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January 23, 2017

Donald Trump: The Anti-Henson

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: , — ToughPigs Staff @ 12:31 pm

Ryan Roe: So, Joe, I don’t know if you noticed, but we have a new president.  And I don’t mean Big Bird.

Joe Hennes: Man, I wish you meant Big Bird.  Instead, it seems that we got a different president with the education of a 6-year-old.

Ryan: Yes, a different president with yellow turkey feathers on his head.  Obviously we’re talking about Donald Trump.

Joe: Before we go any further, I know what a lot of our readers are thinking.  Hopefully you agree with us in thinking, “Yeah, that chump’s the worst.” But more likely, you’re wondering why we’re talking about Trump on a Muppet fan site.  And y’know, that’s a very valid question.

Ryan: It is!  Tough Pigs is not traditionally a political news or commentary website, and Donald Trump himself is not a Muppet.

Joe: No he’s not, but he comes close.  We have published a few politically-themed articles in the past, notably our quadrennial ToughPigs Election series, as well as spotlights on Sesame Street’s connections to both of the 2016 presidential candidates.  But now, things feel different.

Ryan: Exactly.  Last year’s real-life presidential election was unlike any other, and at a certain point, we started to respond occasionally on the website and our social media accounts.  There was the post-debate woman-power photo of Miss Piggy with the #ImWithHer hashtag.  There was the post-Election Day plea not to give up hope, because as Fozzie said in Great Muppet Caper, “We don’t want the bad guys to win.”

Joe: It’s worth noting that we had long conversations about whether or not to post that stuff on social media, and we have zero regrets.

Ryan: Our readers are an observant bunch, so this did not escape their notice.  Some agreed with us via comments and those Likes we crave so very much.  Some expressed a desire for us to knock it off.  And some told us we were backing the wrong candidate.  So we’re having this little conversation to address that stuff.

Joe: It’s no secret that we lean toward the left politically, and pre-Trump, we did our best to keep politics out of ToughPigs, just as we’d do at any family dinner or conversation with a taxi driver.  But if you’ve been paying attention to the news, almost everything Trump says, does, and invokes goes against not just our own beliefs, but also the teachings, creations, and legacy of Jim Henson himself.

Ryan: Jim Henson himself, as well as most of the lovable Muppets he created.  To put it simply, while I’ve accepted the fact that there are lots of people out there who like the guy, I will never understand why anyone who really and truly considers himself or herself a Muppet fan can also be a fan of Trump.

Joe: Speaking of which, I want to make sure everyone reading this article knows that we’re not attacking any other way of thinking.  If the Muppets have taught us anything, it’s that there’s room in this world for all different sorts of people with different political views.  So sorry if you’re offended by any of this, but we still feel the need to process what’s happening outside of our Muppet-loving bubble by talking about the stuff going on in the world.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s really all we’re doing here… Using our Kermit the Frog website to complain about the president.  But seriously, I’m really glad you said that.  Even if we don’t agree on all issues, everyone who loves Muppets has at least one thing in common.  And I genuinely encourage anyone who’d like to explain their own feelings in a rational manner to do so on our Facebook page, forum, or by e-mailing us.  I promise we won’t throw anything at you.

Joe: Likewise, I hope those of you who agree with us will speak up too.  As important as it feels for us to write this article, I am not looking forward to how we’re opening ourselves up as a conservative’s dartboard.  Fun times ahead.

Ryan: Yes, people telling us we’re right is encouraged too.

Joe: And for anyone still wondering why we think this stuff is appropriate for a Muppet fan site: The harsh reality is that this is our website, and we’ll do what we want.  Brutal honesty is the foundation on which ToughPigs was founded.  If you don’t like it, you are more than welcome to start your own site.

Ryan: Right.  Sometimes we feel like writing reviews of new Muppet things and classic Muppet Show episodes — stuff people actually care about.  And we’ll continue doing that, along with the occasional 800 words on a shared Christmas universe occupied by the Muppets and Art Carney.  But at this particular time, we feel like we can’t just sit back and say nothing about the new president.  And here we are.

Joe, you mentioned Trump’s behavior clashing with the values taught to us by various Henson creations.  Is there any example in particular at the top of your personal list?

Joe: Man, where to start?  How about we begin with Jim’s most ambitious dream, Fraggle Rock.  He wanted to create a show that brought peace to the world.  To do that, it would be all about interconnectivity, different species relying on each other, and the power of friendship, love, and understanding.  On the other side of the universe (where Gorgs are not kings), we’ve got a president who is more interested in building walls to keep our neighbors out, and instilling xenophobia against people with differing beliefs.  This guy has no interest in bringing about peace through brotherhood.

Ryan: Yep, Fraggle Rock certainly seems like the obvious one.  Trump was busy building skyscrapers and putting his name on things during the show’s original run, and it’s evident he’s never caught an episode.  When I sum up the show for people unfamiliar with it, I usually say something like, “It’s about a bunch of different creatures living underground, but it’s really about learning how to get along with other races and cultures.”  Trump has never shown anything resembling the awareness of the Rock.  If anything, he built his base on exploiting certain voters’ fear of other races and cultures.

Side note: Way back in March 2016, I actually started outlining an article for this website that would have proven that Trump was modeling himself after early Pa Gorg: The bluster, the hubris, the passion for getting rid of [Fraggles] despite not bothering to understand their point of view.  But when I started watching videos of Trump for comparison to Pa, it got my blood pressure up so much I had to abandon it.

Joe: I always said Melania and Ma Gorg share similar fashion tastes.

Ryan: Yes, except Ma never made it into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Joe: And thank goodness for that.  Speaking of mid-80s Henson productions with a worldly viewpoint, I was thinking of Song of the Cloud Forest the other day, and how ahead of its time it was.  Jim really wanted to teach the world that there’s more to this planet than ourselves, even (especially) in places like the rainforest.  That half of The Jim Henson Hour speaks to issues like appreciation for nature, conservationism, endangered species, and more.  Bizarro-Jim (aka Trump) claims to not believe in things like climate change, which is affecting the rainforest, the ice caps, the ocean levels, and literally the rest of the world.

Ryan: Right, he said it’s a hoax invented by the Chinese.  And then he said he didn’t say it, even though he said it.  (His waffling is not unlike Wembley’s, I suppose, but more infuriating than amusing.)  But yeah, environmental awareness is a big theme in Jim’s work in the 80s (see also: the unsubtle but well-intentioned Ted Danson episode of JHH), and it was carried on by his company afterward, as in the number of cautionary-tale episodes of Dinosaurs.

Joe: The best example of Jim’s environmentalism is likely the series of PSAs he did with Kermit.  Probably because he blatantly makes his point clear without being hindered with metaphors and story structure.  For example, in his PSAs for the National Wildlife Federation, he blatantly tells viewers to recycle, protect natural habitats, avoid pollution, and conserve energy.

Ryan: Trump, on the other hand, promised to withdraw from the Paris accord against climate change (he’s since waffled on the issue), and his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency is a climate change denier.

Joe: It seems to me that Trump needs to watch a few public service announcements starring a certain puppet frog.

Ryan: No puppet!

Joe: Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I don’t think we’ll have time in this article to talk about the injustice of Trump being compared to a puppet.

Oh heck, let’s talk about it anyway!  Sesame Street has spoofed Donald Trump three times (which we already discussed at length here), and the most interesting part of it to me is the fact that in all three, Trump (or “Grump”) is portrayed as a villain.  It’s almost as if the Sesame writers knew something way back then.

Ryan: I think maybe a lot of people didn’t really become aware of Grump — I mean Trump — until he hosted a reality TV show, but he was a pretty well-known jerk even before that.  He’s the guy who demolished NYC’s Bonwit Teller Building to build Trump Tower, promising to preserve the unique Art Deco sculptures on the facade, then smashed them instead.  He put himself in the villain category a long time ago.

Joe: Right, it wasn’t just the fact that he was rich and greedy.  He’s the kind of guy who always gets what he wants, even if he has to step on the little guy.  If that’s not a description of an antagonist for a preschool-aged Monster who only ever talks about love, then I don’t know what is.

Ryan: And speaking of Sesame Street, that’s another show whose teachings are incompatible with the Trump philosophy.  Not just because it’s encourages reading and Trump reportedly hates to read (which he’ll tell you is okay, because he’s “like, smart”).  But also because of those life lessons our Sesame friends taught us.  Take the classic A Monster at the End of This Book.  Grover spends the whole book terrified that there’s a monster coming… and when he gets to the end, the monster is him, and everything was okay.  Among the messages of the book: Take a minute to think about a situation before you go freaking out.  Trump’s message on the campaign trail was more like, Freak out because all your worst fears about monsters are true and I’m the only one who can save you by getting rid of them!  If Trump had written that book, it might have ended with Grover getting kicked out of the country.

Joe: Man, Trump really is the representation of the opposite of everything Sesame.  The education (note the spelling errors in the tweets of our current Commander in Chief), the diversity (note the 100% white cabinet), and the show’s current objective of teaching kids about kindness.  Beyond the obvious fact that Trump is anything but kind, what Sesame is really doing is teaching kids about compassion and empathy.  And I guarantee that many, many Trump supporters are missing that one thing.  If only they had more empathy, they would be worrying less about how their own personal beliefs or pocketbooks are being affected, and care more about their neighbors: Those with less access to health care, those with differently-colored skin, those who want to choose if/how/when to start a family, and those from other countries who need sanctuary in a free country like ours.  Sesame Street has been the first front in fighting that battle, of which Trump is completely oblivious.

Ryan: One of the core elements of Sesame Street is that it features a diverse community of people from all backgrounds (and species!) doing their best to get along.  Bert and Ernie don’t like the same things, but as they sang, they can still be friends.  That concept is entirely foreign to Trump.  When he encounters someone who doesn’t agree with him, he mocks them at a rally, or calls them sad or a loser on Twitter.  Sesame Street rarely features villains, but it’s the only role I can imagine him filling.

Joe: Sad!

Ryan: I know there are those who are thinking, “What about this thing Obama did that wasn’t in the spirit of Sesame Street?  What about this thing Hillary Clinton did?”  I don’t doubt there are some solid examples out there, and you’re welcome to write your own articles about them.  But as we said before, Trump is different.  Whereas even bad presidents in the past have at least given the impression that they’re willing to be pleasant to both friends and detractors in the interest of being an even-tempered representative of the country, Trump is always a jerk, always picks fights, and always appears to be 100% proud of his jerkiness.  Some people out there like that about him.  They like that he’s willing to speak his mind, no matter what.  These people didn’t learn much from Sesame Street.

Joe: I honestly wonder what we’d be writing if Hillary Clinton was president right now.  Maybe we’d be excited at the prospect that she might bring her friends Big Bird and Rosita to the White House, or maybe we’d be comparing her to Sam the Robot.  But we wouldn’t be as worried about reverting all of the work Jim Henson and his compatriots pushed forward over the past few decades.

Ryan: Clinton isn’t perfect, for sure, and she would have had her own flaws as president.  But she’s never said or done anything that made me wish Gordon from Sesame Street or the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock could sit her down for an important talk.  Trump never says or does anything that doesn’t make me wish for that scenario.

Joe: What Trump needs most is a visit from three temporally misplaced ghosts.  Which brings me to my next thought: Comparing Trump to Muppet movie villains.  Scrooge (who may be a villainous character, though not the antagonist of his own story) is the most obvious comparison, as someone who has a boatload of cash, works in the real estate world, and needs to learn a serious lesson about compassion for his fellow man.

Ryan: “And how does one celebrate Christmas ON THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE?” sounds like a Trump tweet.

Joe:  But an equally apt comparison would be Trump to The Muppet Movie’s Doc Hopper.  Both are “self-made” businessmen (only one of whom claims as such after receiving a measly $1 million loan from his father), will go to whatever ends necessary to make a buck, and has absolutely no emotional connection to anyone he might consider a “friend”.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump ends up appointing Professor Krassman as his Secretary of Frog Brain Preservation.

Ryan: Hopper also cozies up to an unassuming everyman and asks for his support while promising great things, when in reality he’s only looking out for himself.  It remains to be seen what the equivalent of millions of frogs on tiny crutches will be over the next four years.

Joe: Trump, notorious for declining to pay vendors and taxes, is definitely being channeled through Hopper when he offers Kermit $500 a year for his services as his spokesfrog.  That insanely low amount is a joke I didn’t get as a kid, but now it’s ridiculous to think of a businessman offering those wages, which is exactly the sort of thing Trump would do.

Ryan:  Hopper also obsessively chases Kermit across the country even though it doesn’t do anybody any good, not unlike Trump’s obsessive pursuit of Obama’s birth certificate.  So Hopper is perhaps the best Muppet movie villain comparison, though the Tex Richman parallel is viable too.  He’s another rich jerk, he doesn’t care what gets destroyed as long as he gets his way, and the central conflict of The Muppets is his lashing out at a company of variety show performers.

Joe: They also both love coating things in gold.  And I hadn’t noticed this before, but Bobo and Uncle Deadly definitely bear strong resemblances to Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani.

Ryan: Wow.  So, we’ve strayed somewhat from the original point, but I think we’ve made ourselves clear: Any person who is pro-Donald Trump should not claim to be a Muppet fan.  He represents the opposite of Sesame Street’s message of diversity and cooperation, the opposite of Fraggle Rock’s message of understanding and multi-culturalism, the opposite of Jim Henson’s environmental consciousness, and if he existed in any Muppet production he would be the bad guy every single time.

Joe: And there’s so much we haven’t even touched on.  Like the fact that his first act as president was to work on defunding the arts, including PBS, the longtime home of Sesame Street.  Or his administration’s stance on LGBTQ rights, many of whom have worked with Jim Henson and his family.  Or the fact that his entire platform is based in hate: the natural enemy of every Muppet story.  Heck, I’m finding it difficult to find anything those two have in common, and a part of me is really happy about that.

Earlier this week, I joined a half-million of my closest friends for a protest in New York City, and the biggest takeaway was the idea that we are not alone in this way of thinking.  And for most Muppet fans who have been brought up with Jim Henson’s teachings and influence, I think this is something that will continue to bring us all together.  Which, in a backwards sort of way, is how Trump is delivering on Jim’s Fraggle Rock dream – people of all races, creeds, genders, and origins coming together with a singular goal.

Ryan: Love trumps hate!  Some musical numbers would be nice too.

Joe: Just as long as he leaves the rapping to Tex Richman.

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by Joe Hennes and Ryan Roe



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