“Why are you wasting your time with those puppets?” asked Rudy Pugliese, one of Jim Henson’s college professors.
I sometimes hear a similar question in my head: “Our democracy is imperiled, our Constitution is in crisis; why are you wasting your time worrying about the integrity of a bunch of puppets?”
To which the short answer is, in the words of Cantus, “No time is wasted time.”
Yes, the Muppets are puppets; that is undeniable, and it would be pointless and silly of me to argue otherwise. But they are so much more than that. They are symbols; they are fuzzy mirrors in which we see our own flaws and foibles reflected; they are useful rhetorical tools with which one can make subtle arguments against injustice and demagoguery in a nonthreatening way. In the words of Steve Whitmire, “These characters stand for all of us, and we’re worth defending.” (my emphasis)
In The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle talks about addressing the problems of the world in one of two ways: “cosmically” or “particularly”:
“When I tend to go cosmic, it is often because it is easier to be cosmic than to be particular. The small, overlooked particulars which are symbols of such things as being peacemakers are usually to be found in our everyday lives. Of course, we’d rather have something more dramatic and spectacular.” (pages 83-84)
The example she gives of peacemaking in a particular way is smiling at the cranky man whose job is offloading freight from the truck into the grocery store when she passes him every day. She describes it as “something so small that it seems hardly worth doing, but it is these small offerings which build our reflexes for the larger ones” (page 86).
I think that when we go cosmic in trying to address issues, it becomes overwhelming for us. The problems are so big–and we, as individuals, are relatively so small–and it’s so hard to know what to do and where to even begin that we tend to become paralyzed. And then it’s all too easy to justify our inaction by convincing ourselves that the problem is just too big to deal with on our own. Whereas if we look for the smaller, more particular ways in which we can address the large issues, these tasks that are given to us become much more manageable and therefore less overwhelming.
There are injustices being committed in America every day, and while many are being committed by the Trump administration, it doesn’t have the monopoly on injustice (yet). There are injustices being committed by corporations as well. Any time an entity has a lot of money and little-to-no accountability, it is easy–and almost inevitable–for the entity to become corrupt. As much as Bob Iger might like to think otherwise, Disney and Trump are not so different in that regard.
Needless to say, one such injustice committed by the Disney Corporation is the unwarranted dismissal of Steve Whitmire. Here is a particular injustice that my knowledge and skill set are well suited to address, and to which I can add something original to the discussion. Does fighting against injustice in one particular mean ignoring or tacitly condoning injustice in other particulars, or on a more cosmic level? I don’t think so. I think that standing up to injustice in one particular has a cosmic effect.
Furthermore, one doesn’t have to commit oneself to one particular to the exclusion of all others. Right now I’ve been investing a lot of time and energy in addressing the particular injustice done against Steve, but I have also been briefly addressing other forms of injustice, both here and on my other blog. The fact that I’ve been investing less time and attention on them, however, is not that I find them to be less important; rather, it is just that I choose to focus my talents where I think they will be the most useful and effective, a status that could change on a day-to-day basis.
But, as I have said elsewhere, I see all these issues as different facets of one cosmic problem. At the root of this cosmic problem are amorality, greed, corruption, lack of accountability, and the strategic use of victim-blaming propaganda. When one has no morals or ethics, when one believes that the end justifies the means, and when one isn’t being held to account, one resorts to any tactics necessary to assure one’s continued prosperity and comfort, even at the expense of others.
The injustice of Steve’s situation is not only particular, it is also deeply personal for me. I identify strongly with some of the characters Steve has played, especially Kermit, Ernie, and Wembley, so a rejection of Steve feels like a rejection of me as well, and an injustice against Steve feels like an injustice against a member of my own family.
It still feels uncomfortably presumptuous for me to describe Steve as my friend, but I can say without compunction that I am his friend. I am as much of a friend to him as he needs and/or wants me to be. And for me, being a friend to Steve means “marching to the drum of time that tells [me] where to go,” and standing with him even “when the wrong just goes on, and the fight is like a night without a dawn.”
So until the drum tells me differently, that is where I’ll be: standing with Steve, marching against the mighty and the strong wherever they may manifest themselves, and singing all the while.