Happy birthday to the best puppeteer I know and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
This is not the tribute I wanted to make. It’s much more poignant. But for me to be able to make the tribute I want to make, I needed to learn some things doing this one. Plus, this is something that I think is important for people to see.
I just realized that I haven’t posted anything here since the last Cave-In, at least not on the main page. Where did this month go? Straight to hell, if there’s any justice. Although one could say that this month WAS hell, and that’s a valid argument, too. It’s just a good thing that Weldon taught us all coping strategies last month, because boy, do we need them.
Fortunately, this was a really fun episode that provided a welcome respite. The premise sounds vaguelyfamiliar to us Muppet Pundit veterans. Coincidence? I think not. (I don’t KNOW, but I THINK not.)
(Although I’m only finishing and publishing this now, I started drafting it well before the sad tidings of Caroll Spinney’s death. So if it seems inappropriately light-hearted in tone, that’s why.)
George Takei’s Q&A finished at about 1:00, and my brother Michael suggested that we find something to eat (“forage for food” were his exact words). I had been just about to make the same suggestion.
Like the Mid-America Center where OCon had been held, the Minneapolis Convention Center doesn’t allow outside food. Since it was cold and snowy, and since we had parked several blocks away, and since I didn’t have an extra $5 to check my coat again, there was nothing for it but to purchase overpriced lunch items from one of the several concession stands spread throughout the center. In addition to his wrap, Michael purchased a cookie and offered me half, and it reminded me of my favorite Cookie Monster sketch on Sesame Street:
After we finished eating lunch, Michael wanted to look around the vendors’ area, so we did, and I found that the vendors, though equally polite, weren’t as aggressive as they had been at OCon, meaning that we could pause by their tables without having to listen to pitches, which was a relief.
As we were walking around, we ran into three people that Michael knows in short succession. The first was a guy named Bruce (I think) who made a joke about Michael “dragging” me along to GalaxyCon, or words to that effect. I suppose I should have been annoyed by the implication that “gurls” don’t like nerdy stuff, but I just laughed and informed him, truthfully, that coming to GalaxyCon had been my idea in the first place. Michael tried to say that I was in a fandom, but at first he said that I had a fandom, and I wondered if that might actually be true from a certain point of view. I ultimately decided that it would be most accurate to say that I am in a fandom and within that fandom, I have a following. (And thanks for that, by the way!)
I took notes at the Q&A so I could talk about it in detail regardless of whether or not any video of it shows up online. I intend to do that in a separate post, but here I’d like to give just a brief overview and mention the parts that are relevant to the rest of my story.
Before I talk about Steve’s Q&A, I need to back up a bit to talk about one of his visitors from the morning. Imentioned her brieflyin one of my other posts. She was the lady who was part of her church’s puppet troupe, and she brought along a Whatnot for him to sign (one of those ones that Disney marketed and sold for a while). She was accompanied by two teenage kids, but of the three of them it was pretty clear that she was the one most excited to meet Steve (not that the teenagers were entirely disinterested). Her Whatnot was one that they allowed new puppeteers in their group to practice on and learn with, so Steve not only signed it across the back of its head, he also wrote a short message of encouragement.
The autographed Whatnot was one of several puppets present at the Q&A. Scrubby was there with Ethan, and the lady and the baby were there with their Wembley, and there was also a guy there with a Kermit. I’m not sure if it was a fan-made Kermit or a toy that he’d bought, but they appear briefly in the following video alongside Steve (and Mitzi):
The first day of your #OConExpo adventure is in the books! Share your photos! We'll see you all back Mid-America Center Saturday and Sunday!
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 ablog 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.
Usually WordPress doesn’t inform me what search terms people use to find my blog via search engines. Sometimes it does, however, and more than once people have found my site using the keywords “steve whitmire blog”.
While I’m happy to get the attention, I can only assume that those people are pretty disappointed to find out that this is not, in fact, Steve Whitmire’s blog, even though he figures prominently on it. So here’s my attempt to help those people out:
Thank you for visiting my blog, and I’m sorry to tell you that it is not exactly what you’re looking for. I am a supporter and fan of Steve Whitmire, but I am not affiliated with him despite a very slight internet acquaintanceship.
I decided that my domain name should reflect the name of my blog, so I added the domain name “frogoflamancha.blog.” The “frogquixote” URL should still work, however.
I joined Twitter, so you can follow me @frogoflamancha. My intention is to use it as a tool, not make it a way of life; we’ll see how that goes.
Now for the major news:
I don’t know if anyone else has tried to access Steve’s blog lately. When I try it on my PC, I just get an error message, but when I tried it on my laptop, I got a maintenance page with the following message:
Things are changing, and I’ll be back ASAP.
Thanks for checking in,
So it’s a bit vague, and I don’t know exactly what he means by “things are changing,” but it certainly sounds as though, after these six long months, he’s finally getting ready to come back to the blog!
I’m not sure this warrants a full-on Kermit flail but it’s certainly cause for cautious optimism.
I don’t begrudge Steve the right to do whatever he wants with his blog, but the unfortunate consequence of him absenting himself when he did was that he had just banished the troll(s) from the comment section, and reading the comments had become infinitely more enjoyable. So I’m hopeful that not only will we soon be enjoying more stories and insights from Steve but also having pleasant conversations in the comments section again.
My own words are insufficient to express my emotions at this development. Take it, Wembley:
Fathom Events is bringing The Dark Crystal back to selected theaters on a limited basis. More information here. Remaining show dates are February 28th, March 3rd, and March 6th. Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time (sadly, the 2 p.m. showings do not come with a matinee discount).
A lot of these Fathom Events never make it anywhere near South Dakota at all, so I was extremely fortunate that the movie theater nearest my house happens to be one of the selected theaters where The Dark Crystal is being shown, so I went to the 2 p.m. showing this afternoon.
DANNY HORN: Hey, did I ever tell you about my theory that Mew’s death is a metaphor for AIDS? It’s 1986, and gay men are dying all over the place. The creators are TV puppet people from New York and LA, so obviously a lot of their friends are dying. So in this special, you get Mew — the despised, unfairly judged cat-toy — dying suddenly. Rugby realizes how precious Mew is… but he figures it out too late. […] Then the fantasy is that the dead loved one can be resurrected and vindicated, just through the power of love and Christmas. You can see how this was an appealing fantasy for artsy people in 1986. KYNAN BARKER: Did I ever tell you MY theory that sometimes a kids’ TV special is just a kids’ TV special?
Today is Epiphany, so I wanted to do not only a Christmas-themed article but one with some real substance to it, and this 14-year-old conversation about The Christmas Toy is a good jumping-off point for a discussion of allegory versus applicability.
An allegory is a detailed, in-depth metaphor that represents a situation or event in the real world. Authors who write allegory are usually not very subtle about the point they’re trying to get across. For example, I would consider A Christmas Carol to be an allegory: There’s not much to speculate about what the three spirits represent; it’s right there in their names.
On the other hand, a work has applicability if it can support multiple interpretations, regardless of what the author’s intention may have been. As J.R.R. Tolkien explained it, “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other resides in the purposed domination of the author.” Tolkien ran up against this attitude often when Lord of the Rings fans would ask him questions about the allegorical meaning of the novels, to which he would respond that there was none, but that it was applicable to many real-life situations or events.
In the renewed interest of reaching out to fans, both casual and mainstream, about my concerns about Disney, the Muppets, and Steve, I created a quiz to see if Muppet fans could correctly identify quotes by Jim, Frank, and Steve. Please feel free to share it through social media, if you are so inclined:
Someone posted the following video in the Muppet Pundit comments. Steve has yet to talk about it, so I don’t know all of the backstory, but it appears that Steve returned to his old high school in 1988 with some of his characters (Muppet and otherwise) in tow to participate in a concert of some sort.
Take it, Wembley:
I have another confession to make: in all my years of studying literature, I’ve found that, a lot of times, I don’t think that an author’s–or, in a broader sense, an artist’s–most celebrated or well-known work is necessarily their best. I read The Red Badge of Courage in grad school and was underwhelmed by it; my favorite Stephen Crane work is called The Monster; you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s utterly brilliant. Similarly, I love Madeleine L’Engle, and I love A Wrinkle in Time, but it was a early novel of hers, and I think her later works show a growth and a maturity that is missing in Wrinkle, as wonderful as it is and as much as I have always loved it.
My point is that “My Way” is so famous and so popular, and arguably so overexposed, that I’ve never been that impressed with it. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever really paid attention to the lyrics before. But watching Wembley sing this little duet, the lyrics suddenly smacked me in the face, particularly the last verse:
“For what is a man? What has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels And not the words of one who kneels.”
Those lyrics might have been written for and about Steve; that’s exactly what he’s doing on his blog, and he’s taken–and continues to take–the blows for it.
I wonder what would have happened if no one had asked Disney about Steve Whitmire’s status with the Muppets.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not making a value judgment either way. But I just wonder what would be different now. Would Steve have started his blog? Would the Vogel!Kermit (henceforward to be known as “simula-Kerm”) video have dropped in July without fanfare?
That’s one thing that’s been gnawing at me all these almost two months, and nobody else seems to think that it is as significant as I do: when the news first broke back in July, Disney promised a “Muppet Thought of the Week” video with Matt Vogel as Kermit the following week. The fact that they claimed to have it cued up and ready to go, and yet didn’t make an announcement regarding the recast until specifically asked about it, implies to me that they intended to just release the simula-Kerm video on the world without comment, to try to sneak it past us and hope that we wouldn’t notice.
It’s frankly insulting. We’re Muppet fans, dammit! We notice tiny details; what makes you think we aren’t going to notice a seismic shift in the Muppet universe? We get pissed off when Fozzie wears the wrong color tie; what makes you think we’re going to let the end of the Second Muppet Era pass by without comment? What have we been doing for the past 27 years but analyzing Kermit’s voice? Of COURSE we were going to notice! We were always going to notice!
Then the whole thing became a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Steve took a Harry Potter-like stand by starting his blog to tell the world the truth of what had gone on at Disney. In response, Disney took a…well, to be fair, a relatively mild Dolores Umbridge-like stance and started trying to discredit Steve in the press. And a sizable chunk of the Muppet fandom started taking an Dumbledore-specific-to-OotP-like stance and started ignoring Steve just when Steve needed them the most. This was a rare miscalculation on Dumbledore’s part, but at least he had good intentions behind it. Perhaps the fans that have turned away from Steve have good intentions as well; history will be the judge. But I digress.
Amidst the fallout from all that, the simula-Kerm video drop was delayed by over a month.
This, I think, was a diabolically clever move by Disney. It gave people the opportunity to get used to the idea of Matt performing Kermit, to convince themselves that even a simulacrum of Kermit is better than no Kermit at all. (On which issue, by the way, I am still undecided.)
If, on the other hand, Disney had released its simula-Kerm video in July with no fanfare, the way it seems to have wanted to in the first place, not only would there have been confusion and uproar, but it would have demonstrated dramatically how little respect Disney has for us Muppet fans: the insult of thinking they could recast Kermit without our noticing or caring, added to the injury of ripping away the soul of our beloved froggy friend.
Then again, maybe it would all have come to the same pass anyway. Forced to do damage control, maybe Disney would have still released their same statement about Steve’s “unacceptable business conduct” and the Hensons’ support of their decision, and maybe the Hensons would have chimed right in on cue with the Steve-bashing, and maybe that same contingent of Muppet fans would have been convinced that they are right.
I don’t fault the guys at ToughPigs or The Muppet Mindset for investigating and publishing their findings; if anything, I wish they had been willing to do more investigating, to use the unique resources available to them to uncover the truth of the matter. In any case, what had seemed initially to have been an embarrassing inconvenience for Disney actually ended up playing right into their hands. Disney, with its Machiavellian efficiency, managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.
On the other hand, it also led to Steve starting his Muppet Pundit blog, which has become a joy and a blessing in my life, so I’m grateful for that. Nothing is so evil that good cannot come out of it, one way or another.