Performer as “parent”; character as “child”–an extended metaphor

“How many of you are parents? If you are, then in all likelihood, you view your children as your most important ‘creations’, your ultimate concern, your life’s work. It doesn’t matter how old they get, or if they are adopted, you’re still going to do all that you can to protect them forever, to give them a safe place to grow and be themselves. That’s how I view the Muppets.”
        –Steve Whitmire, “Acceptance, Fear & Hope” (August 1, 2017)

Even for those of us who aren’t parents, this lovely analogy from Steve offers us a lot of insight as to why he feels the way he does, why he’s made the choices that he has, and why he refuses to stop fighting.  Therefore, I think that it is worthwhile to dig into it a little, to try to unpack it and see what new understanding we can uncover.

Potentially the most damning allegation against Steve in this whole smear campaign is the claim that he “blackballed” puppeteers that auditioned with Disney when Disney wanted to cast multiple performers for singular Muppet characters.  Steve has addressed the issue on his blog and made it clear that, while he has been outspoken about character integrity and was one of the loudest critics of the “multicasting” initiative, he never had any authority when it comes to Disney’s hiring decisions…which makes sense, when you think about it, because if he did have that kind of power and authority, wouldn’t he have been able to, I don’t know…un-fire himself?

Nevertheless, it’s an idea that has gained some traction, and the people who want to discredit Steve just love to paint a lurid picture of Big Mean Stevie, throwing his weight around and acting too big for his britches, callously crushing the hopes of the innocent little puppeteers who dared to dream of working with the Muppets.  It’s an idea that’s so insidious, it has even planted some seeds of doubt in the minds of some of Steve’s staunchest supporters.

To be perfectly clear: I do NOT give any credence to these allegations of Steve blackballing fellow puppeteers.  But even if some inconvertible evidence were to come to light proving that he did so, I can see how he would feel justified in doing so.  When viewed through the prism of this parent/child metaphor, the alleged behavior that has been characterized as “blackballing” theoretically seems like a reasonable and responsible reaction.

Consider this scenario: let’s say that you are married with one or more children (if–like me–you are not, then just pretend).  And let us further assume that your in-laws are the interfering type, and so they get it into their heads to hire a babysitter for your kids–without your knowledge or consent.  So all of a sudden the doorbell rings and there’s the babysitter that your in-laws hired standing on the doorstep saying, “Hi, I’m here to take care of your kids!”  Would you welcome this babysitter into your home?  Would you entrust him or her with the care of your children?

Of course you wouldn’t.  You wouldn’t leave your children in the care of a total stranger.  Instead, you would ask the prospective babysitter to leave.  And it wouldn’t be a reflection on the babysitter herself (or himself); for all you know, the babysitter could be qualified and competent.  But you wouldn’t know, because you wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to vet the babysitter yourself.  To entrust the care of your children, in your home, to an untested stranger would be irresponsible parenting, if not outright negligence.

And if you are a nice person (and I assume that you probably are) you might well feel sorry for the babysitter, who was led to believe that he/she had a job lined up, only to have it fall through at the last minute, by no fault of his/her own, because someone who was not the parent of the child(ren) overstepped their boundaries.*  Still, in that case it would be the in-laws who misled the babysitter, made the babysitter promises that they couldn’t keep.  You couldn’t take the responsibility for their inappropriate actions.  And you certainly couldn’t potentially endanger the well-being of your children, and the sanctity of your home, just to spare the babysitter’s feelings.

Just to be perfectly clear, in the preceding analogy, Steve is the parent, the Muppets are the children, Disney/Muppets Studio are the meddling grandparents, and the aspiring puppeteers are the prospective babysitter.  The aspiring puppeteers may have felt ill-treated, and it is appropriate to feel sorry for them, but let us just keep in mind that it was Disney that falsely raised their expectations and made them promises that it couldn’t–or, at least, didn’t–keep.  

At this point, I’d just like to restate Steve’s thesis statement, putting it into my own words as I understand it: Steve sees his responsibility to the Muppets as  being comparable to that of a parent to his children, and even if some of his “children”–for example, Kermit and Beaker–are “adopted,” that doesn’t lessen his love and concern for them, and it certainly doesn’t lessen the responsibility that he feels toward them.

If that’s the case, then when Steve got the call from Disney last October saying that his puppeteering services would no longer be required, I imagine that it must have felt similar to being a parent and having Social Services just show up at your door one day–with no advance notice or warning, mind you–and announce that they had arrived to take your kids away.**

Imagine that you were a parent in that scenario.  Would you just give up?  Let it go?  Move on with your life?  Of course you wouldn’t!  You would speak up.  You would fight back against the injustice of it.  You would do everything you could think of to get your kids back, no matter what the cost.  Even if it were hopeless, you would have to explore every legal avenue and try everything that you possibly could…because you would know that if you didn’t, you would never be able to look yourself in the mirror again, and you would spend the rest of your life wondering if there was more that you could have done.  Most of all, you would do it because you would know that your children would be counting on you to do the best that you could for their sake.

Moreover, if you didn’t try–if you didn’t make an effort–if you just passively accepted the decision, wouldn’t that only go to support the original argument that you were an unfit parent, because you apparently didn’t care enough to fight back?

Now, instead of imagining that you’re the parent, imagine instead that you are acquainted with a parent in this situation.  And let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you believe the allegations to be true, that you believe that the parent is unfit.  Would you say so to his face?  Would you tell him to give it up, let it go, move on with his life, stop digging himself in deeper?  Would you tell him that the kids are probably better off, and that he’s only hurting himself by prolonging the inevitable?

Assuming, as I have already done, that you are a nice person, I don’t think you would do any of those things.  Even if you believed those things, it would be unnecessarily cruel to say them to his face.

Would you talk about the beleaguered parent behind his back?   Would you post messages about him on a public Internet forum that, for all you know, he could very well be reading?  Would it make a difference if you knew, or suspected, that he was reading it?  That’s a trickier thing to answer; it’s a lot less cut-and-dried.  

As Muppet fans, I think we should be discussing this issue.  As I’ve said before, I started this blog in the interest of keeping the conversation going, to promote a dialogue in the interest of fostering understanding, rather than trying to sweep it under the rug.  Because, as my beloved Phil Dunphy points out on Modern Family, in that scenario, eventually you end up with a lumpy rug.

(“It becomes a tripping hazard…”)

 But at the same time, I think it is important to remember, first of all, that Steve is a part of our community; second–and most importantly–he is also a human being with feelings.  As a rule, I would never say or write or post anything about Steve that I would be ashamed to say to his face.  You never know what he might be reading, and when.

And by the way, that policy of not posting anything online that I wouldn’t say to Steve’s face goes for all the other players in this sad little drama as well.  Disney presents itself to the public as a monolith, and so that is how I treat it, but I do try to be mindful of the Hensons as human beings and try to be sensitive about their feelings with regards to their father and the pain they must still feel over losing him.  Nevertheless, I’m not going to afford them any special privileges on that account; I’m not going to hold back on calling them out on their hypocrisy in this matter just because they are Jim’s children.  Some people may think that I’ve been overly harsh or critical in that regard, but I stand by every syllable that I’ve put out there in regard to the Hensons.  They shouldn’t dish it out if they can’t take it.

If I regret anything that I’ve said about anyone in this scenario, it’s what I said about Matt Vogel after his Kermit video dropped.  In this whole extended metaphor of parents/children, I view Matt’s role as that of a “foster parent,” taking care of Kermit for an undetermined period of time in the hopes that his “adoptive father” (Steve) will someday be allowed by “Social Services” (Disney) to take custody of Kermit and his other “children” (Beaker, Rizzo, etc.) once again.

Ideally, that’s the goal of the foster care system.  In reality, of course, it rarely works out so neatly, and it seems unlikely to do so in this scenario either.  Especially since Disney, the analogue to Social Services in this scenario, is more like Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford from Sweeney Todd than a modern-day social worker.

To those outside the Muppet fan community, and perhaps even to a few within it, it may seem overly precious or self-indulgent for a puppeteer to regard his characters as his “children.”  But Steve’s not the only one who has said something to that effect.  No less a personage than Mr. Caroll Spinney, performer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, has said on more than one occasion that he regards Big Bird as his child.

The documentary about Mr. Spinney, I Am Big Bird, tells a story about when the Big Bird puppet was vandalized.  The Sesame cast was on tour, they were rehearsing on a college campus and had the local ROTC contingent guard the unoccupied Big Bird puppet while they went out to lunch.  Whether the ROTC students were temporarily possessed by some destructive demon or they were just horrible people at baseline, I don’t know, but apparently they thought it would be neat to have some of Big Bird’s feathers as souvenirs.  And then, what might have seemed at first like a harmless prank escalated into something like a scene from Lord of the Flies.  They plucked one side of Big Bird bare, they tried to remove one of his eyes and, when they couldn’t do that, they left it “broken and hanging off.”  Then they apparently got bored of the brutality and left him lying on the ground.

Mr. Spinney describes the aftermath thus: “[Big Bird] was lying in the dirt, and I saw it and I burst into tears.  It was like seeing my child raped and thrown on the ground and destroyed.”

I think most feeling people, if they have any sort of connection to Sesame Street at all, would have been moved by the gruesomeness of this senseless brutality against Big Bird.  But as I have argued elsewhere, Kermit the Frog has recently suffered an act of cruelty and violation at the hands of Disney that is just as senseless and just as brutal.  However, since it involves injuries to the soul of the character instead of to the outward, physical manifestation of the character, I think it is harder for people to understand or to take as seriously as the concrete, observable reality of a vandalized puppet.

Let’s go back to our extended metaphor and carry it to the other logical extreme:  Have any of you ever had an elderly loved one suffer from dementia?  If you have, then you know how painful it is to watch as someone you love slowly loses himself (or herself) and everything that makes them who they are.  You know how disturbing it is to look into their eyes and see a stranger looking back at you.

That’s sort of how I view Kermit now, as someone that I love suffering from sudden-onset dementia.  Just like that, all of Kermit’s memories of the Muppet Show days, and especially his memories of working with Jim, are all second-hand.  Not only that, but his memories of everything that happened before the Muppet Show are now third-hand.

And at the risk of sounding like a scratched CD or a poorly buffered audio file (which I imagine are the 21st-century equivalents of a “broken record”), this is not, in any way, a criticism of Matt.  I’m sure Matt is well versed in Muppet lore at baseline and will do his due diligence to keep Kermit conversant in his own history.  Nevertheless, I fear that now, as Data says in the very best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, those memories will be “reduced to the mere facts of the events.  The substance, the flavor of the moment, could be lost.” 

The attitude that really infuriates me from other fans is the idea that Steve is somehow being selfish or self-serving by wanting to regain custody of his Muppet “children.”  To go back to the metaphor, any parent would try to get their kids back if they were taken away…and granted, some of them might do so for selfish reasons, but the overwhelming majority would do so out of concern for their children and a wish to protect them.  

Furthermore, if trying to exert authority as to how Kermit is handled by Disney makes one selfish, then Jim Henson–according to that logic–was the most selfish bastard ever to come down the pike.  Because, in the days of the original Disney deal, Jim wanted Kermit to have a separate, privileged status from the other Muppet characters.  As told by Brian Jay Jones in The Biography:

“While Jim was prepared to hand over all of the Muppets to Disney, he didn’t intend for Kermit to go with them unconditionally.  He was too important.  ‘Kermit should be treated in the negotiations as a separate issue,’ recommended a confidential Henson Associates memo.  ‘Since Kermit the Frog is so closely associated with Jim Henson, Jim must have control over the use of Kermit.’  For Disney, however, getting the Muppets without the free use of Kermit was like getting the cast of Peanuts without Snoopy.  For the moment, Kermit was in a kind of legal limbo as both sides tried to figure out, Solomon-like, how to split the million-dollar baby.” (page 446, emphasis in original)

No one would admit to it now, of course, because nobody wants to speak ill of the dead, but I’d be willing to bet that some of the people working on the Disney side of the deal thought that Jim was making “outrageous demands” and being “difficult to work with.”

It’s clear from Jane Henson’s words in 1990 that Jim intended Steve to be Kermit’s “guardian” in the event that something happened to him.  And regardless of what Brian Henson thinks about it now, he’s the one who appointed Steve as Kermit’s guardian after Jim passed away.  Based on what little evidence that Disney has offered as to Steve’s alleged “unfitness,” it looks to me that Steve was fired for doing exactly what Jim Henson intended and expected him to do: not only to keep Kermit alive, but to care for him and protect him, as any parent or guardian would.


*This actually happened to me once when I was about 12 or 13.  It’s a long story, as so many of my stories seem to be.
**”Like in The Sims,” I was going to say, but even in the Sims games, they usually give you one warning before the social worker comes.

14 thoughts on “Performer as “parent”; character as “child”–an extended metaphor

  1. I can’t stop reading this! It really puts this whole thing into perspective. I’m an aspiring puppeteer and have the same kind of relationship with my dragon puppet, Smoulder, so I get where Steve’s coming from.

    Regarding the “blackballing” thing, we know that Jim disapproved of using understudies, so how are we to know that he wouldn’t have done the same thing? I know you already mentioned this, but it seems hypocritical that people (including Jim’s own children!) would vilify Steve for following Jim’s principles. This whole thing is just so, so STUPID, not to mention the antithesis of everything Jim stood for, hell, THE REASON HE CREATED FRAGGLE ROCK! No wonder that show keeps popping up here (speaking of which, I love that you included that “Wembley’s Egg” clip; that’s one of my favorite episodes)!

    I really think that the Muppets should be sold to a different company that would take better care of them and their performers, as well as hire Steve back. Ideally, I would want it to be back to the Jim Henson Company, but given how the Hensons feel about Steve, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Still, it should be somewhere other than Disney.


    • Thank you so much, Julia! I’m deeply gratified that you said that it puts things into perspective, because that’s exactly what I was trying to accomplish.

      And I’m honored to get some feedback from a puppeteer as well! Though not a professional puppeteer myself, I did have the experience of doing some puppeteering in a dinner-theater production of Little Shop of Horrors ten years ago. I sometimes call it “semi-professional”; I got a gas stipend and a free meal after every performance. But it gave me a new appreciation for puppeteers in general, and the Muppet performers in particular, with regard to squeezing into small, enclosed spaces. I spent probably the first 10-15 minutes of every performance crouched on the balls of my feet inside a box that was probably 2-1/2 feet wide, 3-1/2 feet tall, and 1-1/2 feet deep, and I remember thinking to myself, “If you put suspected terrorists in this position, you would have a huge outcry from human rights groups…why exactly am I letting myself in for this voluntarily again?”

      It was fun, though. It’s not something I could make a career out of, but I enjoyed the singular experience. 🙂 (And when I say I couldn’t make a career out of it, I mean that I don’t know if my body could physically handle it anymore, because I’ve had a knee injury in the interim.)


  2. Hoo, boy. If you hadn’t asked me what I thought of all this, Mary A, I would have answered to myself “it’s complicated” before starting work on a long response that I wouldn’t have finished until the conversation moved on to other things, and in the end would have posted nothing. That’s happening more and more these days. I’m no philosopher; I’m not cut out for this business, and it’s getting harder to sustain the time drain involved in picking out words to express what I think in ways that are sensitive to everyone. (How long did it take you to write your post? I’ll guarantee this comment took me longer!)

    Anyway, since you DID ask: Comparison and contrast between your essay and this by Joshua Herstein, on the subject of parenthood as an analogy for being a Muppet performer.

    Joshua speaks of children grown to adulthood and independence; you speak of dependents, taken away by force. On the surface, yours seems to offer a more direct parallel, but ultimately both analogies are approximations only. The Muppets are not exactly like children. A DNA test can establish biological lineage beyond all dispute, but an ideological lineage is intangible and, like all intangibles, open to discussion and debate by humans for eternity – it can never achieve the finality of a scientific fact. That’s not to say one can’t take a firm view and stick to it, or even that one’s view can’t be justifiably “right”; it just means there will always be some scope for challenge by other opinions, where there wouldn’t be any in the face of the scientific test.

    Perhaps broadening the foster-child analogy over the whole situation offers different insight. After a time, foster parents may feel a justified sense of ownership (in the parental sense!) of the child, stemming from love and experience and history. But a change of circumstances can still draw them into a custody dispute involving the governing department, the biological parents if they’re around, and/or the child’s extended family, because all of these parties get a say in the proceedings, depending on the local laws (or so I understand). So here we essentially find Steve Whitmire and Brian Henson (let’s not push the metaphor too far by designating which party is which) both claiming custody of Kermit’s lineage on different grounds, with Disney on a purely legal basis having the final say (I guess they equate to the government agency). Now, one party’s claim may well be more morally legitimate than another; I incline to that view, as you clearly do. But in the end they must all abide by the decision of the authority. Will the losers campaign and lobby and fight? Absolutely, if the love for that child and the sense of injustice is strong. “You would do everything you could think of to get your kids back, no matter what the cost. Even if it were hopeless, you would have to explore every legal avenue and try everything that you possibly could…” For kids, yes. One might dedicate one’s entire life and resources for the sake of a child. But for Muppets, who are not children? That’s the real-world question that needs to be answered.

    The other question is how much hope there should be. Imagine a fighting parent who was given 100% certain knowledge of the future, and saw that they would not succeed under any circumstances whatsoever. To go on campaigning in that situation would be futile, even harmful; to cease would not be to love the child any less. Or imagine a parent serving a long prison sentence. No amount of effort will bring them closer to custody of their child, but to accept this is not to admit defeat so much as to make peace with a reality that would penalise them even more for attempting jailbreak. My point here is that the level of desire is only half of the decision to act, balanced against the odds of achieving a positive (and not negative) outcome for the cost of the action.

    Unfortunately the future is *not* known in the real world, so those odds have to be estimated. If my analysis holds, Steve’s situation over the years has not been simple. Consciously or subconsciously, with each action he has had to assess the value of the Muppet integrity he’s fighting for, the potential gain from the action, the cost to himself, and the probability of achieving his aims, and trade them all off against each other somehow to decide what best to do. In the current situation this is certainly true. I have no inside knowledge to guess at the true probabilities of (e.g.) getting reinstated as Kermit in the future, but if an honest assessment shows that they are vanishingly small, that has a real bearing on the equation. For all the very great significance of the Muppet “spirit” and its impact on the world – and believe me, I value it dearly – I believe it is still not worth the sacrifice of a real human soul and its peace, for many reasons. Hence also Joshua Herstein’s final sentences, I think. On the very slender chance that Steve comes and reads this, he will have to excuse me this heresy (this is a space for Muppet heretics, is it not?).

    Finally, the thorny part. While Joshua’s post seems to be an exhortation for a particular attitude to the future, much of yours is an attempt to understand and justify events of the past. It’s not entirely clear how much credence you really give to the blackballing allegations, since you start out by discrediting them and then spend a fair bit of text justifying them. I’m a true agnostic on the matter, I think. But let’s still treat it as a hypothetical. The one issue I take with your argument – perhaps I misunderstand it – is the implication that if the unwanted babysitter appears due to a misunderstanding which was not their fault, you rightly blame your in-laws but you’re still justified in blackballing the babysitter in the absence of other concerns about their character. I don’t see why you can’t call the babysitter back next week when you need your dog minded, or work happily alongside them in some other context. Possibly the strongest argument against the charge of blackballing those specific puppeteers in that specific situation, in my mind, is that it would have made so little sense. In the unlikely event that we ever learn that it really happened, I don’t know that I would be able to justify it. But I would probably forgive it. And neither of those are even my right. There’s fandom for you in a nutshell, eh?

    It’s gotten very late (yet again) and I’ll have to stop here. I hope I’ve made sense and not embarrassed myself anywhere.


    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment, J.S., and I’m sorry if I made you feel that you were somehow obligated to make it. It would have been a more accurate expression of my feelings if I had said that I was interested to hear your thoughts if, and only if, you were inclined to share them. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’ve embarrassed yourself at all although, ultimately, you’re the best judge of that.

      You raise a lot of very good points; I think I can answer most of them by saying that, even though I invited Steve to read my little essay here, he is actually not my primary intended audience. The people for whom I wrote this essay are the Muppet fans who have turned against Steve, or who remain neutral. Specifically, I was thinking about the people who post on the ToughPigs forum. I don’t know if you read or participate in that particular forum, but even before the smear campaign got going, there were some doubts about Steve being expressed over there, and once the smear campaign did begin in earnest, the tide turned dramatically against him almost immediately. I tried to respond to the comments at first, but it was like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble. So this post, in a way, is a culmination of all the things that I wanted to say over on the ToughPigs forum. That’s the reason for the apparent contradiction that you noticed (and took issue with) in regard to the “blackballing” allegations. My intended audience has essentially been saying, for nearly two months, that where there’s smoke, there must be fire and that Disney wouldn’t make an allegation like that unless there was some truth to it. I’m saying to my intended audience that I do NOT give credence to the allegation, but on the off-chance that it IS true, here is how it might be justified. In other words, where there’s smoke there may well be fire, but you can’t tell just from the smoke whether it’s an act of arson or a controlled burn.

      (Thank you for bringing that to my attention, by the way; I’ll have to revise it and see if there’s a way that I can make it clearer.)

      So even though Joshua and I were responding to the same post and writing on a similar topic, our audiences–and therefore our rhetorical purposes–were/are different. Joshua was writing with Steve as his primary audience, whereas I was writing primarily for Steve’s detractors. However, I didn’t feel comfortable going on the ToughPigs forum and saying, essentially: “This is approximately what Steve thinks and feels about these things, according to my interpretation,” without giving Steve a chance to look at it first and have the opportunity to say, “Hey no, this is actually not remotely similar to what I think and feel about things.” There’s been too much misrepresentation of Steve and his position already, whether intentional or otherwise. I want to be a part of the solution, but if I can’t, I emphatically do not want to be part of the problem.

      With that said, I want to be sure and let you know that your point about the false hope is very well taken. There’s a fine line between being helpful/supportive on the one hand and, on the other hand, enabling behaviors that could be potentially harmful. When commenting on Steve’s blog, I think it behooves all of us to be mindful of that and to try to stay on the right side of that line.

      At the same time, I don’t think that Steve is doing himself any harm as yet. In our clumsy English language, we sometimes refer to people “getting over” griefs or difficulties or hardships in their lives, but I think that’s inaccurate. I think when one has suffered a loss, one doesn’t “get over it” as much as one gets “through” it. And I think “getting through it” is a lot more difficult, and takes a lot longer.

      For nearly 40 years, approximately two-thirds of his life, Steve has identified himself as a Muppet performer. Now that that’s been taken away from him, I think that–in a sense–he doesn’t quite know who he is anymore, and I think writing the blog is his way of working through that and finding himself again. Even if it’s been kind of negative just at the beginning, I think that’s his way of “draining the abscess from his soul,” to paraphrase Jon Stewart. Hopefully, once the abscess is gone, healing can take place, but it’s a lesion that has been festering for nearly a year now, and I think it will take more than a few months to treat it.

      Getting back to the subject of our role as commenters, I think it would also behoove all of us–myself included–to be mindful of the fact that, although Steve has graciously offered us this opportunity to become acquainted with him through his blog, we all ought to be careful not to presume too much on that acquaintanceship. On the spectrum of total strangers versus friends, most of us who comment are still closer to the “total stranger” end of the spectrum than the “friend” side. Someone recently made a comment with regard to asking Steve insensitive questions in the comments, and I think it applies equally well to unsolicited advice which, though kindly meant, could be perceived as disrespectful and boundary-violating. This is not intended as a specific criticism against you, by the way; just a friendly “caution” sign at the edge of a slippery slope that it would be all too easy for any of us to slide down. 🙂


  3. Sorry to reply again so late after the fact. Re: your first paragraph, the fault is all mine. No one’s forcing me to spend every spare moment mulling over all this and trying to put it down in words. Yet here I am…

    “unsolicited advice”, “total strangers” and “the edge of a slippery slope”.
    Let’s face it, the whole thing is a mass of slippery slopes and a minefield rolled into one. The internet is a terrible, terrible way to converse – stripped back to that 7% verbal component, missing all the visual cues and even the tonal stuff you can hear on the phone. How many times have we seen conflict and disagreements erupt over completely different interpretations of the same words? Or even situations where attempts at peacemaking are perceived to cross the line into censorship and judgementalism (remember that conversation you and I were drawn into with “confused”)?

    Since I mention us: we are complete strangers, yet we’re communicating with a degree of familiarity now, which comes from our previous dialogue but I think also succeeds on the strength of mutual respect. So that’s not impossible to achieve, even on the internet. I wouldn’t be afraid to ask you a question, offer you a suggestion, or gently disagree with you. I think the key is the level of respect, not so much the liberty I choose to take. Like you, I would love to see a lot less of the insensitive or inappropriate (however deemed) questions/speculations/presumptions/advice in the commentary on Steve’s blog, but I also think that to exclude those classes of things completely would leave little role for any commentary at all except yea-saying. And Steve has shown himself by now to be tolerant to far more than that.

    “our role as commentators.”
    Since I brought that up… heck, what a thought-provoking phrase. Considering it helped me to understand why I keep coming back; I’ll spare you the analysis, but writing it out was a useful exercise for me. The short answer I came to is that I want to help people see what I think I can see, if this will relieve confusion or conflict or pain. I don’t have many definitive answers, but I’ve tried prodding people to be more open-minded, allow the benefit of doubt, consider possible alternatives to their ideas, and not read beyond others’ words. Is this a legitimate “role” for commentary? Is it mine to take? I have no idea. Will I keep doing it? Probably, if I can. Some unknown force is driving me, in spite of the emotional and time cost and against the long odds of doing much good by it. Another point of empathy with Steve, perhaps?… except he at least understands what’s driving him.

    So then, your fifth paragraph: I absolutely agree. I understand just enough about my own inability to “get over” this business that the question of whether Steve should “get over” or “move on” doesn’t even arise. I’ve seen many people trying in their own way to help him get through. Their skills and sensitivities vary widely, but, as I said above, I have come to believe that the better attempts are valid. I dare to think some might even be well received.

    (Sixth paragraph: Again, all in line with what I imagine to be true; but I’m learning not to rely on that. Whenever I think I have a fix on Steve’s current mindset, he posts again and the picture changes. So I’ve stopped trying to second-guess (out loud) where he is up to. And now, with the Hollywood Bowl over and a growing chorus of voices asking “What next?”, I really don’t know what to expect. There’s suspense in every good story!)

    …Phew, yet another essay. What were we discussing again? 🙂


    • I think we mostly see eye to eye on this, and I agree with you that showing that extra little bit of respect can go a long way towards soothing any inadvertently hurt feelings and resolving any perceived boundary conflicts. And yet, I notice that, even now that the most obvious trolls have been banned from Steve’s blog, there still seems to be a lot of conflict going on stemming from misunderstandings and heightened emotions, which are probably well intentioned but still not very productive.

      And you’re right that Steve has been a lot more tolerant of…all that stuff than I would have expected. Today I compared what I wrote in my first reply with the purported reasons why Steve was fired, and I said, “God, I’m an idiot!”

      Nevertheless, when in doubt, I think it’s better (at least for me) to err on the side of more discretion than less; I’ll never be asked to account for the things I choose not to say.

      I do remember the “confused” situation, although in that situation, “confused” was also being egged on by (one of) the troll(s): “Frustrated” was another persona of “Fleece Throat,” accusing us of bullying the newbies and curtailing free speech, all the while taking advantage of the “confus”ion to advance his/her own agenda of slander and demagoguery: “A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.” (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist no. 1)

      I think part of the problem is that, on the Muppet Pundit, we’re a community that doesn’t really have a “government” per se. I was thinking about it today, and it occurred to me that if Steve really wants it to be a “forum” rather than a “blog,” it would be helpful if he would set a few ground rules. I think you will agree with me when I say that communities, even online communities, function best when they have rules. It’s hard to resolve boundary issues when we’re all kind of guessing at where the boundaries are.

      (On the off-chance that Steve is reading this: Hi, Steve! Thank you for reading, and I hope you will take this comment, especially the immediately preceding paragraph, as an observation rather than a criticism.)


  4. Sorry, I’m being terse again for time reasons. One point per paragraph:

    “a lot of conflict”
    I wouldn’t have called it such a lot of conflict; compared to three weeks ago, I’ve been revelling in the comparative peace! I’ve given up much hope that those kind of flare-up misunderstandings will ever go away completely, but I find them a lot easier to deal with or ignore than the really vicious and pernicious stuff, which seemed to have a much broader effect on the feelings of readers.

    “a lot more tolerant… than I would have expected”
    Sure. In the early days some of my private thoughts were actually hitting the mark 1-2 days ahead of the blog, but there have also been various ways in which my expectations have been challenged. I guess we tend to base our assumptions on ourselves… I could easily substitute “Steve has been a lot more tolerant than I would have been in his place.” Seems we’re all learning how to do this Pundit interaction business as we go.

    “to err on the side of more discretion”
    Golden words indeed, and surely applicable to everyone everywhere…

    “the “confused” situation”
    Frustrated was one of my “edge cases”. In the end I chose to neither respond directly nor voice my suspicion. In hindsight, I was pleased with my choice. (Also thoroughly enjoyed the irony of Frustrated advocating for allowing Steve to enforce his own rules, which Steve did… by blocking them.)

    “ground rules”
    I agree these would be nice and would relieve a lot of guesswork (for those who’d care to follow them). I do wonder how effective they’d be – can a wordpress post be pinned? Blogs make for awkward forums, in the end, though I guess they’re the easiest option for an individual. Anyway, Steve mentioned in post #1 that he has to learn this stuff. I guess you just gave him some helpful advice.


    • I don’t have anything to add except in regard to the “confused/Frustrated” situation. I, too, considered “Frustrated” to be an “edge case.” I thought I had him/her pegged as a troll, but then he/she appeared to apologize. Then I became unsure again. It’s hard for me to see things clearly and apply quotes by Hamilton to things when my emotions get stirred up, but I don’t reproach myself for anything that went on in that regard, except that I wish I hadn’t gotten quite so angry when “Frustrated” started coming after me, knowing what I know now that it was the troll all the time, and therefore not worth my time or attention.

      To be honest, I was a little surprised not to see “confused” on the list of troll personas. I considered that person to be an edge case, too. My suspicion now is that he/she genuinely was a confused newbie, but one who had read and internalized a lot of the negative press on Steve, so much so that he/she was using the same rhetoric as the troll. Which, of course, played right into FrusTrated’s hand, so no wonder FrusTrated started targeting you and me when we tried to alleviate confused’s confusion, trying to undo the good that we were trying to do.

      While it’s not pleasant to be targeted by a troll, in a way it’s a backhanded compliment, a litmus test for the potential positive impact that we are likely to have. If the troll didn’t consider our comments a threat, he/she wouldn’t bother trying to pick fights with us and/or silence us.

      (oh, and I agree about the irony; it is delicious indeed!)


  5. Postscript: I take back everything I said about the level of conflict. Dang.

    Please don’t mind me, anyway; I just came to spend a few minutes in this peaceful (cyber)space and look at the calming blue background. I’m feeling slightly ill.


    • There, there….

      I’m just glad you’re not mad at me for accidentally spilling gasoline on the fire over there. I didn’t know that Steve was going to delete the offending comment altogether, but that’s no excuse. I should, of course, have included the name of the person I was responding to in my comment, but he’s used so many of them that I got confused.


      • Well, I must say I did get a brief and nasty shock, because it did look for all the world like you were having another “confused” moment and… being uncharacteristically brutal about it. I shouldn’t have doubted you. The true explanation makes sense; it just *looks* terrible and I hope (for your sake as much as anything) that the post-FT thread does get cleared up eventually.

        The proceedings above your comment, and below mine, are still very problematic. Poor Vinnie. I may yet be proved wrong on him, but I’d be surprised. I’m not mad at anyone. Disappointed perhaps… distressed… distraught… not least because it’s the kind of behaviour that seems to reflect badly on Steve and his blog in the minds of many, even though it shouldn’t. It’s being exacerbated, clearly, by an ongoing fixation with trolls being maintained by certain individuals. What’s the point of eradicating the trolls if everybody goes on talking about them? “…with your help we’ll keep on blocking them,” the man said, reasonably enough. But like Geordi on the holodeck, innocuous-sounding words can create malevolent forces that run beyond the original intent…

        Finally, my mind read your first line above in Richard Hunt’s mudbunny voice. Thank you for that.


        • You’re welcome. That’s what I had in my mind when I wrote it. 🙂

          I’m not qualified to throw stones at anyone for making a wrong assumption about someone based on circumstantial evidence. In any case, I’ve made my apologies and explanations, which is all I can do on my end, so I’m willing to accept whatever Steve decides to do about it.

          I deduce (fittingly enough) that your allusion to Geordi on the holodeck is a reference to “Elementary, Dear Data”? I’ve never really understood that episode; why would the holodeck be able to spontaneously create consciousness just because somebody told it to? Wouldn’t it be more likely to give Geordi a verbal error message? Something like, “Unable to comply–poorly defined parameters.” I suppose we’re just supposed to chalk it up to the Bynars having screwed with the holodeck back in season 1. Silly Bynars.


          • Haha, yes. My reaction to rather a lot of Star Trek plots: “Ours not to reason why!”

            You’re right, of course, about throwing stones, and that’s partly why I’m palming a few around here instead of throwing them in the green-house. “Let he who is without sin” etc. And yet… at some point, if nobody speaks up to correct a misunderstanding or question a questionable action, it starts to look as if the whole community is in tacit agreement. There must be ways to do it without resorting to stones. If only the perfect were allowed to challenge or instruct, the world would be very short on teachers and leaders and social justice movements in general… I even wonder if one’s own experience of a past mistake might leave one better placed to understand and address a similar mistake made by others.

            Do you read Asimov? I sometimes feel like the robot in this story, balanced between competing urges. I’ve been trying to make the commentary a better place and at the same time not judge or hurt anyone, while also not letting it all eat into my life more than it should. And now I think I’ve circled back on myself so I’m going to stop.

            I want to thank you very much for indulging me all the way down this page. As I once said to Marni, nobody in my face-to-face circles shares my interest in this. I’ve filled many pages with my own thoughts and learnings, but it’s been a relief to bounce a few of them off another human being. I finally start to feel like I’m approaching a point of closure, or at least comprehension, and I’m sure that our stop-motion conversation has helped me to crystallise some of the things I’ve learned about life and psychology during this period that I “knew” before in theory only.


  6. Here are some other things (aside from, as you and Steve have pointed out, his having no bearing over who gets hired for projects) that makes me suspicious of the “blackballing” claims against Steve…

    – Brett O’Quinn is one of the puppeteers supposedly “blackballed” by Steve. According to the Muppet Wiki (which is usually pretty reliable), Brett O’Quinn worked on “Muppets Most Wanted” and the Lady Gaga special. He also assisted Miss Piggy at D23.
    – Gabriel Velez, another puppeteer supposedly “blackballed”, commented on Steve’s blog a couple times and didn’t say anything nasty about Steve. In addition, in an interview with The Muppet Mindset from 2010 he called Steve “a great talent” – if Steve really did have him “blackballed”, I doubt he would’ve said that.
    – After the “Save the Muppets” thing, Disney had Artie Esposito – another one of the “blackballed” puppeteers – fill in for Steve as Kermit AGAIN in 2009. At least twice. And Steve was available AND would’ve done it, but they wouldn’t let him.
    – The supposedly-blackballed Drew Massey and John Kennedy worked on “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz”, though I’m not sure if that was in production before the understudies thing or not.
    – If Steve really did “blackball” people like Victor Yerrid and Drew Massey, wouldn’t they have vouched for the nasty things being said about Steve on Twitter or Facebook or something? To my knowledge, they didn’t. The only performer who spoke out against Steve (again, to my knowledge) is Rick Lyon, and from what I’ve heard he isn’t a very trustworthy or nice fellow (for one thing, I’ve heard that he was kicked off of “Sesame Street” for stealing David Rudman’s personal notes, but I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that) and I’m not even sure if he was one of the puppeteers who auditioned to be understudies for Disney.
    – I remember that FleeceThroat guy said that all the puppeteers who Steve blackballed would make their grand return to the Muppets with “The Muppets Take the Bowl”. How many of the puppeteers involved in that also auditioned to be understudies? According to the Muppet Wiki, only TWO – Drew Massey and John Kennedy. Victor, Brett, Tony, Gabriel, Artie – none of those guys participated. Just sayin’.
    – Plus, you know, Mike Quinn, who defended Steve on his blog. I have a lot of respect for him.


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