At first, I never intended to subscribe to Disney+, but I decided otherwise when I thought it might be the only way that I would ever get to watch Hamilton. So I finally gave in, and that allowed me to watch new Muppet content, including the first two seasons of Muppet Babies 2018, which I really love. Not only is the humor more Muppety than anything the main Muppet troupe has done in the last four or five years (despite the performers’ best efforts), but it does a really good job of talking about important life lessons in a way that’s accessible to toddlers without being too heavy-handed or condescending.
(Scooter and Skeeter)
There’s one episode from the second season that really touched my heart and made me wish that this show had been on when I was a kid. It’s called “A Tale of Two Twins.” The twins in question are Scooter and Skeeter who, though not main characters, were introduced in the second season and have gotten to visit the playroom a handful of times now. In this episode, they challenge gender norms and learn to be assertive in not letting others define who they are.
The episode opens with Kermit, Fozzie, Animal, and Gonzo racing tricycles. They invite Scooter to join them when he and Skeeter arrive. Meanwhile, Summer and Piggy invite Skeeter to their make-believe salon and spa. The trouble is that Skeeter would rather race tricycles and Scooter would rather have a spa day, but they’re each afraid of disappointing their friends if they say so.
Up to this point in the series, there’s never been such an explicit division between boys and girls in the Muppet Babies’ playroom. Nevertheless, to the writers’ credit, at no point does anyone say that tricycles are for boys and spas are for girls and that’s why Scooter and Skeeter can’t do what they want to do. They don’t have to say it, though. The kids in the audience probably see the situation through the lens of their own societally influenced prejudices.
Scooter and Skeeter realize that they can each do what they want to do without disappointing their friends by disguising themselves as one another. It works for a while but, predictably, wacky mistaken-identity hijinks ensue. If this show had been made when I was a kid, Scooter and Skeeter’s charade would probably have been uncovered, which would have been a moment of shame. In this show, however, Scooter and Skeeter realize that they shouldn’t have to pretend to be something they’re not in order to enjoy their preferred activities. Thus, Skeeter finishes the race as herself in a moment of triumph.
(Skeeter and Scooter)
Scooter and Skeeter explain their subterfuge and the reason behind it, and the other Muppet Babies affirm that girls can like tricycle racing and boys can like relaxing at a spa. Everyone agrees to be honest about what they want to do from now on, and everyone goes to the spa for cool new hairdos.
This episode was poignant for me because it reminded me so much of myself and my younger brother when we were kids. We each had at least one instance of receiving ridicule from our peers by deviating from the strict gender norms that were accepted in our peer groups. For me, it was an isolated incident, but for my brother, it was a common occurrence.
When I was a kid in the ’80s, it was only about a decade or two previously that society at large became sensitive to the prevalent gender inequality which shortchanged females. Kids’ shows of my youth made a valiant effort to try to push back against those outdated notions and present a more rounded and realistic view of women and girls. I am the beneficiary of those efforts, and I appreciate the good intentions that motivated them. However, in my opinion based on what I observed, it was a one-sided effort.
People back then didn’t understand that stereotypes about either gender (or any gender, really) limit everyone. Even today, many people don’t seem to have figured that out yet. Thus, we ’80s kids were told implicitly that girls could be whatever they want to be but boys have to grow up to be manly men. I don’t know if today’s culture of toxic masculinity can be entirely chalked up to that double standard, but I don’t think we can completely rule it out.
To be fair, there were some kids’ shows in the ’80s that went through the motions of depicting sensitive boys (for lack of a better term) in a positive light, with Sesame Street being among the most valiant and dedicated in its efforts. But what I think Muppet Babies does really well in “A Tale of Two Twins” is to cut down all stereotypes and to debunk the notion of any interests or behaviors being gender-specific at all. I’m so grateful to the entire team behind Muppet Babies for even making the attempt to address this, let alone for doing it in a way that I find so effective and affective.
My brother’s fine now, by the way. He’s a healthy, well-adjusted, stable adult who has channeled the things that kids used to tease him about into a promising career. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering, if this episode had been available in the early ’80s, whether it would have made things a little bit easier for him.
This episode gives me hope, and because that’s something that seems to be in short supply at the moment, I wanted to share it with all of you.