Much to my surprise, people have been asking for my opinion on one of this week’s biggest stories: Fox News’s accusations that The Muppets has a Communist manifesto as its basis. I guess some of our regular readers asking me for an opinion is logical: last month our Artist of the Month was Jim Henson, and I spent most of the month professing my love for Henson’s creations, including more than one explanation of how prolific an impact the felt creatures had on my youth. So how do I feel about Kermit, Piggy, and Fozzie being doused in red as their latest story is accused of brainwashing children with anti-capitalistic sentiment?
My response is simple: It’s Fox News. How can you take anything they say seriously?
Honestly, I’m not as bent out of shape with this idea as you might expect. It is all, as they say, in the interpretation. Someone watched the movie and decided that the Muppets rallying together for a final show isn’t a story of family pulling together to defeat hard times, but is instead the story of the people rising up against corporate greed. Yes, that certainly can be seen in the movie, although I think it’s far from the purpose of the story, just as I choose not to buy in to the interpretation that The Wizard of Oz is an economic allegory, but a nice, archetypal narrative. People choose to see what they want sometimes. I was, after all, an English major. We were taught to find pages and pages of interpretation from eight lines of poetry, so finding a subversive theme in a children’s move isn’t that hard, especially if that’s what you want to look for.
Personally, I think the interpretation lacks a lot of merit. Let’s not forget that the Muppets have signed a “contract to be rich and famous,” which serves as the MacGuffin for the movie’s plot – a loophole in the contract is what brings the Muppets together, not Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman’s corporate greed. Richman gives the film a physical antagonist, but it’s the contract that is really behind the movie’s plot. If anything, the movie promotes capitalism, as the Muppets rally together to raise money so they can buy the theater themselves, which presumably they would use to continue putting on shows. Then there’s the film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, but which seriously undermines the theory put forward by Fox’s Eric Bolling.
It seems to me that it has suddenly become a very popular trend to integrate pop culture into drier topic areas. A few weeks ago we had Herman Cain quoting Pokemon: The Movie 2000 and now you’ve got an economics show belittling The Muppets. I don’t know if this is an attempt to pull in younger audiences or to try building on nostalgic connections, but it appears to be backfiring on all sides. I have yet to see an editorial pulling for Bolling’s side, and many are listing Cain’s (unattributed) quote as evidence of why giving up the race was a good move. Regardless of why these references are being used, there seems to be no thought to the value of nostalgia – people don’t want to hear their childhood icons being abused. We’ll wink and nod about the Scooby-Doo crowd using drugs or Ernie and Bert’s bizarre living arrangements, but we don’t actually want to see it played with in a serious arena, if you can call politics and economics “serious,” nor do we want to see the innocence of the Muppets marred by aligning them with a concept often viewed as malevolent in our culture.
Ultimately, my response to the accusations toward my beloved Muppets is similar to many others: believe what you want to believe, see what you want to see. We all get to voice our opinions, but that doesn’t give them merit. I will retain my childlike love for Kermit and company, and Eric Bolling can see them as the threat to his beloved economics model if he wants to. I just hope the people pointing fingers actually put their money where their mouths are and saw the movie and aren’t just making baseless accusations based on plot synopsis. After all, The Muppets are an example of capitalism at work, and their movies aren’t free.