Thursday, February 25, 2021


I am so old I remember when people watched the Muppets for the gratuitous violence, which everyone was worried about in the 1970s. Easily the most violent show on the air at the time, with the possible exception of reruns of Warner Brothers cartoons.

I remember when the young black Muppet Roosevelt Franklin  was introduced on Sesame Street around 1969. It was considered very cool, a signal that black kids from the city were not going to be left out anymore, and that the Henson characters were going to be authentic, not just white characters someone had dyed brown. I don't know if you could introduce Roosevelt  these days. He might be grandfathered in, but I think I would be relying on people from my generation standing up and shouting that he was emphatically unracist, a counter to racism at the time. Would that matter anymore?  I can see him being watched in horror as some terrible stereotype by a woke high-school student or academic deeply concerned with popular culture (but I repeat myself).

I puzzled over what other black, Hispanic, Middle-eastern, or Asian characters had shown up on The Muppet Show. There must have been some, because they did that old vaudeville shtick of riding hard on stereotypes, where the joke had already been made in the culture outside the theater before the audience even sat down.  But when I looked at who was spoofed, it was most famously the Swedish Chef. Swedes loved him, I assure you.  But patriots and conservatives were sent up with Sam the Eagle; southern revivalists in the "Cigareets and Whiskey" number; vikings singing "In the Navy;" If there was some act with Mexicans in sombreros I don't remember it, though I suppose that might have been the sort of thing they would do. Indians?  I'm not thinking of any.  It could be. If anyone has cause to kick it would be anyone they thought they were tweaking with Sam's dour observations. I think I will offended on behalf of patriotic Americans because of Sam. I'll bet he'd be a Trump fan if you asked him, right?

Maybe...the guests? It's not coming to me.  I'm drawing a blank.

The Muppets were intuitively woke long before our current fad.  Blacks were not made fun of, no religion - except a caricature of fundamentalists, Peter Sellers - was put out on the chopping block, the undermining of female stereotypes was much more common than using them for comedy. I haven't looked it up, but I suppose someone went over episodes with a fine-tooth comb looking to be offended on behalf of other people who were not necessarily offended themselves.

Trigger warning:  Deeply offensive stereotype  coming.


james said...

People did complain, apparently:

Grim said...

“... Warner Brothers cartoons.”

Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Sam L. said...

The Blue Nose set has NO sense of humor (or Yuma, either). As Mr. T used to say,
"I pity da fools."I

Texan99 said...

I'll just watch Rita Moreno do anything.

Grim said...

You know, "Franklin" was also the name of the black character that Peanuts introduced a little earlier. Charles Schultz was a very decent man, and so he did the same thing you're calling 'proto-woke' -- he introduced Franklin so that people would see him included, but he was never the butt of any jokes. "Franklin quoted the Old Testament, and had no anxieties or obsessions," per Wikipedia, the last parts making him unlike every other character in the strip.

It was meant kindly. Jim Henson probably thought conservatives were tough enough to take a joke; he didn't think they needed to be protected from hurt feelings. In a way, that's a compliment too. Maybe it's a better one.