t realise who they are at the time. In Wembley and the Mean Genie, Wembley is blindsided by the Genie whose bottle he had found and accidentally rubbed open. As he is dragged through horrible pranks on the rest of the Fraggle Five, Wembley finds himself being perceived as a bully himself, when his actual problem is that he has no idea how to say ‘no’ and plays straight into Genie’s manipulations.

Unfortunately, it’s not until Genie has enslaved Fraggle-kind that Wembley snaps out of his confusion and takes control of the situation he created. He takes advantage of the three wishes he should have been granted in the first place, freeing the Fraggles, fixing all the damage to Fraggle Rock and setting the Genie straight by wishing, “I wish I could make you understand the difference between standing up for yourself and just doing what ever you want to do.”

Now of course, in reality we can’t simply wish that our nemesis would understand concepts like that, but we can certainly learn to stand-up for ourselves like Wembley did. As a chubby, ginger-haired, bespectacled bookworm, I constantly faced teasing and nasty comments from other kids. By the time I had reached high school, I was so fed up with bring bothered and reduced to tears by the comments, I started to simply let them roll off me and land down at my feet. There I could stomp on them and reduce them the nothingness they actually were.

In The Gorg Who Would Be King, Wembley shows off the very best of his attributes by choosing to brush off past encounters to help out Junior when the poor sod finds himself reduced to Fraggle-size and confused about the workings of the universe. By accepting Junior into Fraggle Rock and preventing counter-bullying from his fellow Fraggles, Wembley demonstrates compassion and empathy towards Junior’s situation. Does Junior deserve teasing for trying to thump and capture Fraggles? Probably, but that’s not who Wembley is.

screenshot-136

Showing a bit of compassion can take you far.

What I love the most about Wembley’s involvement in this episode is that we get to see him after his character arc has been completed. No longer the naive and completely ignorant little Fraggle he started out as, Wembley is now acting as a mentor towards another character who faced the same issues. That is an excellent example for both kids and adults to follow along with. Just because you have a bad history with someone, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to show some compassion when their down. You never know what an act of kindness can do-you may even make a new friend out of it!

Racism

While the entire series featured the difference species of Fraggle Rock stigmatising each other, we saw the gradual breaking down of this disconnection as the show progressed. Just like when it came to accepting and helping Junior Gorg despite his past, Wembley extends the same courtesy to Cotterpin Doozer for the Duet-a-phon in A Tune for Two. Wembley is tolerant enough to brush off any Doozer prejudice once he realises what he and Cotterpin have in common- an ability not shared with his fellow Fraggles (outside of the Fraggle Five anyway).

The biggest indicator of Doozer prejudice is the decision not to let Cotterpin sing in the Duet-a-phon because she is not the same species, a choice spearheaded by Gillis Fraggle, the director of the event. The other Fraggles take their cue from his voice of authority and unfortunately, despite his annoyance, Wembley feels like he has no choice but to listen and stick to the status quo.

However, once he breaks the news to Cotterpin and she reacts with anger, Wembley realises that it shouldn’t matter what Cotterpin is. All that matters is who she is- the empathetic Doozer that just wanted to help him when he was down. With that in mind, Wembley heads straight back to the Great Hall, calls everyone together and makes it clear that it’s unfair to leave anyone out who wants to participate. When Gillis tries to reaffirm the traditions of the Duet-a-phon, Wembley counters with one of my most favourite lines from the entire series.

Gillis: “You’re not talking about someone, you foolish fellow, you’re talking about a Doozer.” 

Wembley: “So what? Cotterpin is as good as you or me, maybe even better because she helped me when no one else would!”

Gillis: “That doesn’t matter! The Duet-a-phon has always been for Fraggles! That’s the way it’s always been!”

Wembley: ‘Well, I got news for ya! Just because something’s always been, doesn’t make it right! Does it? No! And if my friend Cotterpin can’t be in the Duet-a-phon, I don’t want anything to do with it! ”

Just because something’s always been, doesn’t make it right!

To me, this is Wembley’s defining moment as a character and reaffirms everything he has done and will do. If there is anything the world needs right now, it’s an army of Wembley Fraggles who will stand up for those who are constantly denied a voice. When the chips are down, you can rely on Wembley to stick to his guns and have a face-off with prejudice and stigma at it’s worst. Luckily for him, his fellow Fraggles are easily persuaded to see his point of view and they accept Cotterpin and the other Doozers through song, but I know that if faced with a tougher crowd, Wembley would be able to stick to his convictions and see it through.

Slavery

While this isn’t exactly overly-relevant to today’s problems, I still wanted to quickly throw this one in here. Wembley and the Gorgs was the first episode to focus on Wembley and boy, did he have a lot to learn! After being captured by the Gorgs, Wembley is tricked into believing they want to befriend him after he plays into their delusion of being royalty. The Gorgs feed him and seemingly treat him well, but once the rest of the Fraggle Five show up for a rescue mission, the Gorgs’ true colours are soon revealed.

This episode is an allegory for why it’s unwise to be blindly accommodating and agreeable because the people who can take advantage of you most likely will and it can have severe consequences- like having your four best friends thumped into oblivion!

Once he realised where he went wrong, Wembley tries to work his way out of the situation by making it clear to the Gorgs that his friends are individuals, not just a mindless collective by describing and humanizing (Fragglizing?) them. Only after this civil act was attempted and then denied by the Gorgs does Wembley resort to violence by biting Pa Gorg’s nose.

One of Fraggle Rock’s best and unexpected quotes comes from Wembley at the end of the episode, ‘I guess sometimes slavery feels like freedom’. With that important lesson in mind, both Wembley and the audience take away from the experience that it’s best to go into any situation with some caution and very open eyes.

Death

I’ve discussed the relationship between Fraggles and Death in a previous post, including the example I’m about to use for Wembley. In Gone, but Not Forgotten, what I consider to be Wembley’s coming-of-age episode, he comes face-to-face with the most confronting aspects of life when he witnesses the death of Mudwell the Mudbunny. It already says a lot about Wembley’s character that the death of someone he had only made friends within the space of a night affects him so deeply.

If you click on the link above and read the article, I talk about Wembley going through the individual stages of grief and how the episode concentrates on how one processes such a personal loss. Despite all the character growth Wembley had accumulated over the past 3 and a half seasons, he was still very much the most innocent of the Fraggle Five. Witnessing such a tragedy, as natural as it is, sets Wembley down on a path of acceptance he really doesn’t want to bear. I can relate to this, as I’m sure many others can too. While I’m fortunate enough to live in Australia, a country mostly safe from devastating events, I see the footage, hear the witness accounts and read about the devastation thrust upon the world each and every day. It’s never-ending and that is hard to accept.

screenshot-96

I suppose I brought this episode up due to the lesson Wembley learns at the very end. Death, no matter what form it comes in, will come and perhaps the best way to deal with it is to form some healthy method of remembrance so that you may move on through life, hence the title ‘Gone, but Not Forgotten’. It’s not an easy lesson for the young Fraggle, but Wembley takes in stride as we all must. The problem with this one is that I can’t simply say, “Well, here’s what Wembley did in this situation, you do it too!” because everyone deals with death in their own way, but at least the lesson is right here if you need it.

To Finish Off

So there you have it! Five topics covering what a fantastic character like Wembley can teach the world about how to deal with what we as individuals face everyday. Learn to accept that self-image changes over time, have the courage to stand up for yourself and to extend kindness in the face of nastiness, learn to appreciate others for their differences and that while death is unavoidable, we can learn to deal with it through memories.

I have a feeling that if the world were full of Wembley Fraggles, we would be in a much better position than we are now.

 

Late Night Nonsense: ‘Fangrrl’ Follies

Fangirl noun

‘a female fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, film, music, or science fiction.’

So, despite claiming to be a Steve Whitmire/Muppet fangirl for the past, what….4 and a half years?..I got unreasonably offended when a fellow (troll) commenter on Muppet Pundit turned around and called me exactly that. I’m not going to call her out by name or anything because really, it’s not that big of a deal, but at the time, I really did take it personally.

It took me a while to understand why being called exactly what I am was so confronting in that moment. After pondering for a little while, it gradually hit me:

Context is everything.

This woman, who I genuinely question whether she is in fact a Muppet fan, actually described me as a ‘fangrrrl’ suggesting some type of American accent that if said aloud would sound sarcastic. A ‘fangrrrl’ is supposed to be air-headed, closed-minded and exceedingly shallow and is only capable of obsessing over one particular subject until she gets bored with it.

In other words, someone who should never be taken seriously.

As the accused ‘fangrrl’, I feel the need to point out that, yes, you certainly can take me seriously as what I have to say not only has personal value, but is backed up by solid evidence.

Furthermore, unless you’re causing harm to the thing or person you claim to adore, there’s nothing wrong with being slightly obsessed. I’ve stated quite clearly why I follow Steve’s journey as closely as I do: he’s the guy who introduced me to the world of Muppets and opened my eyes to how awesome puppetry can be when it’s used imaginatively. I’ve spent the last few years watching every Steve performance I can, reading interviews, listening to Muppet podcasts, reading wikis and books and basically anything else I can get my hands on.

Does that make me a crazy, obsessive fangirl? Yeah, probably, but I prefer to think of myself as a kind of Steve-expert; a ‘Whitmire Enthusiast’, if you will. His story genuinely fascinates me as a student of literature and writing and could see myself putting in the time and effort to write his biography if I was ever so lucky to get in personal touch with him.

The saddest part about this interesting little spat my nemesis and I were having was that she also threw basically any other commenter who had claimed to be somewhat pro-Whitmire under the bus with me. Suddenly I had gone from a lone loser to being in an army of sad little freaks sticking up for a guy who got kicked out of his position due to easily solvable disputes. But, of course, we’re not sad little freaks, are we? We’re just concerned and supportive Muppet fans rallying around the guy we all believe holds important knowledge about the characters we love.

When I’m on Muppet Pundit, I try to brush off the ‘fangirl’ mindset and instead read and comment on Steve’s posts with the air and concern of a friend. That’s all I’m trying to be, a friend from Australia who Steve can rely on to listen and provide some type of feedback should he ever be in need of it. While he’s on Pundit, I’m over here on the Halibut to help relay his points of contention.

Do I expect special treatment or for Steve to consider me a friend in return? No, that’s not how this thing works. Would I be happy if those things were to occur? Of course I would, but Steve is running his blog to connect with as many fans as possible in order to set facts straight and educate, not just little old me. I’m pretty sure a ‘fangrrl’ wouldn’t be able to accept that.

While I’m no longer offended about it, that ‘fangrrl’ jibe did help me set a few things straight with myself about being apart of this little community that has started to form on Steve’s blog. I’m quite content with being a part of it, trolls and all. There are even a few people on there I’m considering hitting up on Facebook to become friends. We’re all a bit different from each other, but at least we’ve all got something pretty awesome in common.

A bit like the Muppets in a nice symbolic way…

What’s Best For the Muppets?

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

While I’d like to try to keep this as unbiased as humanly possible, my take on this topic is heavily influenced by the two people I’ve been obsessively been studying since 2012: Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire.

Why? Because one point of view is heavily influenced by the other to the point where it is both consistent and makes a whole lot of sense….At least to me. You might disagree, which is perfectly fine, I suppose.

It’s not my place to dictate what the best options for the Muppets are, but considering the string of articles I’ve left in my wake since July, you really shouldn’t be surprised that this topic was the next on my agenda. I’m going to try to run through a few key points of discussion throughout the forums and comment sections I’ve been visiting.

Future Projects

TV appearances, convention panels, music festivals, movies, TV shows…I’ve already covered this in a previous post called, ‘The Muppets: So…What’s Next?’

No point in repeating myself when most of it is still relevant.

The Writing

There’s not a lot of study I have to do to conclude that The Muppets are in desperate need of a permanent, well-educated team of writers who are willing to work with the Muppet Performers every step of the way. Jerry Juhl truly was a Muppet treasure, knowing how to incorporate what the performers had developed within the characters with his own additions while still being relevant to the story being scripted. New Muppet writers came and went, but it was ultimately up to Jerry to keep the characters at their very best.

He is very much missed.

There are a few great mainstays these days, like Jim Lewis who has been in and around Muppet projects for quite a long time, and Kirk Thatcher who can add several writing credits to his name along with his Muppet directing gigs, but there will be a need to bring in fresh blood in the future. What I’d like to see with future writers is some sort of orientation where they are educated in Muppet knowledge beyond what they understand as fans of the franchise. The Muppets Studio may already have such a thing going on, but if that’s the case, it’s not as effective as it needs to be.

By all means, new writers should be encouraged to bring something fresh and new, but only within reason. The writers brought in for The Muppets 2015 gave a fair effort to introduce sides of the characters we had never seen before, but more often than not, they missed the mark. It feels like they were playing to the idea of ‘Muppets with adult problems’ more than they were ‘Muppets with mature mindsets’. Trust me, they are not one and the same thing!

An example provided infamously by Steve Whitmire was Episode 14, ‘Little Green Lie’ in which Kermit deliberately lies to Robin about the split with Miss Piggy in order to spare his feelings. As ecstatic as I was to see Robin again, the episode itself seemed out-of-touch to me as well. It’s not that Kermit hasn’t told ‘little green lies’ before to save his skin, or avoid general catastrophe, but here the situation just seemed wrong. Kermit has always done his best to teach his nephew how to grow to be just as a decent of a frog he himself is. If anything, it would have made more sense for Piggy to rope Kermit into it, not the other way around.

We can have the Jason Segels of the world stride on in and create something awesome with the characters, but by installing a permanent group of well-informed, co-operative scribes, Muppet productions would not only remain consistent in quality, but also ensure that the characters can remain true to themselves from project-to-project without fear of an occasional blunder.

And ah….just putting it out there, Disney…I’m right here if you ever need fresh blood! (Please?)

A Toy Box of Full of Puppets: One Muppet, One Puppeteer?

This is easily the most discussed and most controversial of all the topics floating around the fandom. Here is also where I am most influenced by Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire in turn. I personally stand by the notion that it is the responsibility of a Muppet Performer to embody the characters they created or were assigned to until they either willingly retire or pass away.

Notice my emphasis on ‘willingly’. This is important and I will be bringing it back up shortly.

But first, let’s take a look at this all-important quote from Jim Henson: The Biography, Chapter 15: So Much On A Handshake, in reference to the original Disney deal.

“Performers were crucial: he [Jim] didn’t want Disney treating puppeteers, or their puppets, interchangeably…..Jim wanted a guarantee his performers would be taken care of-and perhaps more important, that their craft be respected.

Without them, Disney was simply getting a toy box full of puppets. “

I cannot emphasise just how crucial that last line is! To Disney’s credit, after finally purchasing the Muppets in 2004, they seemed willing to listen to what the Muppet Performers had to say, but only after damning incidents like the one Steve mentions on Muppet Pundit in his post titled “Understudies”.

“Back in 2004 when Disney bought the characters, within moments of first meeting the key executive of what was then called “The Muppets Holding Company”, he enthusiastically announced his intention to have six to twelve puppeteers perform each character so that they could be all over the world at the same time…

I…WE were stunned. Characters with all the history and depth of each of the Muppets would be reduced to a list of traits that a dozen different puppeteers would be trained to execute, like little Muppet clones who never step out of line and never grow.”

Crikey, am I glad this never came to fruition! Not long after Steve’s post was published, I came across several comments which suggested that having multiple Kermits or Piggys or Gonzos would not only be a great employment opportunity for many struggling puppeteers, but would benefit the Muppets in the long run due to increased exposure around the world.

A great opportunity for puppeteers? Yes, definitely. But beneficial to the Muppets in the long run?

 Absolutely not.

If you were to have multiples of each character, you wouldn’t be getting more Muppets, you would be receiving marginally less. It’s like Steve keeps saying, the more you copy a VHS tape, the worse in quality it gets.

Or, if you want to think of it another way, it’s like having a photo-copier with a full cartridge of ink. The more something is copied, eventually the ink will start to run out and what you end up with is several faded copies of the original document.

Luckily for us all, The Muppets Studio wound up respecting the Muppet Performer’s wishes and have allowed the characters to continue to grow organically under their care. It’s crucial that this continues in due course. The Muppets’ personalities and memories depend on this practice in order to keep up the all-important consistency. Only time will tell if this practice will be allowed to continue on indefinitely without the influence of its most vocal supporter.

Speaking of whom, I would be remiss to not quickly (yet again) touch upon the events of last October. Remember that emphasis of ‘willingly’ in regards to retirement from the Muppets? Well, that was certainly not an option given to Steve Whitmire, ‘unacceptable business conduct’ or not. Based on Muppet tradition, Steve had every reason to believe that his tenure with the franchise would last until he was good and ready to find his successor. Even if he wanted to keep going til he was on his deathbed, I’m pretty sure Steve would have still at least given some kind of indication to whom he thought would proceed with Kermit and Co the most comfortably.

But alas, here we are. Disney’s not going to budge on their decision and all we can do from here is keep a close eye on future proceedings to make ensure the characters we love don’t stray too far from Jim Henson’s vision. At the end of the day, that is what is best for the Muppets: everyone remaining vigilant and cautious while maintaining tradition and keeping things fresh at the same time. Our mutual support of the Muppets, no matter what capacity we’re in, is what is going to carry them and all of us forward.

But hey, that’s my take on it. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts and feelings in the comment section below!

 

 

 

 

Because of Kermit….

‘Even the sunniest days can have a few clouds in them. And that night sort of changed everything…

I found them….

The Muppets. I guess you could say I was their biggest fan. And they made all the difference because from then on even on the worst days, I knew, that as the years passed, as long as there was singing frogs and joking bears, Swedish chefs and boomerang fish, the world can’t be such a bad place after all. And as long as there are Muppets, for me, there is still hope.’- Walter (The Muppets, 2011)

My last four or so posts have been driven with much emotion as you can imagine. I’ve gone from sadness, to what I thought was acceptance, to determination, and finally resilience.

But tonight, going back to where it all started for me, I just feel…numb. I’ve been avoiding watching The Muppets (2011) ever since July 10th because I knew it was going to be the end game, the moment I finally and truly accept that Kermit…isn’t going to be the frog I fell in love with. Not anymore.

I could play to both sides of the argument and try to be all hopeful about Matt’s Kermit, but not tonight. This is my moment of mourning and my time to be simply stuck in the moment.

When I watched TM2011 for the first time in late 2012, out of boredom because nothing else in the DVD rental place had looked particularly exciting, I wasn’t expecting anything special. The Muppets hadn’t meant much to me beforehand, so I was going in completely blind. The first 17 minutes or so were…okay. The opening number appealed to my love for musicals and Walter seemed to be a pretty cool character, a typical fish-out-of-water protagonist, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I definitely wasn’t leaning towards walking away from the film at any point.

But then it happened.

One of the most defining moments of my short 20 years on this earth.

I finally came face-to-face with the idol I had been missing….and the hero beneath him.

Ironic, isn’t it, that my gateway moment into the Muppet fandom was Kermit being swallowed by a heavenly light while an unearthly choir rang in my ears? Kermit did appear in the film’s opening, but he was in-and-out before I could blink. This time however, he had my full attention. I went from a vaguely entertained viewer to sitting bolt-upright on my bed, eyes wide open as I tried to soak in this new entity that I would come to hold so dear.

Also ironic was Kermit’s question, “Are you okay? That was quite a tumble.”

Oh, Frog of My Heart, you have no idea.

All it took was the conversation in the living room and Pictures in My Head for me to understand just how deep this amphibian heap of green fleece could be. He could feel happiness just as easily as he could experience pain. There were actual memories stirring in his mind, formed from the love and loyalty he held for his old friends. With that realisation, I was hooked. Kermit had grasped firmly onto my heartstrings and hasn’t let go since.

Walter may have been the main protagonist, but for me, this film will always be Kermit’s story. This was his story of soul-searching, rekindling old friendships and once again reuniting his family for the right reasons. For the Muppets to return to doing what they do best; singing and dancing and making people happy. And, even if that couldn’t be achieved, at least they tried and tried it together.

Of course, a heap of credit goes to Jason Segel‎ and ‎Nicholas Stoller. Obviously they were the ones to orchestrate the story with all of its emotional highs and lows and I’m happy to give credit where it’s due. However, it was Steve Whitmire that ultimately lead me to connecting with Kermit on a personal level. How could it not be the man who knows Kermit from inside-out? The one who carries Kermit’s soul within his own where ever he goes?

There are hundreds of talented actors and performers out there who can portray characters similar to Kermit, characters who have a kind heart, a strong loyalty to their friends and a passion they can’t deny themselves of. However, I have yet to witness one that can pull it off with the same genuine integrity that Steve can. Aside from Jim Henson, of course.

The best example I can think of is Kermit’s speech at the very end of the film. From what I’ve heard, Steve pulled it off in one take. If true, it just proves my point that his performance skills are crazily impressive.

It’s an awkward adjective to throw out there, but Kermit first struck me as being…honest. Honesty in his voice, honest in admitting when he has doubts, honest when he tries to comfort and encourage his friends and honest in his confusion about his feelings for Miss Piggy. Kermit has always been most honest with himself when it comes to his ambitions and aspirations, something he inspired me to do for myself.

To finally integrate the title of this post, because of  Kermit, I gained a much stronger appreciation for myself and what I want to achieve in life. He taught me that it’s not about what the world has to offer me, but what I have to offer the world that counts the most. I want to do what he does, entertain people through film and song, whatever it takes to bring wonder into the life of someone else. A type of creativity I never knew could impact me in such a big way.

Because of Kermit, I’ve chosen to view family as an ever-growing and changing aspect of my life. Kermit’s family is so much more than his thousands of amphibian kin, it’s also the crazy cast of kooks he’s adopted along the way. Alongside my blood relatives, the weirdos that I love will come and go, leaving me with great memories and the chance to create new ones.

Because of Kermit, I joined a fandom where I’m not only open to the rest of the world, but appreciative of the differences between me and my fellow fans, Hopefully, they’re also appreciative of mine. I’ve learned to be tolerant and openly communicative, two concepts my thick skull may never have been able to grasp otherwise. Most importantly, it’s the one place I feel I can be my Muppety self without fear of judgement, sharing my passion with people I’ve come to hold dear to my heart.

Because of Kermit, I know who I am. But will Kermit continue to know who he is? To be losing this iteration of him, for Steve to no longer be providing his soul and acting as his memory bank, scares me to no end. You know, I used to scoff at what I call ‘Henson Purists’: the Muppet fans who could never accept Steve as Kermit simply because he wasn’t Jim. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m beginning to know how they feel.

As I write this, I can hear a very familiar voice in the back of my head crying out, “But there shouldn’t be a distinction! There is no ‘Jim’s Kermit’ and ‘Steve’s Kermit’, there’s just Kermit and all he entails!’

Well, apologies to the Whitmire in my head, but I’m just not ready to integrate Kermit 3.0 into the bigger picture just yet. Steve and Kermit have come to mean so much to me in such a short amount of time. To me, they are the ultimate duo, the perfect combination of Jim Henson creation and student coming together as one. I have to accept that I will never see that magic, as it is pure magic, ever again. For now, that is enough.

For the umpteenth time, though it never loses it’s significance upon repetition, thank you so much to Steve Whitmire for everything I have mentioned in this post and more. Through Kermit (and others), you’ve led me to happiness, inspiration and most importantly, friends I never would have found otherwise.

My gratitude is immeasurable and it will remain that way for a long time to come.

A Muppet Fan’s Dilemma: Defending My Hero

Last week, in my open letter to the fandom I made a declaration of fealty to the Muppets, stated my intention to continue my support of Steve Whitmire and established my new stance within the Muppet fandom. None of this has changed within the past few days, but there is one specific topic I feel I should tack on as an afterthought.

First of all, when I presented my letter to a good friend, he pointed out and congratulated me on speaking my own truth. This is an idea I hadn’t even thought of while writing that piece, I really just wanted to collect and gather my thoughts in my strongest medium. I created the Halibut in the first place as a means of expression, how much traffic the blog gained did not matter to me. Now I am grateful that I have gathered a regular audience, as small as it may be, as it provides me with a chance to share these truths my dear friend was so quick to point out.

Even if I didn’t realise I was doing it at the time, speaking so openly about my membership within the Muppet Fandom, something that is so dear to me in my life, was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things I have ever written. I know there are a lot of people who won’t agree with me, who see Steve Whitmire in a grave, darkened light after being shoved off such a high pedestal. In the minds of those fans who have turned their backs on Steve, the man has already said everything he needs to say and is now beating at dead rats and frogs.

Jumping from forum, to Facebook post, to Twitter feed, I’ve read criticism both positive and negative in regards to this ongoing situation. Many casual fans are simply sad to see Steve go, others are indifferent, and then some are completely done with him altogether. I’ve read horrible remarks along the lines of, “Good riddance, Whitmire was nothing but a spoiled Hollywood brat!” and, “The guy should have just shut-up and played with the dolls, forget about him!” There’s no doubt in my mind that if they had simply researched a little more into Steve and the situation, their conclusions may not have been so open-and shut.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we have many die-hard fans who wish nothing more than for Steve to cease speaking out, perhaps to the point where he’ll fade out of sight and out of mind. They seem to have a problem with Steve speaking his own truth, especially after his High Noon post, noting his disappointment in these very fans who just want to move on and enjoy whatever Muppet content is brought to us by The Muppets Studio.

Whether Steve was placed in this precarious situation by his own doing or not, he has every right to have his say about a career he had built and maintained over the course of 38 years. I hate to think such things of my fellow fans, but it is rather hypocritical to deny someone a platform on which to speak when you yourself are trying to shut them down from your own. Everyone is welcome to write and speak their minds, as long as they don’t deliberately obstruct the voices of the people around them.

In my open letter, I established my continuous loyalty to Steve, but didn’t actually give a definite reason for doing so. My reasoning is based on hours upon hours of contemplating, researching, evaluating and talking to as many people as I can to gain multiple perspectives. It hasn’t been easy, but it needed to be done for the sake of moving on with my life. Doing all this helped me to shape my conclusions, however, there are only so many news articles to read, interviews to watch and people from the outside you can talk to before going straight to the source of the conflict.

Muppet Pundit has been both a blessing and a curse. For me, it’s been a blessing because for the first time, I can connect to Steve on my own level-the written word.  Steve claims to read every single comment made on his blog (his interactive way of posting proves that), so perhaps the comments I have left there have caused him to stop and think for a moment. Or perhaps not. Unless he replies to my comments or mentions them in a post, I’ll never know.

From the very first post, the articulate, direct and clear manner in which Steve wrote appealed to me as an aspiring writer who often struggles to achieve such clarity in her own writing. His writing is so concise, in fact, that I am able to read between the lines, detecting what emotion drove which statement and finding the subtle contentions hidden beneath the pronounced ones. The most definite thing I can say about several of Steve’s posts is that, while they may seem bitter on the surface (which is perfectly understandable), there are genuine undertones of concern.

Muppet Pundit is also a curse because there are people out there who will take any opportunity to twist Steve’s words around and use them against him. Let’s take a look at one of the more heated posts, Early Influences on my “Business Conduct”, where Steve recounts a story that seems to foreshadow Disney’s attitude towards the Jim Henson method of running The Muppets during the filming of  Muppet Vision 3-D. After Steve and another performer fail to sign their contracts, three “suits” come barging onto the sound stage and then…

Well, I’ll let Steve take it from here….

‘Imagine standing in a line, three “suits”, Jim Henson, and behind him me and the other performer who didn’t sign. What do you think Jim did next?

Did he:

A) Tell me that my “business conduct was unacceptable”?
B) Accuse me of “brinkmanship”?
C) Fire me without an ultimatum for holding up his production?

The answer is none of the above. With two of us standing in his shadow, gentle, soft spoken Jim Henson looked the attorneys square in the eyes and slowly, quietly told them to get off his set and never come back.

As we watched them go I said to him, “Jim, I’m so sorry to have caused a problem, especially on your first day shooting with Disney…”. Jim put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I would NEVER want you to sign a deal you’re not comfortable with”.’

Now, this story has been received with mixed responses. To keep with the theme of the post, I’ll pitch my own multiple choice question by asking, “What is your take on it?”

Do you:

A) Accept it as Steve’s anecdotal example of how differently Jim handled “business conduct” with his performers in comparison to Disney and why Steve tried to handle things the same way?

B) Fail to see the point of the story and view it as a weak attempt by Steve back up his stance?

C) Scoff at the story and firmly believe that it’s only helping to dig Steve deeper into an inescapable hole as it just demonstrates what Disney and the Henson’s have accused him of?

Or

D) Kind of see what Steve was trying to say, but believe that another example would have done a better job?

Those choices are the four most common responses I’ve come across. For me, it’s a mix of answers A and D. I can see perfectly well what Steve was trying to say and can accept it as such, but unfortunately telling a story where he was mistakenly ‘difficult’ in Disney’s eyes was a little ill-timed.

Putting that aside, can you see what I mean about Steve nailing the delivery of his writing on the head? He’s descriptive only where he needs to be, he’s blunt where it matters most and he calculates the perfect note to conclude on, impacting the ideal reader in the exact way needed to drive his point home. There aren’t a lot of people who can pull that off. When it is accomplished, there is generally a great deal of intelligence behind it, or at least an extensive amount of knowledge, the two not being one and the same.

You may be thinking that I’ve gone entirely off track from my original intention of explaining why I still have a great deal of trust in Steve’s word, but I can assure you this is exactly my point. Ever since 2012, I have done an extensive amount of research on Steve, the majority of it for a now-impossible documentary in which I was hoping to follow him around for a year as he performed Kermit from project to project. After all the articles I’ve read, the interviews I have watched and listened to and the Muppet insiders I have talked to, my faith in Steve can be summed up as such:

While the positives of Steve’s nature have been proven time and time again, those who claim Steve has a dark side he’s kept in the shadows have consistently failed to properly address and provide evidence for such a claim.

And as a result:

I openly and forwardly challenge those people to come out in the open and prove me wrong with solid evidence. I don’t just mean an anecdote or two. I mean proof of these alleged attacks through emails, phone calls or whatever else Steve has been accused of.

I don’t pretend to have insider knowledge of show business and how it is conducted on a day-to-day basis. If that evidence is blocked for legal reasons, than that’s your problem. As far as Steve or I am concerned, the burden of proof is on the people who wish to tarnish his reputation, not the other way around.

Until and if that ever occurs, I see no reason to cease listening to what Steve has to say with my own objective viewpoint. I suppose the next question is, what exactly am I supposed to do with the knowledge he promises to provide? I may be an outspoken fan who people seem to like listening to, but I’m a tiny, insignificant speck in the broader scheme of things.

In my open letter, I promised to be outspoken about the integrity of the Muppets while continuing to support them in their future endeavours. This is where I can be of service, as can all Muppet fans who give a damn. Believe it or not, The Muppets Studio has listened to us in the past, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. It’s a case of being louder and providing more clarity in regards to what we believe in then we ever have before. It’s about reaching out to the performers, writers and yes, even producers and executives and closing that ever-widening gap. It’s about working in tandem to maintain Jim Henson’s vision while still evolving the characters in a true integral process.

I believe that not only can this be achieved, but it can occur through the mutual support, love, friendship and tolerance the Muppets are treasured for. There’s no need to obnoxiously shout, simply projecting our hopes and dreams for our beloved characters should do the trick in the long run. This is what Steve has been trying to say in his own way: don’t just sit there and take the Muppets as they come. Be supportive, be active in ensuring they have the best future they possibly could, no matter who or what it takes for that to happen.

I’m currently standing on the edge of the diving board, ready to jump back into Muppet Mayhem. Who’s going to join me?