20 Oct


The Muppets are a group of puppet characters known for an absurdist, burlesque and self-referential style of varietysketch comedy. Having been created in 1955 by Jim Henson, they are the namesake for the Disney media franchise that encompasses films, television series, music recordings, print publications, and other media associated with The Muppet Show characters.

Henson once stated that the term “Muppet” had been created as a portmanteau of the words “marionette” and “puppet“, but also claimed that it was actually a word he had coined.[1] The Muppets debuted on the television program Sam and Friends, which aired locally on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. from 1955 to 1961. After appearing on skits in several late night talk shows and advertising commercials during the 1960s, Henson’s Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street when that show debuted in 1969. The Muppets then became the stars of multiple television series and films, including; The Muppet Show (1976–1981), The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), and The Jim Henson Hour (1989). After Henson’s death in 1990, The Muppets continued their presence in television and cinema with Muppets Tonight (1996–98), a series continuation of The Muppet Show, and three films, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999); the former two were co-produced with Disney, who sought to acquire the characters since the late 1980s. In 2004, The Walt Disney Company purchased the rights to The Muppets (except for the Sesame Street characters, which were sold separately to Sesame Workshop, as well as Fraggle Rock and other characters retained by The Jim Henson Company),[2][3][4] and later formed The Muppets Studio; a division created specifically for managing The Muppets franchise.

Disney re-branded the franchise beginning in 2008, in anticipation of the seventh film, The Muppets.[5][6] The film, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and directed by James Bobin, was released by Walt Disney Pictures on November 23, 2011, and met with critical acclaim and commercial success.[7] An eighth film, Muppets Most Wanted, was released on March 21, 2014.[8]

A common design for a Muppet is a character with a very large mouth and big protruding eyes.

The puppets are often molded or carved out of various types of foam, and then covered with fleece, fur, or other felt-like material. Muppets may represent humans, anthropomorphicanimals, realistic animals, robots, anthropomorphic objects, extraterrestrial creatures, mythical beings or other unidentified, newly imagined creatures, monsters, or abstract characters.

Muppets are distinguished from ventriloquist “dummies”/”puppets”, which are typically animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically made of softer materials. They are also presented as being independent of the puppeteer, who is usually not visible—hidden behind a set or outside of the camera frame. Using the camera frame as the “stage” was an innovation of the Muppets. Previously on television, there would typically be a stage hiding the performers, as if in a live presentation. Sometimes they are seen full-bodied. This is done by using invisible strings to move the characters’ bodies and mouths, and then adding the voices later.[9]

Muppets tend to develop, as writer Michael Davis put it, “organically”, meaning that the puppeteers take time, often up to a year, slowly developing their characters and voices. Muppets are also, as Davis said, “test-driven, passed around from one Henson troupe member to another in the hope of finding the perfect human-Muppet match”.[10]

When interacting with Muppets, children tended to act as though the Muppets were living creatures, even when they could see the puppeteers.[11]


Literature and the Love of Words- Some Thoughts on the Book ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’

29 Jan

I’m going to begin by recommending a book which exists as an inspiring homage to the power of the written word. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published in 1845 and written by Douglass himself, is an impassioned, real-life account of life as a slave in 1880’s America. Douglass was a freed African-American slave and in the Narrative he uses his greatest skill, the ability to communicate using the written word, to deliver his powerful antislavery discourse.

Douglass himself is an extremely interesting character; he was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland and the book charts his early life until his eventual escape from human bondage using the Underground Railroad. Douglass was by no means the only ex-slave to write an autobiography, but he was unusual in that he penned it himself. In fact, the Narrative was written in order to quell doubts about Douglass’ authenticity, as many people did not believe that an ex-slave could express himself so well.

In the Narrative Douglass recalls how he learns to read and write in secret, and through his newly gained literacy, learns of the abolitionist movement. Douglass credits education with his mental enlightenment and eventual freedom. In fact he continues his theory even further, giving examples of the positive relationship between literacy and freedom, and the negative relationship between slavery and mental degradation, citing slavery’s effects on the white slave owners he encounters. In his review of the Narrative, Thompson succinctly notes that while slavery ‘seems so obviously to be a moral matter turns out on Douglass’ gloss to be an epistemological problem at bottom’ (182).

Douglass was aware that the readership of his autobiography would be white and middle class, people who were largely unaware of the realities of slavery. Douglass reveals himself to be a savvy writer; throughout the Narrative he uses emotive language, which would have undoubtedly shocked the Narrative’s predominately white, middle class readership. ‘My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes’ (Narrative 16).
Douglass wants to rile the reader, to increase support for the abolitionists and the book does not spare an opportunity to shock his readership. Douglass also has a gift for reminding the reader that this is not a work of fiction; it is written by a flesh and blood human, a human who suffered great injustices in the supposed land of the free.

Beyond its value as a tool against anti-slavery, the novel is well-written and a testimony to its authors unquestionable gift as a great writer. Douglass’ achievement of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds cannot be downplayed; he took the great risk of seeking an education at a time when such an act could have ended in his murder. I feel Douglass’ great gift, which shines through the Narrative’s pages, is his ability to question and critically examine the world around him:
‘The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of that same privilege’ (Narrative 1).

From childhood, Douglass incredibly questioned the meaning and reason for his bondage. It is precisely this questioning spirit which allows Douglass to defy slavery and which makes his book so interesting to read. The critic Matlack says of Douglass’ resistant spirit: ‘Douglass had to liberate himself psychologically before he could attempt to become free’ (‘The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass’ 21). And that is exactly what Douglass did; his inquiring mind led him to the truth of his slavery and his means of escape.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass exists today as a solemn yet passionate reminder of the horrors imposed upon African Americans in the form of slavery. The Narrative reminds the reader that with this work, Douglass sought to shape the minds of a nation against the enemy of human compassion and dignity; the enslavement of men and women. His voice, his words and his gift of literacy therefore act as a reminder of the importance of education in the destruction of racial hatred and inequality.