Reflexive Jim Henson

Today, of course, is not only Steve Whitmire’s birthday, it is also Jim Henson’s birthday. 

I was thinking about what I wanted to do to mark the occasion of what is apparently known on Twitter as “#JimHensonDay,” and I wasn’t sure what I could say that I haven’t already said. 

Then I started to think about all the ways that Jim Henson and his characters have burrowed their way deep into my subconscious, to the point where certain words or phrases will always evoke knee-jerk Muppet references from me.

It’s a topic that I’ve mentioned occasionally but never explored at length, so it seems as good a way as any to celebrate #JimHensonDay. 

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Sixty for 60: Culmination

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(Please enjoy this photo collage. I worked on it for the better part of an hour before trying to upload it, but my initial attempt was unsuccessful because the file size was too big. Apologies to those whose photos I’ve co-opted.)

Happy 60th birthday, Steve Whitmire! And welcome, everyone, to the final installment of 60 for 60. Every month for a year I’ve been celebrating Steve and this milestone by posting five examples of his work per month (mostly in the form of videos, but not exclusively) and making commentary about it. At this point, I’d like to take a look back of the year and choose the best from each month for a “Best of the Best” feature.

(As always, “best” in this case is subjective.)

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Semi-miked StocktonCon Q&A Panel

The interesting thing about searching for comic con panel discussions is that you don’t always find exactly what you asked for, but sometimes you find things that you would never have thought to look for specifically. 

I checked YouTube today to see if there were any panels from DragonCon available yet. It may be too early for that since it was just this weekend. I didn’t find any new DragonCon content, but I did find a panel from StocktonCon Steve did…*checks*…a month ago already! Wow…

Word of warning before I post it: Like at OCon, Steve and the moderator were miked, but the audience questions weren’t. Why? I have no idea. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but what do I know?

One thing I want to specifically point out about this panel is that Steve talks in glowing terms about Kermit’s interview with Ellen Degeneres. That is also a favorite appearance of mine, and it was surprising to me at the time that Ellen and Kermit had never met before. That, too, seemed like a no-brainer. I really wanted to work that interview into 60 for 60, but the only place I could have worked it in was during the Kermit month, and I opted for the backstage interview instead. If I have a regret about how it turned out, that may be it. 

In the meantime, I’m waiting quite impatiently to see if OCon is going to post video of Steve’s Q&A panel. I asked them via Twitter if we could expect it, but I haven’t received a response. Neither my notes nor my memory are really adequate to talk about it, but if I had the video with the notes to supplement it, I think I could recreate it for you with a reasonable degree of accuracy. 

Sesame Saturday: A Panel Discussion With Sesame Street’s Gordon and Alan

Yesterday I mentioned the existence of full panels from last year’s OCon on YouTube, but what I failed to mention was that one of them featured Sesame Street actors Roscoe Orman (aka Gordon) and Alan Muraoka. I thought about it today and realized that might be of interest, so here it is:

Also, it appears from this that OCon just doesn’t provide microphones for audience questions at all, which seems to be very unusual. Nevertheless, given how hard it is to hear the audience questions on the video, it makes me very glad that I have notes of Steve’s Q&A, although it remains to be seen how helpful they will be. 

Thoughts on the Dark Crystal Prequel Series Trailer

I’ve been really looking forward to the trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance despite the fact that, for various reasons that I don’t want to get into right now, I don’t subscribe to Netflix. The Dark Crystal is my favorite non-Muppet creation of Jim Henson’s and I was looking forward to getting at least a peek back into the world of Thra. In a way, it felt like coming home. 

It all looks spectacular, and if anything could convince me to subscribe to Netflix, this would be it. Even if I don’t get to see it, I’m still glad that it exists, and that it seems to be branching off in new directions while remaining rooted within the mythos and ethos of the original movie. 

I do have some specific thoughts about it, however. Most good, some bad…

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Sixty for 60: Homecoming and Farewell

I’d like to thank Steve for unintentionally setting up the theme of this month’s 60 for 60 post. This month I’m examining the complementary themes of homecoming and farewell. Specifically, I’m looking at the home videos that have emerged on YouTube of the time he went back to participate in a concert at his old high school after 10 years of working with the Muppets, as well as his contributions to Jim Henson’s memorial service two years later.

I’ve never actually met Steve in person and I don’t know him well even by internet standards, so what I’m about to say is pure conjecture, but from where I’m sitting as an outside observer, it seems to me that two things keep him grounded: his close connection to his roots in Atlanta, and his loyalty to Jim Henson. Both are on prominent display in the following videos.

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We Need To Talk About Piggy (Part One)

Miss Piggy is a popular character, both in the Muppet fandom and out of it. She is loved for being funny and admired for being strong. Some even regard her as a feminist icon. Nevertheless, I, for one, want nothing to do with Miss Piggy’s particular brand of feminism, nor would I mind having nothing further to do with the character herself.

I find very little, if anything, that is either funny or admirable about Miss Piggy. At best, she is a bully, and at worst, her behavior (particularly toward Kermit) is abusive. It’s a pernicious double standard that I believe needs to be called out.

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Fraggle Friday: A Walkin’, Talkin’, Breathin’ Ball of Fire

As I’m sure you’re all aware, yesterday was the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. But I can never concentrate entirely on Jim Henson on May 16th, because it’s also my niece’s birthday. 

At times, my niece (who just turned 8) is like a ray of sunshine, but more often, in the words of Cantus (and Dennis Lee), I find her to be a walkin’, talkin’, breathin’, ball of fire.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Muppet Heresy: The Many Facets of Kermit

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If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*

However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry“[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”

In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.

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Sixty for 60: Sprocket

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.

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“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.

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Steve Whitmire Talks New Characters, Big Cats, and More

Gigantic thanks to reader and commenter Sidney who alerted me to the existence of this newly posted interview that Steve gave at Louisville Supercon in either late November or early December. It made my day. Pretty much my whole week, really:

For months (and this isn’t a criticism, just a statement of fact), Steve has been talking in the vaguest of terms about new characters he’s been developing, and now we finally have something more specific. Apparently he made a new character debut in Louisville. Someone commented upon it on Instagram, but I didn’t mention it at the time because I didn’t know any specifics.

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Muppet Mindset’s “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey”: My Responses

In June 2017, The Muppet Mindset published questions for the “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey,” an updated version of their previous “Great Muppet Survey,” which I had filled out in 2013 and revisited in 2018. They published two sets of responses to the “ALL NEW Great Muppet Survey” but have never mentioned it since, as far as I can tell. This was approximately a month before they, along with ToughPigs, broke the news of the Schism, but whether they abandoned the project as a direct result of the world turning upside down and sideways, I do not know. 

I recently discovered the “ALL NEW” survey questions and thought, “I have access to these questions and I have a blog; why don’t I just answer the questions on my blog instead of submitting them and waiting to see when and if somebody else decides to publish them?” So that’s what I’m doing. Thanks to Jarrod Fairclough for the questions, and I hope you don’t mind me taking matters into my own hands. 

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Sixty for 60: Christmas Productions

“Bless us all, that as we live / We always comfort and forgive”–The Crachit family, singing lyrics by Paul Williams in The Muppet Christmas Carol

As a non-Muppet, but no less beloved, pair of amphibians once sang, Merry Almost Christmas! And welcome back to 60 for 60, my yearlong tribute to Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Christmas productions.

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