Merry Christmas, all! By the time I post this, it will technically be Christmas Day, but in my mind, at least, it is still Christmas Eve. This evening I watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” back to back. I decided to do that merely because I hadn’t watched either of them yet this season, but in the process I found that they are more closely related thematically than I ever realized, and probably more so than anyone involved intended.
I have some deep thoughts about that, and I’d like to share them, but it’s really late right now (or early, depending on your point of view), and I am tired. So I’d just like to observe that if Cantus had been on Sesame Street while Big Bird was having his crisis of faith, he probably could have explained to Big Bird how Santa gets down the chimneys.
However, knowing Cantus, he probably would have done so in an oblique, metaphorical way that would probably just have confused and frustrated Big Bird, so he probably would have ended up on the roof anyway.
Nevertheless, that’s a scene that I wish existed, because I would love to see it.
Welcome to the first 60 for 60 entry of 2019! For those just joining us, this is a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday later this year. This month is devoted to Sprocket, the dog that Steve played on Fraggle Rock. Interestingly enough, it fits in well with something Steve said in the interview I posted yesterday about making a puppet believable by mimicking the movements of real-life creatures, be they animal or human.
“With Sprocket, Steve manages to get a performance that is both very dog-like and somehow more than human.”–Jim Henson
I made a point of including Sprocket in this project because it’s very easy for me to forget that he’s a not real dog, and that is thanks to Steve’s talent and commitment. I said once that Big Bird is miraculous in his mundanity; Sprocket is even more mundane which, arguably, makes him even more miraculous.
That being the case, it’s hard for me to think of things to say about him in the following clips apart from things like, “Wow, he’s just like a real dog! Oh, he’s so doglike!” Nevertheless, if you’ll bear with me, I’m willing to make the effort.
“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.” –Jim Henson
To the Parkland students, and all March for Our Lives participants:
The courage, fortitude, and perseverance you have shown in the face of overwhelming adversity is both inspiring and humbling. I graduated from high school in 1999, weeks after the Columbine shooting, and if my generation had done what you are doing now, maybe there wouldn’t have been a need for you to step up and speak out. I can’t go back and change what is past, but I stand in solidarity with you now.
Jim Henson has always been a hero of mine, and you are now doing what he aspired to do, and ultimately succeeding in doing: making a difference and bettering the world. Jim Henson believed in the power of children; he created Fraggle Rock in 1983 with the express purpose of bringing peace to the world.
I know that you’re experiencing a lot of pushback, and I’m sure you understand that that only shows that you’re having an impact. If the NRA weren’t scared of you, they wouldn’t waste their time or money trying to discredit you.
Nevertheless, all that negativity can be tough to bear. I know that you’re not lacking in strength, resilience, and determination, but I also know that you–that we–have a long, hard fight yet to be contested. I’ve often found that music–particularly Muppet music–has the power to comfort and inspire, so I’ve curated a list of what I consider to be the best and most uplifting songs from Henson-related productions. When the world seems dark and hopeless, I hope that they will bring a little light into your hearts.
“We’re all part of everything, and everything is part of us.”–Gobo Fraggle
When I got my first medical transcription job over seven years ago, I supposed that that was going to be how I earned my living for the rest of my life. I figured that writing was just going to be a hobby, something I did for my own amusement and that of my friends.
But as is so often the case, things in my life haven’t worked out exactly the way I supposed they would, and I’m forced to find other means of paying the bills. And with a Hamilton-esque word count of 66,089 words on this blog over the course of five months, writing seems like a skill that I could perhaps parlay into something more rewarding in actual money in addition to mere personal satisfaction.
I think this was the second time in my young life that I got to see Fraggles on TV, but the first time that I got to do repeat viewings of Fraggles on TV until I was able to purchase the DVD set as an adult.
As much as I love this episode of Fraggle Rock–and I do–I nevertheless have some questions about it:
Why did Gobo assume that the “Great Bell” was something that he’d be able to carry back home? Doesn’t “Great Bell” kind of imply something that’s large and heavy?
When Gobo and Wembley saw that the cave was bell-shaped on the map, why did it never occur to them that perhaps the cave is the Great Bell rather than simply containing the Great Bell? That’s immediately where my mind went.
Whatever happened to the Weebabeast, anyway? They introduce this whole implied mythos about the Weebabeast, and then we never hear about it again. I feel cheated.
Why does everyone think that Cantus is so cryptic? He makes perfect sense to me.
“WHAT?!? The cave is…is empty! There is no bell! It’s all a lie!” –Gobo Fraggle, who apparently never thought to look up to see if there was a clapper in the ceiling of the bell-shaped cavern.
In starting a Muppet blog, my goal was to try to strike a balance between the serious and the silly, as the Muppets have always done so effectively. While I’m still proud of the content I have created, I do feel that perhaps I’ve been less than successful in that regard.
I hoped that Christmas would be a time that I could lean more toward the lighthearted side of the spectrum, back off a bit from the Schism, and temporarily beat my sword back into a ploughshare.
(Although you don’t want to try plowing this time of year; at least in this hemisphere, the ground is frozen.)
Throughout this month, I’ve been watching Muppet Christmas productions in preparation for an article series that I see now that I’m not going to have time to do properly until next year. However, instead of being a temporary respite from the Schism, they reminded me of it all the more, especially the productions made subsequent to 1990.
“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.”
(Well, so much for the peaceful, quiet relaxation.)
First it was a migraine, then it was personal/professional issues…maybe there are forces out there that don’t want me to say what I was originally going to say about the Fraggle Rock episode “Manny’s Land of Carpets.” Or maybe last week, or even yesterday, just wasn’t the acceptable time for me to be able to do it full justice. In any case, I think I’m ready now, and I feel compelled to revisit my original ideas about this episode:
GOBO: Why does the Wish-Granting Creature promise so many things in so many different voices? Something’s wrong here! […] I wish I knew which voice to believe. ECHO: Believe!…believe!…believe… […] GOBO: All of a sudden, I know which voice to listen to!
We live in a schizophrenic society. There are more voices now than ever before, all saying different things and all with different–and often sinister, or at least selfish–motivations. We live in a world in which foreign agitators promulgate fake news stories across social media platforms to influence our elections. We–well, I and at least some of you–live in a country in which those in authority try to undermine the credibility of those journalists who are actively TRYING to be truthful–or, at least, accurate–by disingenuously calling them “fake news.”
“‘Manny’s Land of Carpets’–I love that show. It was really a show about television; a show about the kind of delusional system that’s projected by people’s belief in, you know, the world that seems to be inside that box in the corner of the room, and that’s the way I saw it in the beginning, anyway. And then it just got crazier and crazier as time went on, and it’s sort of one of those one-sentence ideas that you can crack it open and start to uncrack it a little bit, and it starts to really suggest there’s an entire universe in here–Manny’s Land of Carpets.” –David Young, writer of “Manny’s Land of Carpets“
So, here is David Young, a writer working for a TV show, writing an episode of said show about how television is a “delusional system.” You’ve got to admire his audacity and the unapologetic relish with which he bites the hand that feeds him.
(This is the topic about which I was going to write last week but had to postpone when I was beset by a migraine. But maybe it’s just as well, because what I’m going to write now is different than what I would have written last week.)
Well, the best-laid plans of Fraggles and frogs often go awry, I suppose. I had a whole Fraggle Friday feature all planned out…and then I developed a migraine, with its attendant photosensitivity, which means I can’t turn on a light to see my notes, at least not without feeling as though a Doozer with an ice auger is standing on my head trying to bore its way into my skull.
So instead, let’s focus on the night when the lights went out in Fraggle Rock: episode 218, “The Day the Music Died,” aka The One With the Ditzies.
I assume that most people reading this know what’s going on in this episode, but just in case there are some other latecomers to the Fraggle party, I’ll give a brief synopsis: Gobo discovers the magical Grapes of Generosity, which are so delicious that he refuses to share them with his friends. As karmic retribution for his selfishness, Gobo becomes weightless as a result–because apparently Fraggle karma doesn’t follow any discernible logic.
The puppetry in this is quite impressive. If I get the chance, I’d like to ask Steve Whitmire how it was all done. I recognize a few effects, ChromaKey being the most obvious, and at one point it looks like they’re using a “throwable” Gobo, and towards the end, it sort of looks like Jerry was on a different, higher level from where Steve was on the floor. So I can kind of piece it together from what I can see, but it’s always interesting to get the real behind-the-scenes story.
This song is an example of what I was talking about earlier in the week, about the otherwise indecisive Wembley always sticking up for his friends. It’s interesting that when Wembley stops to think about what is the right thing to do, he gets bogged down by indecision, but when he reacts instinctively in defense of a friend, his instincts are always spot-on.
I envy him that. I have to put a little more thought into things.
For example, I have a personal policy of not feeding internet trolls. It’s tempting to fight back, and I’ve been known to succumb to the temptation, but since they feed off of attention, to fight back against them is only to make them stronger and hand them weapons. The only way to win is not to play.
But then, what to do when a friend is being harassed by a troll? I observed just such a situation earlier this week, and it posed a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, I had just got done talking about Wembley not standing by when someone is being bullied, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to follow Wembley’s example. On the other hand, feeding the troll could make things worse for everybody. Ultimately, I decided to ignore the troll completely but address a comment to my friend with words of support and encouragement.
As another example, what do you do when someone you care about has been accused of something awful?
There was a time in my life when I suspected one of my dearest friends of untoward behavior based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to talk about it outside of a confessional. I can’t even go into detail about what happened; it’s just too embarrassing.
(Also, it requires too much exposition to be worth my time or yours.)
Suffice it to say, I was relieved when my friend turned out to be innocent, but I was wracked with guilt for having assumed the worst of him, especially for what turned out to be really no good reason at all.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to ask him about what happened instead of flying off the handle making baseless accusations, and I think I was successful in not letting on what I had been thinking about him–and, as far as I know, he still doesn’t know.
Nevertheless, I felt burdened by the knowledge that I had committed an act of betrayal against someone that I loved, even if it was only in the secret recesses of my innermost heart. I had no one to blame but my own foolishness and credulity; it was entirely my own fault. I never want to feel that way again. So I decided that, from that moment on, I would rather give someone that I care about the benefit of the doubt and risk being proven wrong than to automatically assume the worst.
Therefore, if somebody accuses someone whom I respect and admire of “unacceptable business conduct” or “brinksmanship,” etc., the burden of proof is on the accuser(s). If they want to convince me, they’d better be able (and willing) to produce some incontrovertible evidence.
I’ll check with Sam the Eagle but, as far as I know, in this country we’re all still innocent until proven guilty.