Fraggle Friday: Wembley’s Way

Someone posted the following video in the Muppet Pundit comments.  Steve has yet to talk about it, so I don’t know all of the backstory, but it appears that Steve returned to his old high school in 1988 with some of his characters (Muppet and otherwise) in tow to participate in a concert of some sort.

Take it, Wembley:

I have another confession to make: in all my years of studying literature, I’ve found that, a lot of times, I don’t think that an author’s–or, in a broader sense, an artist’s–most celebrated or well-known work is necessarily their best.  I read The Red Badge of Courage in grad school and was underwhelmed by it; my favorite Stephen Crane work is called The Monster; you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s utterly brilliant.  Similarly, I love Madeleine L’Engle, and I love A Wrinkle in Time, but it was a early novel of hers, and I think her later works show a growth and a maturity that is missing in Wrinkle, as wonderful as it is and as much as I have always loved it.

My point is that “My Way” is so famous and so popular, and arguably so overexposed, that I’ve never been that impressed with it.  In fact, I’m not sure if I ever really paid attention to the lyrics before.  But watching Wembley sing this little duet, the lyrics suddenly smacked me in the face, particularly the last verse:

For what is a man?  What has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels 
And not the words of one who kneels.”

Those lyrics might have been written for and about Steve; that’s exactly what he’s doing on his blog, and he’s taken–and continues to take–the blows for it.

I think there’s something really important to understand about Disney: through their movies and TV shows and such, they frequently tell these stories about people who think for themselves and take a stand and fight for what they believe in, and a person could be forgiven to think that it’s a reflection of Disney’s values when they tell those stories.  It’s not.  They tell those stories because those are the stories that they think we will pay money to hear.  They don’t want to change the world, they don’t want to make a difference; all they want is to make money.

Disney is a corporation, and corporations value people who play it “the company way”: people who know their place and stay there, who go along, do as they’re told, and don’t make waves.  Unfortunately, people like that don’t make for the basis of an interesting movie because they deliberately try to minimize drama in their lives.   So instead Disney makes these movies about people who speak truth to power and question authority…and then they find it inconvenient when people who work for them speak truth to power and question their authority.


So what of Jim Henson?  Well, I think that, like Cantus the Minstrel, he sought out and hired people that were traveling “in the same direction,” i.e., people who shared his values and worldview.  Not everyone made the cut.

On the other hand, Jim valued contributions of other people, not only the jobs that he’d hired them to do, but their thoughts and ideas as well.  Speaking at one of Jim’s memorial services, Frank Oz called him an “extraordinary appreciator.”  He appreciated the work that everyone was putting into a given production.  He solicited feedback not only from the people he worked with, but from the audience as well.  For example, just subsequent to the release of Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones and Dave Goelz were doing a radio interview, and a woman called in to tell a story about visiting the set of a production that Jim was working on, and how, during a break, he came over to meet her and asked her opinion of what she had seen.  And the woman was surprised that he had taken an interest in the opinion of a random layperson, but he’d genuinely wanted to know what she thought.  (I know that story is in that interview somewhere, but I don’t have time right now to listen to the whole thing and get the timecode).

So, rather than “my way” or the “company way,” I think Jim Henson took a third, less-traveled path, and gathered people around him that were “traveling our way.”  Everyone was in it together, and no one was supposed to get left behind.

Random Thoughts:  
The above video is almost 30 years old, I wonder whatever happened to Jimmy Morriss, the singer in the video.

When Wembley sings the line “what is a man?” I half expect him to add, “No, seriously, what IS a man?”  Because, of course, to Fraggles, human beings are “silly creatures.”

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