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kottke.org posts about Muppets

Me Cookie Monster. Ask Me Anything.

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

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We’ve established that I’m a huge fan of Cookie Monster, the most orally challenged but also the most literarily adept muppet. But even with those cards on the table, this Reddit AMA is something special.

Q: Is there anything you won’t eat? I mean, I’ve seen you eat a typewriter before…

A: Me stay away from anything in Oscar’s trashcan. Otherwise me not picky.

Q: My 7-year-old daughter is about to start selling cookies for Girl Scouts. Do you have any advice for her?

A: Don’t eat the product!

Q: There’s been a lot of famous people who have come to visit you and your friends on Sesame Street! Did any of those guests give you a cookie?

A: Me friends have surprised me with lots of cookies! Sir Ian Mckellan even gave me two cookies!

Q: Who would you most like to sing a “C is for Cookie” duet with?

A: Me would love to sing duet with Lady Gaga. Me and me friends are monsters after all. Me hope she see dis!

Q: What is the optimum number of chocolate chips per cookie?

A: Me always say the more the merrier. Me think me need at least 3.14 chocolate chippies per nom nom. MMM pi

Q: If you could only eat one type of cookie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Wow! Me didn’t realize these question be so hard. If me had to choose just one cookie, me would have to pick me Mommy’s classic chocolate chippie!

Q: We know cookies are your favourite food. What is your second favourite food?

A: Can me say more cookies…?
A2: Me thought it over. Definitely “more cookies.”

Q: My son is your biggest fan in the world. His name is Nico and he’s almost 2. Any words of advice for him???

A: Me think it important to always share your cookies. Me know it hard to do sometimes, but it da kind thing to do.
A2: Oh, and HI NICO! Me love you!

Q: What was it like working with Jim Henson?

A: Me never sure what he did, but he always around to lend a hand and give me cookie!

Q: How’s the rent on Sesame Street?

A: Me think you confused…. Rent played on different street, me think Broadway?

It goes on and on like this. Maybe I’m too much of a softie (probably underbaked… god, it’s contagious), but I love this.

Gritty, the Philly Sports Messiah

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

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Like any once-and-hopefully-future resident of the great city of Philadelphia, I’m entranced by Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, full disclosure: the Flyers were not one of the teams I initially adopted when I moved to Philadelphia, because my hometown Detroit Red Wings were still great in 2002, and so I was all set, hockey-wise. I picked up the New York Rangers when I moved to New York in 2012, when Henrik Lundqvist was winning Vezinas and stunting on fools. But Gritty is sufficiently compelling that I might have to add the Flyers to the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, becoming a full Philadelphia sports fan.

Why is Gritty captivating the world? Is it because or despite of his muppet-like googly eyes and shaggy appearance? I mean, when you really dig into it, it’s not like there’s a whole lot there. But a sufficiently advanced cipher can become a multilayered text to the devout, and that’s what’s happened with Gritty. Fans turned what was briefly an object of ridicule into an icon of devotion. And a legend was born.

For a deeper look into the Gritty phenomenon, seek no further than The Ringer, the website that was designed from its origins in the late, beloved Grantland to get to the bottom of sports questions like this. Michael Baumann’s “The Monster In The Mirror” is insightful, and nearly exhaustive, in answering why people inside and outside of Philadelphia have taken to Gritty so strongly. It also doubles as a psychological profile of one of my favorite cities and their sports fans.

Some excerpts:

In the past two and a half months, Gritty has proven to be an overwhelming success as a mascot. More than that, he’s become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time. He is all things to all people.

“Gritty is fairly appalling, pretty insurrectionary for a mascot, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s our kind of symbol,” says Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. “There’s nothing more Philly than being unapologetically yourself.”

And:

The Flyers, Raymond says, had long resisted the idea of creating a mascot, at the insistence of founding owner Ed Snider, whom Raymond calls “old-school.” The Flyers unveiled a furry mascot called Slapshot in 1976 but quickly shelved it, leaving the team without a mascot for more than 40 years. But after Snider’s death in 2016, the team’s marketing department pushed ownership to reconsider, Raymond says, and after overcoming so much institutional inertia, they weren’t going to be half-hearted about their new mascot.

One part of doing a mascot right, Raymond says, is sticking to the bit no matter what, rather than submitting the mascot to the public for approval, a lesson learned from the Sixers’ failed mascot vote in 2011. Philadelphians, and people on the internet in general, can sense uncertainty and will punish it.

On Gritty’s Hensonian roots:

Mascots are always at least a little silly and ridiculous because at their core, they’re created more for children than adults. Gritty is no exception. His hands squeak, and his belly button—which Raymond calls a “woobie”—is a brightly colored outie. The woobie, says Raymond, was the brainchild of Chris Pegg, who plays Rockey the Redbird for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and is a mutual friend of Raymond and Flyers senior director of game presentation Anthony Gioia.

When the Flyers unveiled such a weird, menacing mascot, it brought to mind something Frank Oz said about his longtime collaborator and Muppets creator Jim Henson: “He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.” According to Raymond, in any sufficiently large group of children, a mascot, even a familiar one, will make at least one of them cry. Not Gritty.

“I’d never seen a mascot rollout anywhere where I didn’t see at least one kid running, crying in terror, trying to grab on to their mother’s legs,” Raymond says of the Please Touch Museum rollout. “I didn’t see any of that [with Gritty]. The kids were dancing and hollering and calling for him to come over, but no kid looked terrified.”

And on Gritty’s additional incarnation as the subject and vehicle for leftist political memes:

Some Gritty memes, however, are not just funny or scary, but overtly political. Gym’s resolution addressed this issue head-on; “non-binary leftist icon” was one of the descriptions quoted in the resolution. The resolution itself goes on to praise Gritty for his status as a political symbol: “Gritty has been widely declared antifa, and was subject to attempted reclamation in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It has been argued that he ‘conveys the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism’ and that he represents a source of joyful comic respite in a time of societal upheaval.”…

“The great thing about memes—as ridiculous as this sounds—is they create an instant mass internet mobilization,” FWG says. “Memes can be used to perpetuate systematic oppression, or they can be used to burn down the prison-industrial system or talk about police brutality.”

This identity is independent from — this is to say, it has been thoroughly stolen from — Gritty’s original role as a corporate sports mascot.

There’s a danger to wrapping up one’s identity in anything one can’t control, whether it’s an artist, a sports team, or a fuzzy orange monster. And if Gritty played it safe, he’d stop being worth investing in; the reason Gritty is so popular is because he’s weird and unpredictable in a way that isn’t cultivated to be “edgy.” Fear of being let down might just be the price of trying to live with empathy in a society that frequently elevates the cruel. It’s worth thinking about something FWG said: that their Gritty is not the same thing as the Flyers mascot.

“I think that the spirit of Gritty will be fulfilled through the proletariat,” FWG says. “As the spirit of Gritty moves people, that’s how the people will act.”

This is serious business! But as Walter Benjamin wrote, in a time of crisis, the here-and-now becomes shot through with messianic time. Gritty recalls the Phillie Phanatic, Sesame Street’s muppets, and Blastaar from the Fantastic Four, but puts all of their energy to use in a sense of futurity, that hope for the future that sports fandom echoes, however dimly. To quote Benjamin again:

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It’s ridiculous to see Gritty, the googly-eyed, outie-bellybuttoned Philadelphia Flyers mascot, as a messianic figure of the revolutionary left. But is that any more ridiculous than everything else that is happening in our fucked-up present? No. No, it is not.

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Muppet outtakes are hilarious

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2018

This is a blooper reel from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, a 1977 TV special produced by The Jim Henson Company. Take after take, they’re trying to roll a tiny drum out of a doorway in a very specific way and the Muppet characters get increasingly frustrated and amusing as it goes along. If the voice of the Ma character sounds familiar, that’s Frank Oz, who is also the voice of Yoda, Grover, and Bert from Sesame Street.

I will never do anything Muppety

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 22, 2015

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A surprisingly moving micro-oral history of “How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol”:

When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight.

Interviewing Kermit’s new partner

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

No, not his new girlfriend Denise (although I hope for Kermit nothing but happiness), but Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who became the man behind the frog (and Ernie, and several other beloved characters) after Jim Henson’s death. It’s also a sweet, mournful look into the mystery of puppeteering:

Until Being Elmo, the documentary about long-time Elmo performer Kevin Clash, nobody knew who Clash was. Elmo was just Elmo. Consider the secondary performer, the underling to the already-invisible: They don’t play a fictional character; they gesture a single limb. That dark empty sleeve is the foxhole of puppeteers—you dig in, protecting your neighbor and hope you come back alive. Survive and your own identity awaits. Jerry Nelson began as a right hand for the Muppets in 1965—eventually he would perform one of the most recognizable Sesame Street citizens, Count von Count. If anyone knows the value of digits, it’s a 4-year-old learning their numbers by extending one finger at a time until, finally, their hand is open, the better to grab on.

The Muppets premieres on September 22, and a Jim Henson documentary will air on September 15.

Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip Thorne

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 1998

No wonder people think physics and math are so hard. Consider the following from Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip Thorne, a book I’m currently reading:

(pg. 463) Topology is a branch of mathematics that deals with the qualitative ways in which things are connected to each other or to themselves. For example, a coffee cup and a doughnut “have the same topology” because (if they are both made from putty) we can smoothly and continuously deform one into the other without tearing it, that is, without changing any connections.

Thus, we are forced to conclude that doughnuts and coffee cups are made out of putty. Aren’t we?