Voting Is REALLY Important!

To keep the focus of the blog consistent, I try never to post content on the main page that doesn’t relate in some way to the Muppets or the Jim Henson universe. If I can’t find a way to relate it, however obliquely, I put it under a separate tab. 

Unfortunately, however, it seems that the pages I post under a separate tab don’t go out to subscribers, so most of you didn’t see my voting story. I linked to it in a recent post that related it loosely to Sesame Street, but that didn’t get the attention that I hoped for either. 

It’s really important to me that you see this, take it to heart, and learn from my mistakes, especially if you are an American who is eligible to vote but thinking about not doing so. So I’m making an exception to my rule and posting this completely off-topic post on the main page where it will remain, pinned to the top, until after the election.

The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in occurred in the year 2000. I had taken government class in high school but ended up getting a C and didn’t glean much from it. In the year 2000, which was two years later, I was excited about the primary, but when my chosen candidate was not nominated, my enthusiasm waned following the conventions.

I didn’t vote in that election at all. I had several reasons, none of which was a good excuse:

  • I was a university student living across the state from the county where I was registered to vote. I didn’t know how to request an absentee ballot, and I didn’t bother to find out in time.
  • I had (and continue to have) fundamental conflicts with core planks in each party’s platform. I didn’t see how I could vote for either in good conscience.
  • Neither of the main party candidates struck me as trustworthy.

I don’t specifically remember if anyone called the 2000 election “the most important election of our lives.” In retrospect, however, it was. The 2000 election set the stage for just about every terrible thing that has happened over the last four years. George W. Bush is no less a sociopath than Donald Trump; he’s just a little bit better at hiding it. 

But at the time, I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight, so I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize how high the stakes were. I still believed in voting as an abstract concept, but I thought I could hold out until there was a candidate worthy of my support. It wasn’t apathy or abdication of my civic duty, I rationalized to myself, but abstention. People in Congress, whose job it is to vote, nevertheless have the right to abstain. I thought I could claim the same right. 

You probably know all about what happened in that election from your history books: The Florida recount, the hanging chads, the eventual Supreme Court decision. What your history books may not tell you about are the months of agonizing suspense, with the future of our entire democracy hanging in the balance. I felt partially responsible for the uncertainty. 

Now, you could say that one little vote in sparsely populated and deeply red South Dakota wouldn’t have tipped the balance either way, and you’re probably right. But there were probably thousands of people in Florida, maybe even millions, who were disaffected in the same way I was. If they had exercised their civic duty, maybe the count wouldn’t have been so close. Maybe there wouldn’t have had to be a recount with its surrounding turmoil. Maybe it would never have gone to the Supreme Court. 

Maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Following that election, I made myself a promise: Whatever else happened, no matter how unappealing the candidates, no matter how ambiguous the issues, no matter how the electoral college worked against me, even if it cost me every scrap of self-respect that I possess, I would never again fail to vote in a presidential election.  

There have been four presidential elections since then. I’ve fulfilled my promise and voted in every single one. In the two involving Barack Obama it was easy because he’s someone whom I genuinely wanted to vote for. Otherwise, as depicted on South Park, it’s mostly been a choice between a giant douche and a shit sandwich. For those of you who may be in the same position I was in back in 2000, feeling like you can’t vote for either candidate in good conscience, here are some tips for making a decision that you can live with: 

  1. Try to find out more about each of the candidates. Unfortunately for me, The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell was not published until 2002, and I didn’t read it until at least 2005. Once I finally read it, it allowed me to see Al Gore in a different light. I found out, far too late, that he was someone I could have felt good about voting for.
    Research the candidates beforehand, not only their policy positions but who they are as people. 
  2. Choose the lesser of two evils. As soon as the 2000 election ultimately went to W., I got a sick feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t until Gore lost that I realized that I would have much preferred that he’d won.
    Try to imagine the most likely outcomes of the election. Gauge how each hypothetical makes you feel. Vote for the one whose victory would be less disappointing to you. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for one candidate, then tell yourself that you’re actually just voting against the other. 
  3. Consider the running mate. Tim Kaine really impressed me back in 2016. I may have filled in the circle next to Hillary’s name as a matter of necessity, but I was really voting for him.
    In some ways, Kamala Harris is even more impressive to me. There are the obvious qualities, e.g., her gender and her heritage, that make her a groundbreaking candidate. Those things are important because representation is important, but they don’t really tell me anything about who she is as a person. What really impressed me about her was when I found out that she once took a principled stance on behalf of the LGBT+ community, one that could have negatively affected her position and perhaps her whole career. 

It’s now been 20 years since the 2000 election, and the stakes are higher now than ever before. It is not a hyperbole to say that this is the most important election in the history of the United States and that our very lives might depend on the outcome. I’m writing this in the hope that you newly eligible voters will learn from my mistakes and exercise your right to participate in our democracy. Because if you throw away your shot now, you might not get another one.

Unfortunately, you do not have the luxury that I had of figuring things out the hard way. That’s partially my fault, and I regret shuffling my responsibility off on future generations, even though I didn’t realize at the time that that’s what I was doing. I own my grievous mistake, and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, even though I never can.

The thought occurs to me that maybe some of you are convinced that voting is important but not sure how to go about it. In the interest of trying to maintain oblique Muppet connections to justify putting this post on the main page, I invite you to check out Stephen Colbert’s Better Know a Ballot for state-specific voting guidance.

History has its eyes on all of us now.

Sesame Saturday: The Democratic Way

I remember this sketch from my childhood. Apparently there was a series of these sketches about the American Revolution, but this is the only one I remember seeing back then. 

Watching it as an adult, it took me a while to figure out that the point of it was not to give an accurate account of history but to illustrate the democratic process in a concrete, relatable way. 

I recently wrote a piece about why I think voting is important, about how I didn’t vote in the 2000 election and why I’ve regretted it ever since. It has nothing to do with Muppets, but I think it’s important to share.

Matt Vogel’s “Below the Frame” Podcast

Today, October 6th, is Matt Vogel’s 50th birthday. I want to wish him good health and happiness, and I want to let all of you know that I’ve been listening to his new “Below the Frame” podcast, and I enjoy it very much.

New episodes drop every Wednesday and feature usually one but sometimes two people from the Muppet/Henson universe. The conversation delves really deep not only into the interviewees’ Muppet/Henson work but their background and life in general. Then there are also puppetry tips and little short tidbits and an ongoing tribute to Jerry Nelson. 

I haven’t listened to all the episodes yet, but I have enjoyed all the ones that I’ve listened to so far. If I had to pick favorites, I would name the one with Cave-In’s own Jim Lewis and the one with Bill Barretta, who says some very nice things about Steve. 

Maybe it’s because he’s talking to his friends, but Matt has a very engaging interview style that makes me wonder what other career avenues he might have explored if he hadn’t been such a gosh-darn good puppeteer. There are a lot of Muppet and/or puppet-related podcasts out there, but this is one that I can recommend unreservedly. I sincerely hope you will check it out if you haven’t already.

Jim Henson and Friends on The Tonight Show

Today would have been Jim Henson’s 84th birthday. I’ve been thinking for six months to a year how I wanted to mark the occasion.

Occasionally, I reference things that I’ve seen on YouTube but can no longer find, only to run across them later. This is an appearance that Jim made on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1975 to promote the Muppet Show “Sex and Violence” special, although it’s interesting that Johnny only refers to it as “The Muppet Show.” Maybe the rest of the title wouldn’t have flown on network TV, even late night.

When I saw this clip before, it was only the Kermit bit. It was remarkable to me in that it was the grumpiest I had ever seen Kermit, and I think it still is. I had never seen the Dr. Teeth interview before. It’s fascinating to see him make a solo appearance without the rest of the Electric Mayhem. It’s incredible how real and alive he is even though the bottom part of his body is absent. It’s revealing to see how Jim pulls his mouth into a grin while performing him.

There was another clip that I referenced once without being able to find it, then rediscovered it again, only to lose track of it once more. It’s the pitch reel for the Jim Henson Hour. I’m disappointed not to be able to feature it here, but maybe I will run across it again someday.

Hindsight

I’m always impressed and a little embarrassed when I find that someone has been able to express a point in less than 10 minutes that I have spent literally hundreds of hours and thousands of words trying to explicate. Such was the case when I found this incredibly succinct, accurate, and fair-minded assessment of the Schism on YouTube a couple weeks ago (Warning: It contains NSFW language):

Apart from a few minor quibbles, I agree with everything said in this video, which does a really good job of calling out the responsible parties without being unfair to the puppeteers. But there’s one point that I really want to emphasize:

“We’ve now seen what’s come to pass. We’ve now got hindsight on this matter. Kermit the Frog no longer sounds consistent. He no longer really sounds like Kermit the Frog.”

Admittedly, not everyone agrees with this opinion. But it seems to me that most everyone who thinks Matt’s Kermit voice sounds like Kermit are people who accepted the recast with little question. The casual fans don’t seem to be buying it, which strongly suggests it is yet another example of belief affecting perception. In other words, people who believe that the recast was justified and/or who need it to be okay, are more likely to hear Kermit when Matt speaks, whereas casual fans with no preconceived notions think he sounds off. With that said, if there are casual fans who didn’t already know about the recast and don’t notice it, they are unlikely to comment on it, which means there’s no way of ensuring an accurate data pool.

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Cave-In Episode 13: Happy, Crappy, Scrappy Anniversary

I don’t really know what to say about this episode, other than that I can’t think of a better way for Weldon to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Cave-In. I’m especially happy about outcome of the Gimme Award. I still think there should have been another category specifically for musical numbers, but maybe that’s something to save for next year.

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Some Thoughts on the Short-Form Fraggle Rock Series

Back in the spring, the Henson Company released the clunkily titled short-form series “Fraggle Rock: Rock On!” I reviewed the first episode and didn’t expect to watch any more, but someone kept posting bootleg copies on the Cave-In Discord server. Curiosity got the best of me, and since each episode is less than 10 minutes long, I thought, “What the hey?” and watched them all.

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Weldon ne parle pas français (Cave-In Episode 12)

 

You know what? Let’s skip ahead to the musical insert: 

 

So, Weldon’s fingers can suddenly move on the neck of his guitar, and I didn’t notice it at first because I expect people’s fingers to move when they play the guitar. Then I remembered that Weldon is a puppet and usually his fingers don’t move, and then I got freaked out. It was exactly the feeling I had the first time I noticed Lips’ fingers moving on the valves of his trumpet. 

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FAQ About the Disney/Whitmire Schism

Well, folks … here we go again. 

I don’t think Disney purposely timed its promotion of the new streaming Muppet series on Disney+ to coincide with the anniversary of the kerfuffle over the Schism three years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of casual fans are somehow still confused over the recast, and so the story is getting rehashed again in the press, sometimes fairly accurately and other times considerably less so.

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Cave-In Episode 11: Pasture-ized

I just realized that I haven’t posted anything here since the last Cave-In, at least not on the main page. Where did this month go? Straight to hell, if there’s any justice. Although one could say that this month WAS hell, and that’s a valid argument, too. It’s just a good thing that Weldon taught us all coping strategies last month, because boy, do we need them. 

Fortunately, this was a really fun episode that provided a welcome respite. The premise sounds vaguely familiar to us Muppet Pundit veterans. Coincidence? I think not. (I don’t KNOW, but I THINK not.)

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An Improbable 30 Years

I don’t particularly know why the anniversaries that end in 0 and 5 take on extra significance. I know that I like them because I’m bad at math and they make calculations a little easier for me. But Jim Henson’s death coincided with a moment when I was starting to make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, and this anniversary comes at a moment that I’m about to enter a new decade and a new phase in my adult life, so that gives it personal significance for me.

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Cool Aunt

My sister has three kids, and from the time each of them were in their cradles, I’ve been giving them Muppet-themed gifts. 

About a year and a half ago, I gave them a Muppet-related Christmas trifle. My niece, who’s nine years old today, got very excited when she saw it. “I LOVE the Muppets!” she gushed. 

It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I just sat back and said to myself, “I’ve done my job.” 

MFCCLose