Thursday, December 20, 2012

Muppet Lessons

This week I caught on TV a Muppet Christmas special that I hadn't seen before, the 2010, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. It follows the pattern of many other Muppet plots, the theater is in trouble ... again! With a fun mirroring of It's a Wonderful Life and -- best part -- many, many, many pop culture movie references thrown in. Those little references made my night. As did that deep voice meep meep from a muscled up Beaker.

The Muppets are the perpetual underdogs. They're continuously in jeopardy of losing that theater, whether it's to Scooter's uncle, big oil men who want to drill beneath the theater, or evil bank mavens. But of course, they always pull through. Lovably, harried Kermit dreams big and makes things work. Of course, hitting their themes this hard for going on fifty years, really hammers home the Muppet lessons.

Muppet Lesson One: There's great value in the arts ... even though the arts are filled with weirdos. Whether it's actors putting on a stage show, the members of the band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, the avant guard performance artistes, or the stage managers and the set-costume-props guys -- artists are eccentric and frequently outrageous enough to worry an average mild mannered joe frog. But while your mother might despair that  you're hanging out with googly eyed blue-faced weirdos, the Muppets teach us that the arts are important. They are filled with heart and soul. Being a part of the arts community may seem strange to the main stream communities, but it's the arts community that can bring so much joy, wonder, hope, happiness, and beauty to the world.

Over the half-century of Muppets, belief in the value of the arts and acceptance of arts weirdos has grown phenomenally. If you look at the courses of study American students take in college, we're churning out many more arts, English, creative, and humanities majors than we are math, science, and engineering majors. Have we moved too far away from valuing industry such as factory jobs, or valuing science and technology? The Muppets don't have anything to say on that argument, not thematically at least.

Muppet Lesson Two: There's no money in the arts. If there was, the main crisis of so many Muppet movies would not be the potential loss of the theater or the breaking up of the show. Kermit would not work as a buss boy in Muppets Take Manhattan. The gang wouldn't constantly be at the mercy of swindlers and thieves preying on their dreams and meager funds. Of course, there's always talk of getting the much needed "big break." But the Muppets are much more likely to do it for friendship, or because they love what they're doing too much not to do it. Perhaps that is the more important lesson: There's limited money in the arts, so you better love the act of doing it more than the act of getting paid to do it.

Muppet Lesson Three: Beware big banks, big business, and people in powersuits who are only concerned with the bottom line. This is why Fox News decries the Muppets as un-American. However, there's something innately American about embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting a small business. And given the predatorial lending practices which left so many Americans in foreclosure and bankruptcy, which in turn led to the Great Recession, it's hard to argue that this Muppet Lesson is misguided.

Not that I need to stick up for the Muppets, they're perfectly capable of doing that themselves. Miss Piggy, a push-over? Puh-leez.

Muppet Lesson Four: Dream big. The biggest and most important lesson the Muppets taught us is that dreaming is inherent to the human condition. Everybody dreams, but not everybody dreams big. And fewer still have the courage to act on their dreams. Sure, I might just be a shrimp or a frog, a pig, a bear, a whatever -- but that doesn't make me any less entitled to having dreams than anyone else. And you don't have to have money or celebrity or political sway to see those dreams become reality. The only capital you need is strength of character and determination -- the rest will come.

Highly Recommended