Today's post is republished with permission from the blog Camels With Hammers.
Daniel Fincke - Life’s like a movie, make your ending, keep believing, keep pretending...
Humans are inexorably drawn to stories. I even like to think of every
sentence as a story. It stars a subject which verbs something. And in my
childhood there were two stories that loomed mightily above all the
others. Star Wars and The Muppet Movie.
As a wildly imaginative ham of a loner who loved being alone and
writing stories, watching TV and movies, and longing to express himself
as an actor, The Muppet Movie was a dangerous story to be exposed to.
What’s so interesting about The Muppet Movie is that it is a
deeply paradoxical movie. It is a quest movie about a pro-social
introvert who craves fame because he wants to make millions of people
happy. He is surrounded by predominantly creatures who have an
unrestrained naturalness of self-expression that is constantly
overwhelming him. Kermit breaks with all sorts of standard dichotomies
between the introvert and the extrovert. He was one of us extroverted
introverts. One of those people who oscillates between a desire to throw
himself out there and express himself to all the world and wanting to
pull back and retreat a bit from whatever love comes flowing back at him
from the world. It’s not easy being Kermit. He's smart, conscientious,
warmhearted, and a natural showman—and yet also fundamentally shy,
reserved, and cautious at his core.
He is a hero on a quest for glory, but he's not a fighter. He doesn't
slay his enemies, he pleas for them to do the right thing. His desire
for fame is for the opportunity to touch others, not to aggrandize
himself. He is a quintessential embodiment of the paradoxical American
obsession with both egalitarianism and fame. Of course, now thanks to
the explosion of social media, we live in an era in which everybody is
famous—and so nobody is.
You're not supposed to admit to wanting to be famous. You
risk revealing yourself to be a narcissist if you do. But Kermit is
unapologetic about wanting to be famous. And the vicarious triumph young
kids experience through Kermit is of becoming famous with him. You see
why I said at the start that it's a dangerous movie! Kermit is the most
unabashed seller of the least realistic of all the American dreams—the
ones that you can be famous famous (not just Facebook famous).
That's a big expectation to put into little heads. All this
unrestrained believing in myself that has me expressing myself with
abandon to whoever will watch me or read me, whether in a classroom or
on the internet, Kermit made me do it. Okay, maybe he didn't make me do it. My mom's a ham too, I got a lot of it from her. But Kermit was more than happy to throw gasoline on the fire.
But even though it's a dangerous story that Kermit sold, one which
can set people up for disappointment when they try to live it out, I
think Kermit's heart was in the right place. Because balancing that
aching yearning for fame was an overwhelming inclusiveness and
other-directedness. It's the most pro-social form of narcissism possible
that the Muppets represented. Every misfit Kermit could pick up along
the way had a place in the show. He modeled the essence of democracy,
wherein every weirdo can let his or her own freak flag fly without being
constrained by a hegemonic order, without the down side of mob
conformist rule whereby the average penalize all deviants whether great
or small. Nietzsche's Zarathustra
put the stifling mindset of conformist culture perfectly when he summed
it up: "Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels
different goes voluntarily into a madhouse."
And the new Muppet movie, The Muppets,
captures, pays tribute to, and recreates that essence of Kermit's
message that even the misfits can be famous. That we all have something
to give. The movie is written and directed by people who obviously grew
up on the Muppets and who for the first time since Jim Henson's death we
have a Muppet movie which has revived his gloriously meta and
exquisitely ironic sense of humor.
A recent generation learned irony from The Simpsons, I'm
convinced I learned it from the Muppets. It cracks me up that FOX News
got up in arms about the Muppets making a capitalist, and specifically
an oil man, into the movie's villain and sending anti-capitalist
messages to kids, and interpreted this as the latest in a long trend.
What it really was was part and parcel of a film that dispensed with
pretensions and underhandedness and deconstructed its own story as it
was telling it. It was an exercise in teaching kids about glaringly lazy
tropes by poking fun at them—just the way the original Muppet
adventures were. Jim Henson was not only about teaching kids how to read
on Sesame Street, he was about teaching them how to read between the lines on The Muppet Show,
where the kids were constantly brought backstage in more ways than one
to see what was really going on. The FOX folks saw the movie and it
spelled out the formula of movie making clearly enough that even they
could understand it. But, they weren't quick enough to get the irony and
meta-commentary meant to be grasped by children.
But I digress, the film is so successful because it tells the story
of a Muppet named Walter who grows up feeling like an outcast to the
world outside his brother. Nobody looks like him. Everybody laughs at
him. He sees The Muppet Show and it tells him there are others
like him. He grows up idolizing Kermit and the whole Muppet crew. This
is the first Muppet movie made by and for all of us loner misfits who the original Jim Henson Muppet movies spoke to so immediately.
In the original Muppet movie, our quest was with Kermit to fame and fortune. Now our quest, through Walter, is to approach
Kermit as an ideal and a famous hero. Our question is can we finally
join Kermit, now that we're all grown up. He made it decades ago. He's
an international superstar. He's gentler and more magnanimous than ever.
He is the model of benevolent power—even in his temporary has-been
status. And he never wavers in assuming everyone's got a talent,
everyone's got something to chip in, everyone's got a place. In the end
of the movie our new hero, Walter, takes pride of place in the center.
Jim Henson is gone, it's now Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Nicholas Stoller,
James Bobin who are following Kermit's inspiration and recreating his
magic. And all the misfits of the world are sent the message that we can
This movie was the most joyous I have seen in a long time. I laughed,
cried, and reconnected with a character who has been a part of me my
whole life, and who I have identified with more than any other at many
times in my life. I'm so grateful that someone who felt the same
way—enough to raise the question of whether he is even a man or is
actually a Muppet—got to make this movie.
Camels With Hammers. This post was reprinted in its entirety from Camels With Hammers.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org