“The Gorgs might be the bullies at school, but they might also be a mean boss, or an abusive boyfriend, or the Taliban. It’s a good thing we have Fraggle Rock, to help us figure it out. For all we know, there might be Gorgs everywhere.”
–Danny Horn, “My Week with Fraggle Rock, Part 2: Big Shots,” ToughPigs.com, November 4, 2004.
I’ve wanted to write about this episode of Fraggle Rock for four years now, long before I had a Muppet blog, and long before the Schism. I hope I can do it justice.
Let’s start things off with a song. Take it, Wembley:
This song plays a relatively minor role in the episode, but I wanted to highlight it because it is one of my very favorite Wembley songs. Steve’s voice here is like a soft, cozy blanket–warm and fuzzy and friendly. Which, come to think about it, is a good description of Wembley’s character in a nutshell.
Now, instead of looking at the episode chronologically, let’s jump around and look at it thematically. To that end, let’s get started at the end of this episode, in which Wembley makes a very profound statement: “I guess some slavery feels like freedom.”
I have some thoughts on this statement in which I apply it to my own experience, but I felt that it was straying from the subject of this post, so I put it under the “Slightly Off-Topic” tab instead. You can find it here.
The slavery that Wembley is referring to, obviously, is his capture by the Gorgs. While being trapped and held captive in a jar, he overhears the elder Gorgs talking about being king and queen of the universe and, being Wembley, he is impressed by this and starts paying them the abject deference that they think they deserve.
Naturally, the Gorgs eat this up with a spoon and start making a pet of Wembley, who in turn is flattered by the attention: “I’ve just been talking to the king and queen of the universe! And they’re bringing me dinner…they like me!”
But of course, the Gorgs don’t really care about Wembley at all. They’re just using him for his entertainment value. They don’t care about who Wembley is, or about his thoughts and feelings; one fawning Fraggle is as good as another from their point of view. As long as Wembley gives them what they want, the Gorgs are happy to slather him with shallow affection. However, as we see at the end of the episode, the moment that Wembley starts asserting some autonomy, the Gorgs reject him outright. Then they probably go on the Gorgic equivalent of internet forums and Twitter to complain about him.
Needless to say, Wembley’s true friends are down in Fraggle Rock, mounting an expedition to rescue him from the Gorgs:
At this point in the series, the Gorgs pose a real and violent threat to the Fraggles, in that Junior is always trying to thump him with his club–which, given the size of the club and the brute strength of Junior, could potentially prove fatal for them. Even at the end of the series, Pa Gorg has no compunction about planting a bomb in Fraggle Rock and trying to blow all the Fraggles up. So by mounting a rescue mission, Wembley’s friends are facing a real risk to life and limb, but they don’t even hesitate because they love Wembley. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). That’s literally what the Fraggles are doing here.
On ascending to the garden and trying to get Wembley to run for it while the Gorgs’ attention is turned elsewhere, the other Fraggles find Wembley fully in the grip of a refractory case of Stockholm syndrome. “Poor Wembley,” sighs Gobo, “he’d try to be agreeable with anybody.”
Gobo speaks the truth, and in this case it is to Wembley’s detriment because of the Gorgs’ manipulative, all-take-and-no-give attitude towards him. But by the end of the series, Wembley’s capacity for compassion and understanding–his ability to see everybody’s point of view–arguably becomes the salvation of Fraggle Rock itself. Which just goes to show that one’s greatest weakness can also be one’s greatest strength, and vice versa.
Due to Wembley’s reluctance to be rescued, the other Fraggles are in turn captured by Junior. The Gorgs expect groveling fealty from the other Fraggles as well, but the Fraggles have other ideas. In a magnificent show of defiance, Gobo stabs Pa Gorg right in the nose. Then the Fraggles sing what may be the greatest protest song in all of Fraggle Rock, and one of the greatest protest songs in all of Muppetdom. And the thing that makes it so great is that it doesn’t even necessarily sound like a protest song:
The next morning, the Gorgs want to thump Wembley’s friends (which, again, means hitting them with a club roughly the size of Iowa), but Wembley pleads with them, insisting that his friends get a fair trial. And as Danny Horn points out in the above-linked ToughPigs article, once the Gorgs come out in judges’ robes and powdered wigs, this becomes more than a simple story about the heroic rescue of a character from villains; it becomes a metaphor, a subject on which I’m just going to drop the pretense and defer directly to Danny:
“A metaphor is a problem-solving tool; it helps you to think about a complicated problem in a new way. This episode is an example of why Fraggle Rock can be more than just a series of life lessons for kids — if this is a useful metaphor for kids, then adults can also use it, for adult problems.”
As I’ve illustrated elsewhere, since Fraggle Rock is a show all about conflict resolution, there is more than one episode that can be used as a metaphor and applied to the Schism in order to make a point about it. But this one just may be the most useful.
But what’s the key to the metaphor? How can it be applied to this situation? What meaning can be derived from it? Once again, Danny Horn got it right over 13 years ago, and I can’t say it any better than he already has:
“Here at the beginning of the series, the Gorgs essentially represent the unfair use of power. The Gorgs are the Big People — the people in the world who can do anything they want because they’re rich, or powerful, or because they have the guns. The Gorgs think that they rule the whole universe, just because they happen to be bigger than everybody else.
But they’re not good at being in charge, because they have no real respect for the creatures that they’re supposedly ‘ruling.’ They expect to be served and flattered, but they don’t give anything back. They don’t protect the smaller creatures or take care of them, and it doesn’t even occur to them that the ‘little people’ have their own dreams. The Gorgs may be big, but they’re parasites; their idea of ‘leading’ is to live off the work of people who are smaller and weaker than they are.”
And when it comes to “Big People” of the world, they don’t come much bigger than the Disney Corporation. Their mascot may be a cute, friendly, harmless mouse, but the company itself is a Gorg. Admittedly, it wasn’t always that way, but Disney is now the gorg-iest Gorg in all of Gorgdom. Disney is the granddaddy of all Gorgs. Disney is King Gorgus the Great.
If one refuses to stand up to the Gorgs of this world–if one excuses and rationalizes the Gorgs’ depredations–does that make one a Gorg oneself? Is being a Gorg by proxy–or perhaps a Gorg enabler–better than being an actual Gorg?
As I consider those questions, I am reminded of a scene from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I think is appropriate to mention at this time, not only because of the upcoming Christmas season but because of the scene’s applicability to the point I am trying to make. If your only experience with the work is Muppet Christmas Carol, then you won’t be familiar with this scene; it was not included in the Muppets’ version, probably to allow the Ghost of Christmas Present to go out on a high (and sparkly) note:
“This boy is Ignorance […] beware the boy, for on his forehead I see that written which is doom, unless the writing is erased. If you deny him, slander those who tell others about him, admit he exists but do nothing about it, then DOOM WILL ENGULF YOU ALL!”
Dickens had a way with a metaphor, and he knew a Gorg when he saw one.