Hindsight

I’m always impressed and a little embarrassed when I find that someone has been able to express a point in less than 10 minutes that I have spent literally hundreds of hours and thousands of words trying to explicate. Such was the case when I found this incredibly succinct, accurate, and fair-minded assessment of the Schism on YouTube a couple weeks ago (Warning: It contains NSFW language):

Apart from a few minor quibbles, I agree with everything said in this video, which does a really good job of calling out the responsible parties without being unfair to the puppeteers. But there’s one point that I really want to emphasize:

“We’ve now seen what’s come to pass. We’ve now got hindsight on this matter. Kermit the Frog no longer sounds consistent. He no longer really sounds like Kermit the Frog.”

Admittedly, not everyone agrees with this opinion. But it seems to me that most everyone who thinks Matt’s Kermit voice sounds like Kermit are people who accepted the recast with little question. The casual fans don’t seem to be buying it, which strongly suggests it is yet another example of belief affecting perception. In other words, people who believe that the recast was justified and/or who need it to be okay, are more likely to hear Kermit when Matt speaks, whereas casual fans with no preconceived notions think he sounds off. With that said, if there are casual fans who didn’t already know about the recast and don’t notice it, they are unlikely to comment on it, which means there’s no way of ensuring an accurate data pool.

One thing that struck me while watching this video is that Brian Henson and Cheryl Henson have each expressed the opinion that Steve’s Kermit performance got away from what Jim Henson established, but they don’t seem to be in agreement as to who and what Kermit should be. The Kermit that lives in Cheryl’s mind is “good-hearted” and “compassionate,” while the version that lives in Brian’s head is “naughty” and a “bit of a prankster.” 

Now, it’s tempting to say that they should have gotten their stories straight before talking to the media, but that’s not entirely fair. As I have expressed before, Kermit is a complex character. It is possible that he could be all of those things at certain times depending on the context. Maybe he was even a prankster in the Sam and Friends days. I don’t believe that he’s pulled many pranks since his “frogification,” but it depends partly on how you define a “prank.” Nevertheless, it’s unreasonable to expect Steve (or anyone) to recreate the “true spirit of Jim Henson’s Kermit” when the Hensons themselves can’t even agree on what Kermit’s distinguishing characteristics are. 

I have reason to believe that there may still be people in the mainstream Muppet fandom and/or the Disney fandom who might wonder when I’m going to get over this and stop talking about it. And you know what? That’s a fair question, which deserves an honest answer.

The truth is, I was ready to let it go and move on after I met Steve at OCon last summer. I talked to him there about this whole situation and found that he seemed to have made his peace with it. I saw him smiling and having fun while surrounded by caring and supportive people, which is what I wished for him since almost the beginning of this sad business. And as I observed all this, I came to believe that he was in a pretty good place, and therefore I could also move on from the situation.

Let me explain exactly what I mean when I say “move on”: I was always going to keep supporting Steve as it relates to Cave-In and his other projects, but with the goal of looking forward rather than backward. I never intended to stop criticizing Disney, which I have been doing since long before the sale of the Muppets that put this unfortunate series of events into motion. But I intended to make my criticisms more general and not relate them specifically to Steve’s situation. And I intended to shift the focus of this blog to more general commentary about the Muppets.

But then, about the time of the first Cave-In (not coincidentally), people on the internet started telling tales again, dredging up the same half-truths, baseless assumptions, and blatant inaccuracies that they’d spread before, now with extra embroidery and suppositions that even a cursory examination of the facts does not support. I didn’t want to get back into it, but I couldn’t let the blatant falsehoods go unchallenged. 

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Even though Steve is someone I care about very much, this is about something much bigger than him. It’s about holding everyone to the same standard of accountability, which is more important now than ever before.

So for those who are still wondering how long I’m going to keep talking about the situation between Steve and Disney, the answer is “as long as there’s a need for it.” Snide insinuations made about Steve on forums and social media, as well as nasty comments directed at me and my blog because I dare to question or challenge Disney-sanctioned propaganda, only communicate to me that the need is still very strong.

5 thoughts on “Hindsight

  1. There are different thoughts and opinions on the Muppet forums, especially now that Muppets Now has arrived, and some new details pop up in the performer interviews here and there. Here are some of mine.

    Matt said in his Tough Pigs interview that the direction he received when he was selected for the role is pretty much to go back to “Jim’s version” of Kermit, away from what Steve had done during his 27 years — which, in my opinion, may have affected both the performance and public reception. The thing is, to properly carry on the character one needs to have some sort of deep subconscious knowledge of both the character and the original performer, which is best conveyed by working closely together for years. Thus, if Matt had to consciously try to make his take of Kermit feel different from Steve’s, he would have to forgo the depth of Kermit impression he might have picked working with Steve, based on Steve’s experience and years of hard work with Jim and afterwards. This would also affect the public perception of his Kermit by the whole generation of fans, who grew up with Steve’s performance as their own. Unfortunately, without that kind of character continuity, in spite of Matt’s best efforts, Kermit may become a kind of amphibian Doctor Who, regenerating into a new persona with the next reincarnation.

    Plus, in order for the performance to feel sincere and alive, the performer has to infuse the character with his own personality. However, in my opinion based on his performances and interviews, by tone, temperament, and general psychological disposition, as well as the personal experience, Matt himself is closer to Jerry Nelson. This allows him to carry on Jerry’s characters flawlessly, and we all totally love him for being able to do that! Nevertheless, there was something i’ve read recently that made me hit on a thought i have hard time getting rid of ever since, namely that now we have a really good impression of what Jerry’s take on Kermit would be. That is certainly better than a lot of other options, and is authentic in its own way, but still doesn’t quite feel like the Kermit we knew all along.

    An aftertaste of Muppets Now — Times do change indeed. Tastes change. Formats and forms of presentation change. Performers change too — btw, have you noticed that whenever a prominent member leaves a music band, their whole sound changes? Same may have happened with Muppets Now — it’s interesting that even the fans who say they never liked “Steve’s Kermit” and much prefer “Matt’s Kermit” now, feel that Muppets latest performance has lost much of the original spirit. My own opinion is, the show itself is pleasant to watch, though the style does feel somewhat different — for instance, there is a number of classic old-style Muppet gags presented by Gonzo, who appears several times in the series, but somehow these seem to spark no laughter during the episode itself, almost as if they no longer match the rest of the segment.

    Which, come to think of it, may be all natural and inevitable. The Muppets did not stop like Monty Python, they do go on. So, using comparison to SNL instead, we may be witnessing the end of the Blues Brothers era and the beginning of the Wayne’s World of muppet history. The change may be necessary for the show to continue, and i really hope it will get to be popular and funny–

    –but–

    –speaking of preserving the original Muppet spirit–

    Steve was there when it mattered the most.
    Steve was there when it mattered to us.
    He was there when it counted.
    And that matters a lot!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the very thoughtful and detailed reply, Andrew.

      I don’t know a lot about Gestalt psychology, but I think the concept of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is very applicable here. Most of the Muppet troupe is the same, and they’re all just as talented as they were before, and maybe they can still produce quality entertainment. But each performer brings something unique to the ensemble. Steve’s contributions are no longer there, and for better or worse, that’s going to change the overall dynamic.

      it’s interesting that even the fans who say they never liked “Steve’s Kermit” and much prefer “Matt’s Kermit” now, feel that Muppets latest performance has lost much of the original spirit.

      I noticed that too, and there was one particular conversation that I observed in which someone cited “Flowers on the Wall” as the best example of recent Muppet comedy, the quintessential example of creating something new while honoring all that came before, and that Muppets Now should be more like that. Someone else chimed in to agree and said something to the effect of, “Yeah! Who created that video? They should be in charge of Muppets Now!” Then someone else pointed out that it was Steve’s concept, and the conversation sharply veered off into another direction.

      It sounds to me that some of them may already be coming around to the realization that the Muppets are better with Steve, even if they won’t admit it for fear of losing face. I’m looking forward to the day that they change their tune to something resembling “Canaan Days” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If only Kermit could only speak for himself! Hey he has, as far as I’m concerned, but
    incognito, as also you may get a glimpse of Rizzo the Rat, when you watch Weldon….Kermit lives.

    As you have stated Mary about the above video, “Apart from a few minor quibbles, I agree with everything said in this video, which does a really good job of calling out the responsible parties without being unfair to the puppeteers. But there’s one point that I really want to emphasize:

    “We’ve now seen what’s come to pass. We’ve now got hindsight on this matter. Kermit the Frog no longer sounds consistent. He no longer really sounds like Kermit the Frog.” ”

    And a key point that Andrew K. made is what I feel is important also

    ”Steve was there when it mattered the most.
    ”Steve was there when it mattered to us.
    He was there when it counted.
    And that matters a lot!”

    A few others also close to Steve stepped up to help at the time of Jim Henson’s untimely death one being Mak Wilson. So many from this era have moved on to retirement for various reasons, and I strongly approve Steve’s Weldon, whom I’m very fond of…. Through Weldon, Steve’s Kermit will find it’s easier being brown than green.

    Wish we could lay this other stuff to rest, but as long as you need to Mary, continue to pull the weed, for they still grow….

    Liked by 1 person

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