I have some more thoughts that I edited out of my post from yesterday on the grounds that it was still supposed to be a post for Matt’s birthday, and I felt some of what I wanted to say wasn’t necessarily very sensitive. Maybe it would have been okay, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.
As I said yesterday, there are a lot of things that I don’t think are coincidences. I also don’t think it was a coincidence that Steve Whitmire, the little boy from Georgia, brought Matt Vogel, the little boy from Kansas, into the Muppet troupe when they were both grown men; not only that, but Steve saw to it that Matt was compensated fairly for his time and treated with the respect he deserves. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but I do think it is ironic in light of the events of the past two years.
Again, I am not blaming Matt for anything that has happened. He’s done nothing wrong.
What I am about to say is not intended as a criticism of Matt, but just an observation: lately I’ve seen him as more of a torch juggler than a torchbearer, what with all the characters he’s taken on. That was my initial concern when I first heard that Matt was going to play Kermit; undoubtedly Kermit would be in good hands, but would Matt be spreading himself too thin playing Kermit, plus so many of Jerry Nelson’s characters, plus Big Bird, plus all his behind-the-camera duties on Sesame Street? No one’s disputing that Matt is extremely talented, but he only has two hands. So far, of Matt’s characters, it seems like only Robin has been recast, but that’s a tragedy at least as terrible as recasting Kermit, and possibly even worse. But again, that’s a topic for another day.
Finally, I want to make clear that, even if Steve is not working with the Muppets anymore, he is still a torchbearer. He said something during a Comic Con panel back in June about how Jim’s spirit doesn’t belong exclusively to Disney or to any particular franchise. And that is very true; Disney may own the Muppets, but they don’t own Jim Henson’s spirit. JHC may own the rights to Jim’s name, but they don’t own his spirit. Nobody owns Jim Henson’s spirit; it cannot be commodified or subsidized or monopolized. Just as no one can own oxygen or fire, no one can own Jim Henson’s spirit, and therefore no one can deny Steve his share of it or prevent him from keeping the flame burning as he sees fit.
Steve was born to be a torchbearer; nobody can take that away from him.