Sesame Saturday: Magic, Tragic Big Bird

This is Part One of a two-part series celebrating Caroll Spinney’s two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement.

There’s something magical and miraculous about the mundanity of Big Bird. He does things that other birds do, such as eating birdseed and preening his feathers. He also does things that kids do, like roller skating or playing hide-and-seek. 

Unlike most Muppets, there’s no need for Big Bird to hide behind a low wall or a counter or inside a giant bathtub. There are no telltale cables trailing off him, and he is unfettered by marionette strings and arm rods. Big Bird walks freely among us, as an equal.

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts. 

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.

Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others. 

I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.

These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.

Luceat lux vestra

Sesame Saturday: September Significance

September 24th is a significant date in Muppetdom. Most serious Muppet fans probably know that it’s Jim Henson’s birthday, and many know that it’s also Steve Whitmire’s birthday (which I celebrated on Monday). But there’s another reason why September 24th is significant that even the most dedicated Muppet fan may not be aware of: Jeff Moss passed away from cancer on September 24th, 1998. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.

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Sesame Saturday: How Sesame Workshop Should Address the Matter of Sexuality

I want to take a moment to reiterate my reader-response-informed theory of criticism: it is neither the creator of an artistic work nor the audience that confers meaning upon it; rather, meaning is created when the intention of the author meets the interpretation of the audience. This is not to say that the creator of a work cannot have his or her own interpretation of its meaning; rather, it means that the creator’s interpretation is not the “only” correct interpretation.

I bring this up again because the matter of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality became an issue again this week. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. I believe that, much like Batman in The Dark Knight, Bert, Ernie, and all the other Muppets are whatever each of us, as individual viewers, need them to be.

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Sesame Saturday: “Skidamarink”

I wanted to post this video a few weeks (or possibly months) ago, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. I tried searching for it by the name of the song, which was difficult because I didn’t know how to spell it. I’ve known this song for most of my life, but I’d never seen the title or the lyrics written out.

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Monsters Versus Letter People–Who Sang It Best?

I was recently introduced to a Sesame song/skit that I didn’t remember seeing before, in which Cookie Monster and Herry find a letter M sitting around, (as you do), and sing a song about all the foods they like that start with M:

It reminded me of another beloved PBS puppet show that I remember fondly from my childhood, “The Letter People,” which was divided into 15-minute episodes and focused on phonics. Mr. M is featured in the first episode and sings his signature song, which also includes a litany of foods that start with the letter M, because Mr. M has a Munching Mouth, and that’s where he gets his sound:

Hmm…Cookie Monster also has a Munching Mouth. I wonder if he and Mr. M would be friends or if they wouldn’t get along because they’d be in competition with one another.

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Celebrates the Fourth…Ay, yi, yi

For whatever reason, Sesame Workshop chose to mark the occasion of the Fourth of July this year with a parody of NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”:

Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: This video is not good. The reference is dated, it’s not close enough to the original to be readily recognizable, Ernie sounds like Walter in spots, and what the heck is up with the gratuitous autotune?

With that said, I’m glad that they did something that steered clear of frank patriotism because, as I have observed before, it is difficult to take pride in a country where children are being put in cages, and given Sesame’s mission and ethos, it would be disingenuous of them to do so. 

I also enjoy Oscar’s contributions to the video because he’s basically saying out loud what I’m just thinking. And bless Matt Vogel’s heart, he’s in fine voice as the Count and really giving it his all. His level of commitment is admirable regardless of the overall end result.

Yeah…

Sesame Saturday: “I Come From Everywhere, and My Name is You”

 

At this very moment, there are children being held in concentration camps on American soil.

As responsible, freedom-loving, decent human beings, we have an obligation to do something to help these children and put a stop to this senseless and horrific cruelty.

The ACLU has a petition. Save the Children has a form to get you in touch with your members of Congress (for those of you in the US). Both those organizations will take your donations as well. 

There’s currently a Senate bill called the Keep Families Together Act that would put a stop to this travesty, so focus your attention on the Senate for the time being–especially if, like me, you have the misfortune of being represented (and I use the term loosely) by Republican senators.

When it comes to contacting Congress, phone calls are more effective than e-mails. If you write a letter, take a paper copy to the senator’s or representative’s local office and ask them to fax it to the Washington office. Don’t send it through the mail, as it could take days or even weeks to get through the screening process.

I usually don’t like to get political on this blog, but this really isn’t a political issue at all; it’s a matter of basic human decency. As a wise bear once said: “This has to be done!  We don’t want the bad guys to win! We’ve gotta do this…for justice…for freedom…for honesty!”

Sesame Saturday: The Lost Boy and the Creepy Yo-Yo Man

Since I referenced this sketch yesterday, I thought I would post it today and talk a little about it.

I just love these weird old Sesame Street sketches. I remember being strangely mesmerized by this one every time it came on, with its weird dreamlike landscape, eerie soundtrack, and the enigmatically creepy yo-yo man, who is off-putting but ultimately helpful.

I also find it sort of amusing that, due to the lack of scale in the animation, it appears that the boy got lost amidst all these bizarre things approximately 3 yards from his front door.

Sesame Saturday: Bert Feels Silly


So first of all, I have to take a moment to praise Frank Oz:  As Ernie is putting the scarf on Bert, it accidentally gets in his mouth, and Frank reacts the way a person would react if someone accidentally stuffed a scarf in one’s mouth.  It’s that combination of skill, commitment, and instinct that give the Muppets life.

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Sesame Saturday: A Sesame Special and a Searing Scratch

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On April 7, 1989, I suffered an abraded cornea.

(“Abraded” is a fancy medical term for “scratched” that I didn’t learn until much later.)

I was 8 years old and in second grade.  It was a Friday, and unusually windy even by South Dakota standards.  The wind was out of the east and blowing so hard that it was almost horizontal.  After school, I had to walk directly into the wind to get to my carpool that would take me to my weekly Girl Scout meeting, and the wind blew some dirt or debris of some kind into my left eye.

All my life, people had told me not to rub my eyes, but no one had ever tried to explain why.  And I didn’t know any other way to dislodge foreign objects from my eye, so I just kept rubbing it, and it just kept hurting, and so on in a vicious cycle. 

So on the off-chance that there are any little kids reading this, let me pause for this public service announcement:  Don’t rub your eyes, kids, because you could accidentally scratch your eyeball, and that really, really hurts.

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Time in a Bottle

Hello, all!  I haven’t posted anything of real substance for a while, and I wanted to take a minute to catch up.  I wanted to let you know that it is not my feelings and convictions that have changed; all that has changed is my schedule.

The good news is that I recently landed a new, open-ended, freelance writing gig (thank you, FlexJobs.com), and while it doesn’t pay much, I think that the experience I gain is going to be invaluable to me as I embark on this new career path.  The bad news is that, while I have given two weeks’ notice at my other part-time job, at the moment I am working three jobs, and while this is a temporary situation (until the end of the month) I’m sure you can imagine that my life is quite crazy and hectic at the moment, and free time for blogging is at a minimum as I try to manage my schedule and meet all my various commitments and deadlines.

I did, however, purchase and watch Frank Oz’s documentary Muppet Guys Talking yesterday, and it was probably the nicest brunch I’ve ever had (perhaps second only to this).  I could only afford to purchase the film, not all the extra stuff, but the film itself was well worth the 10 bucks or so.  I can heartily recommend it, and I’ve been informed today that it’s not going to be available forever, so I’d advise you to carpe diem and carpe documentary while you can.

When I have a free moment, I’ll come back and tell you my thoughts and feelings about it, but don’t expect it before April.

Sesame Saturday: More Olympic Shenanigans

Cookie Monster and Elmo are back again, talking (and singing!) with more Olympic athletes.

First, they ask several athletes to explain their sports (Elmo asks skier Lindsey Vonn what sport she “plays,” which is kind of awkward, but she copes with it beautifully):

Then they get the athletes to join them in a sing-a-long of the “Olympic song.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant at first; for some reason I was thinking of the Olympic Anthem, but once they started singing, it all became clear:

Man, I wish I could sing the “Olympic song” with some Muppets.  I would not only sing it, I would conduct it, because I figured out how to do that a long time ago, when I was young and precocious.

(It’s not that hard; if you know anything about music conducting at all, you can probably figure it out.)