“They think me Macbeth; ambition is my folly.“
–Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist)
It may seem like a bit of a strain to apply Hamilton lyrics to the Schism, but I use this particular passage to illustrate the unfortunate attitude of some in the Muppet community who have been unfairly characterizing Matt Vogel as some sort of undertalented, opportunistic usurper of the throne. I condemn this attitude out of hand; not only is it cruel and unfair to Matt, but it makes no sense: Matt has no more control over who does or doesn’t get hired than Steve does.
(Now that I think about it, you know what else doesn’t make any sense? My equating Matt with Alexander Hamilton. Steve is clearly Hamilton in this whole scenario. There’s not a comfortable analogue to Matt at all–at least, not as far as I can see. But I digress.)
Conversely, in other factions of the Muppet fan community, support for Steve Whitmire is sometimes being interpreted as disrespect toward Matt Vogel, and if one expresses the desire for Steve to go on performing Kermit, it is sometimes interpreted as a vote of no-confidence in Matt.
Let me state unequivocably that, as far as I am concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. I have complete confidence in Matt’s abilities and, more importantly, in his good intentions. In fact, I’ve felt a little sorry for him as all this has played out; Disney has put him in a terribly awkward position.
Though Matt has a fairly significant footprint on social media, he has not commented publicly upon the Schism one way or another–at least, not that I am aware of. Whether he has remained silent voluntarily or Disney has imposed a gag order on him, I don’t know. If it is his own choice to remain silent, I completely respect that. However, I don’t think he’ll be able to avoid it forever. Eventually, Kermit is going to have to start doing interviews again and, given journalists’ penchant for asking Muppets uncomfortable questions, sooner or later someone is going to ask Vogel!Kermit about Steve. What is he supposed to say?
Even looking at this from an executive’s point of view and considering it strictly as a personnel decision, by every objective measure, Steve is simply more qualified for the job of performing Kermit–not for performing in general, you understand, but specifically for performing Kermit—than Matt is. That is not to say that Matt is unqualified by any means; on the contrary, it is more to say that Matt’s time and talents would be better served elsewhere, like performing Jerry Nelson’s characters–in accordance with Jerry’s own wishes.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s think like an executive and take a look at the job description: Kermit is supposed to be able to talk about working with Jim Henson. Kermit is expected to be able to reminisce about working on The Muppet Show. On both counts–and through no fault of his own–Matt lacks the experience that Steve has in these areas.
Matt’s a qualified puppeteer. No one is disputing that. If it was a matter of necessity, I think he would be an excellent candidate to perform Kermit. But there’s the rub; it wasn’t necessary. Even if you take Disney’s vague rationale at face value, even if you genuinely believe that they were justified in dismissing Steve, the irrefutable fact is that they had a choice in the matter. For better or worse, they made their choice, and now they’re going to have to deal with the consequences, as all responsible adults must.
But I do feel sorry for Matt. I see him as a victim in all this too. As terrible as Steve’s situation is, at least he’s free now to speak his mind. On the other hand, Matt has been thrust into a situation over which he has no control and put on the frontlines in the charge to recreate the Muppets in Disney’s image. And I imagine that the circumstances of Steve’s dismissal must be hanging over Matt like the sword of Damocles: do a good job–play it the company way–or we’ll serve you the way we served Steve.
I support Steve and I will keep fighting for him, no matter what. I support Matt equally. If he does his best performing Kermit–and I have no doubt that he will–I will be grateful to him, just as I have been grateful to Steve for all these years.