Sunday, June 17, 2018

One for the Super-Dads.

You know, it strikes me just now that since I did a post on superhero moms for Mother’s Day, that I should do a post on superhero dads for Father’s day.  The thing is that comics’ relationship with fatherhood is kind of a different ball of wax.  Because of the more boy-oriented past of superhero comics, paternal narratives actually abound.

They’re filled with fathers and father figures who are practically deified and serve as inspirations.  Like Thomas Wayne, Jor-El and Ben Parker.  And of course there are fathers who are literal gods like Odin and Highfather.
 There are also fathers who serve as warnings and antagonists.  Fathers like Thanos, Darkseid, Fu Manchu and . . . oh yeah . . . Satan himself.
 And we could argue that Magneto walks the line between those two.

And then there are cases where the hero becomes a father only for it to be undone in the name of creating more tragedy or because editorial decided it had been a mistake in the first place.  Like when Aquaman’s son Arthur Curry Jr. was killed by Black Manta.  Or when Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s child ended up being stillborn because of a poisoning (at least there was an alternate universe comic with the child as Spider-Girl).  Or how Cyclops’s son Nathan was infected with a sci-fi virus and then sent to the future to be cured.  And don’t even get me started on Wolverine and his relationship with his son Daken.

The dead baby/sad dad stories are probably as close as this category comes to the weird pregnancy stories in the other category.

So, yeah, paternal narratives are by and large about creating pain for the hero or the hero trying to either live up to or move beyond their father (it’s surprising how many male coming-of-age themes are tied up with characters that aren’t even all that young anymore).

And yet, we do get some instances of father’s being portrayed as actual human beings.  Regular guys (albeit sometimes super-powered) just trying to do their best for the world and their family.  And though few and scattered, these positive portrayals of fathers have been appearing a lot longer than the positive portrayals of mothers.

Starting in the ‘60s, Mr. Fantastic was a father.  Maybe a little boring, but he did the job well.  Going back to the ‘80s, we have the second Ant-Man, aka Scott Lang.  Though he was often a bit of a flake, he was never an evil dad or a godlike inspiring one either.  In the ‘90s we had Thunderstrike, a character who spun out from the Thor mythos.  He struggled with his role a bit but always tried to do right by his son Kevin.
Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie from the pages of a Fantastic Four comic.
A more recent example though, is Luke Cage.  He had a child years ago with fellow Netflix star Jessica Jones.  Also, through a little bit of retconning, Black Lightning has two grown daughters named Thunder and Lightning.

And here’s a big one: both Superman and Batman are fathers over at DC.  Superman’s son Jon Kent is the new Superboy and Batman’s son Damian Wayne is the latest Robin.  There were some comic book plot tricks employed to make both “Super Sons” 10 years old, but most comic book fans I’ve encountered seem to find them a welcome addition.  And both Clark and Bruce seem to be doing a good job of parenting.
 These are probably the best examples I can think of, aside from more indie stuff like Saga (Marko is a pretty good dad).  Most depictions of fatherhood seem to still be of the dead dad/evil dad/angsty dad type.  However, things are changing slowly but surely.

So, to all the super dads out there just trying to do your best, Happy Father’s Day!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Mother of all Superhero Posts.

In about 64 different countries on this planet, including the United States, China, Zimbabwe, Japan and many others, the second Sunday in May is set aside as Mothers Day.  Now, it just so happens that this Mothers Day in Japan the Toei company will release a special for its Super Sentai fan club members entitled Hero Mama League.  In this special, three heroines from past seasons of Super Sentai (Hurricanger, Magiranger and Dekaranger respectively) will be shown as married women and mothers trying to balance saving the world with raising a family.  Here’s a trailer.  Keep in mind that it’s just the first part of the video.

To say the least, I am intrigued.  For one, as a thirty-something, I’m kind of curious to see what happens to these characters when they reach my age.  For another, it shows an international extension of a trend I’ve noticed happening in some superhero media.  I’m talking about the rise of “superhero moms”.

Before I start going on about depictions of motherhood and maternal narratives in comic books and superhero fiction, let’s flash back to 2015.  The movie Avengers: Age of Ultron has come out.  Much of the world is excited to see how the character of Black Widow as played by Scarlett Johansson would be developed.  The reason being that by default Black Widow had managed to become the most well-known superheroine in the world.  People were met with dismay when the biggest developments turned out to be that she had started a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner and the reveal that the shady espionage agency that she had once worked for had forcibly sterilized her.  It seems folks out there (notably female movie-goers) weren’t happy with the badass super-spy’s development being reduced down to who she was dating and whether or not she could be a mommy (the “I’m a monster” line didn’t help either).  I bring this up because I wanted to acknowledge that I get that this stuff is . . . tricky.  While motherhood is a possible development for female characters, the media has for too long treated it as the ultimate development for female characters.  It’s a practice that’s outdated and should be replaced with a greater variety of possibilities.  However, I also wanted to bring this up because I wanted to point out how differently comic book readers can perceive things.  You see, I just kind of shrugged it off and thought “well, that figures”.

You see, in superhero comics heroines becoming mothers, or any kind of maternal narratives for that matter, are very rare.  I mean, it’s rare for almost any superhero to become a parent despite some outliers, but there still seem to be paternal narratives all over the place.  Superheroes are always getting hung up on their fathers or father figures and what their fathers said or trying to be better than their fathers if said fathers happen to be evil.  Both of Bruce Wayne’s parents died, but when he reflects on it he usually focus on Thomas Wayne rather than Martha.  Superman’s entire planet went kablooey, and he still focuses mostly on the loss of his father Jor-El.  You get the gist.

Now, like I said, there were outliers.  At Marvel, the Inhuman Crystal had a daughter named Luna with her husband, the mutant Avenger Quicksilver.  The second Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter, first appeared on the scene with a school-age daughter from a failed marriage.  But the most well-recognized superhero mom was probably the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four. 

The Invisible Woman becoming a mother was kind of an obvious choice to make when it was made.  Of the few superheroines they had back then, she was married and the most stable.  Also, the Fantastic Four already seemed like a nuclear family with the Human Torch and the Thing subbing in as the bickering children of the group.  Looking back on it, it was a simple no-brainer development but kind of a big deal for 1968 when it first happened.
Most of the other times superhero comics attempted to tackle anything related to motherhood or the pregnancies that often preceded them, the results were . . . cringeworthy.  I don’t want to lose anyone but these examples are downright bonkers and surprisingly heavy on continuity, but I feel the need to include all these bad examples.  Links will be provided.  So, here goes . . .

There was the time Scarlet Witch had twin sons with her android husband only for them to be revealed to not be real in the first place.  There was the time Power Girl experienced an immaculate conception only for the magical baby to grow up super fast and disappear.  There was the time Ms. Marvel was essentially raped and gave birth to the reborn form of her rapist who she then ran off with.  And of course there’s Mantis and all the general weirdness of the Celestial Madonna and Celestial Messiah stories.  There’s also just the terrible mother that is Mystique.  Oh, and apparently, the Huntress functionally adopted a kid only for everyone to forget it even happened.  And this isn’t even covering situations where someone meets their possible future child from an alternate timeline or whatever.

So . . . yeah.  Lots of sci-fi weirdness.  Lots of clumsy riffing on the Christian nativity story.  I know people like saying superheroes are modern mythology, but I think those stories are a little bit much.  Many of these stories seemed so steeped in their own weirdness that they kind of lost track of the human element.  There are more referenced in this forum thread.

But a funny thing has happened in the past decade or so.  At Marvel alone, at least a half dozen heroines have become mothers.  Off the top of my head, they include: Jessica Jones, the original Spider-Woman, Tigra, Jubilee, Smasher and Meggan.  Six might not seem like a lot, but it is compared to the past fifty years or so of Marvel history.

DC, on the other hand, hasn’t been boasting as much.  In fact, they kind of seem to have fewer maternal narratives than they used to.  The back stories of both Wonder Woman and Black Canary used to both hinge on the characters’ respective mothers and now they don’t (granted, it’s easy for Diana’s mom to get overshadowed now that they’ve revealed that her father is Zeus).  And yet, DC isn’t completely devoid of supermoms.  Batman is now the father of 10-year old Damian Wayne, whose mother is villainess and eco-terrorist by birth Talia Head.  Talia doesn’t seem to be a particularly good mom, but Damien will probably have Catwoman as a stepmom soon so we’ll see how that goes.  Superman also has a son named Jonathan Kent and whose mother is Lois Lane.  And though Lane isn’t a superheroine, she’s still pretty badass.  In fact, they just introduced a new character named the Silencer, an ex-assassin who has to fight against agents from her old life to protect her husband and three-year old son.
Not only that, they feature a number of women in different marital and maternal situations.
The original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, chose to go down the single mother route on purpose.  She reached a point in her life where she decided she wanted to have a baby, so she got herself artificially inseminated.  In addition to providing extra agency to the character in this case, it also proved to be rather effective bait-and-switch marketing.  After releasing this rather arresting cover online:
Fans went about speculating for a few months over who the father was only for it to be revealed that there was no father.  Or at least, no father of any importance.

Perhaps the youngest of Marvel’s supermoms (and one of my favorite characters) is the X-Men’s own Jubilee. 
I love this picture.  It's just sweet.
Canonically only 18 years old, Jubilee was away in Europe when a disaster situation struck.  In the chaos, Jubilee rescues an orphaned baby.  In short order, Jubilee decides she’s going to adopt the little guy and names him Shogo (I’m guessing the other X-Men helped grease a few wheels to make it happen).  It was an act that was impulsive and big-hearted and in that way, very Jubilee.  In its own way it also fits perfectly as a grown-up extension of Jubilee’s character, seeing as she started as an orphan in search of a family.  Now she’s giving Shogo what the X-Men gave her.

That’s just two examples.  The story with all the supermoms is different, but most of them vary from the more conservative situation used with the Invisible Woman back in the ‘60s.
The question becomes: why all this now?

Well, I think some of it has to do with the movies.  With the rise of Marvel Studios, the dynamic at Marvel has changed.  Instead of being primarily a comic book publisher, they’re primarily an intellectual property and media company.  The actual comic book publishing side has turned into Research and Development to hash out new story and character ideas to use for movies and TV shows.  So, this probably gives writers a little bit more wiggle room to do things with the personal lives of the characters.  At the same time, the movies have exposed the characters to a whole new audience including women and young girls.  So, writers and artists probably want to more positively depict events that can happen (but don’t necessarily have to) in a woman’s life.  It's a different audience than before.  The superhero genre doesn't entirely have to rely on the attention of 12-year old boys anymore.  That's the case with Hero Mama League too.  Since it's being made for the fan club, there are likely more older fans there.

Personally, I think the whole thing is a net positive.  I mean, I get if some people don’t.  A lot of media, as I mentioned before, has in the past reduced many a female character’s role to wife and mother.  However, those roles are still perfectly valid in their way.  And if comics and other superhero fiction are going to depict the role of mother, it’s better that they depict it well and intelligently rather than writing more cosmic messiah or fast-aging magic baby stories.
I realize I’ve only touched on just a little bit.  I didn’t even mention Helen Parr from TheIncredibles.  And if I push beyond superheroes there’s Alana from the space opera comic Saga.  Also, the new Duck Tales cartoon has based a major mystery around Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mother Della Duck.

But I think it’s time to wrap this up.  But I would like to say that as a 30-something man with no kids, I have much respect for parents of every gender.  It’s a tough job and one I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do in a million years (sometimes I feel I can barely take care of myself).  So, they’re practically superheroes already.

So, to all the supermoms out there both real and fictional, Happy Mothers Day!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Great Big Helping of Food Wars.

Okay, folks.  I’m going to talk about one of my favorite manga and anime series.  So hang on folks, it might get a bit . . . spicy.

A little background on myself first.  I’ve been a manga fan since the early 2000s when it hit big on the American comics scene, especially as something sold in book stores.  Anime, on the other hand, was a little more elusive.  During those days, anime was mainly found on DVD releases and bit torrents with some limited airings on TV (mainly stuff like Cartoon Network’s Toonami).  Streaming services that aired it like Crunchyroll were barely even a thing yet.  Or at least, were barely acknowledged as a thing in the days before Netflix brought streaming to the mainstream.  So, since I was familiar with American comics, it was as manga that I most embraced these stories.  However, it’s also probably because I was so used to American comics and the whole superhero scene that I tended to seek out things other than typical fantasy action stories to read as manga.  Namely, detective stories, sports stories and cooking stories.  And it’s that last one that I’m going to talk about here.
The manga/anime in question is Food Wars, known in Japan as Shokugeki no Soma.  And yes, it’s a very popular series, but I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Food  Wars is a cooking manga.  A cooking manga that I’ve been hooked on since volume one (not to sound hipster-ish, but “way before it was popular”).  It’s also a manga that hinges rather heavily on cooking competitions.  The funny thing is that while I like cooking, I’ve never really cared for cooking competition shows.  But manga has a way of getting me to read about things that aren’t in my usual repertoire.  I also don’t particularly like football, but would not pass up a volume of Eyeshield 21.

The story of Food Wars is about a young man named Soma Yukihira.  Soma loves to cook and work alongside his father at the little local family restaurant that they work at.  Soma is also very competitive and has lost against his father in cooking competitions over a hundred times.  He also likes to create strange new dishes and overly enjoys seeing people try them, even when they’re awful.  One day, Soma’s father announces that he’s closing up shop to go travelling and that he’s enrolling Soma in the Totsuki Institute, an elite culinary high school that’s so strict and so competitive that it only has a 1% graduation rate.  It’s an intimidating place and Soma doesn’t make it any easier for himself, managing to piss off practically the entire school and get on the bad side of the headmaster’s granddaughter on the first day (though he does make a few friends in the Polaris Dormitory).  Can a plucky, blue-collar diner brat succeed and thrive in a competitive school full of culinary elites?  Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing Soma never gives up.

So, that’s basically the gist of it.  But you may be wondering: how do you make a manga or anime about food?  Food is about one part visual and nine parts smell and taste.  Well, this is part of what makes Food Wars popular but also infamous.  You see, this isn’t the first series based around food.   Others have existed and what they have focused on is the visual of people reacting to the food.  One series, Yakitate Ja-Pan, is a manga (and later anime) about baking bread.  One thing that series did was show people reacting to how good the bread was in really big, over-the-top ways.  Another series which hinged a lot on food was the slice-of-life show Gourmet Girl Graffiti.  And one thing that show did was make the reactions a lot smaller but also a bit more  . . . alluring (a little moan here, a little “ooh” there, but nothing too explicit).  What Food Wars did was combine both of these reactions and, well, let me just show you a clip . . .

Yeah.  I know, right.  For the artist Shun Saeki, this is actually kind of up his alley.  He drew hentai (pornographic manga) before moving to relatively tamer fare.

So, Food Wars is a cooking competition manga aimed at teenage boys (did I mention this was a Shonen title?) with uncommonly provocative artwork.  Is that it?  Is that all there is to it?  Well, not quite.  There are other little bits that give a little added depth of flavor.  Self-expression through cooking becomes a pretty big theme.  Classism is an underlying theme as well, especially as it concerns how other cooks interact with Soma.  There’s even a big status quo shake-up at one point that manages to shift the whole concept from cooking to survive high school to cooking as act of rebellion.  But my favorite, somewhat low key, theme is that of finding one’s own tribe.  It’s a big theme in a lot of pop culture these days and butts right into the whole “found family” thing (currently exemplified by the Fast and the Furious movies, but X-Men has been doing it since the ‘80s and Joss Whedon has been doing it since the late ‘90s).  The “tribe” in this case are the students who live at the Polaris Dormitory.  While most of the Totsuki students are rich and manage to live off campus, there are a certain few students who have to live in the dorm.  They’re also all kind of crazy, kind of quirky and practically experts in their own cooking methods.  Yuki Yoshino is a specialist in cooking wild game.  Shun Ibusaki is an expert in smoking food.  Zenji Marui is a master of the more academic side of cooking.  And Ryoko Sakaki is a specialist in the art of fermentation.  And that’s just a handful of the characters there.  There’s just something gratifying about watching all these mad food geniuses interact.  They become their own little pseudo-family of fantastic characters and they become even more important around volume 17 when they take in a rather important new roommate (I won’t tell you who in case you want to read it for yourself).  I’ve said before that the Polaris Dormitory is Food Wars’ secret weapon and I stick by that.
It’s not perfect, though.  And a lot of the flaws in Food Wars have to do directly with the main character, Soma Yukihira.  First of all, Food Wars has always had a bit of stakes problem.  Basically, the stakes were always a bit too high.  Soma would get into cooking competitions called Shokugeki rather regularly.  But the stakes of the competitions would almost always be that Soma would have to give up cooking or would be expelled from Totsuki.  This means that Soma pretty much always has to win, because if he doesn’t win then the series would have to end as it lost its main character.  So, it becomes less a question of “Will Soma win this?” as “How will Soma win this?”  And while that’s fine, it would have been nice if there were a few more smaller stakes competitions that Soma could have lost and learned from along the way.  The other problem with Soma is that, well, he’s a bit of a dope.  Okay, that’s a bit harsh.  But he is a bit one-track, which makes him seem a bit duller and less complex than the other characters.  There are some really good characters in this series.  Megumi Tadokoro is a great character who evolves from a timid little country girl to a culinary fighter.  Akira Hayama is a great character, especially when it comes to his past and complicated relationship with his guardian.  Erina Nakiri is a great, complex character and has one of the most significant character arcs in the series.  Meanwhile, Soma’s entire character is about getting better at cooking and getting others to acknowledge that he’s good at cooking.  That’s basically it.  However, the fact that he’s always learning from his classmates and from his own mistakes as well as his own mistakes somehow allows him to act as a catalyst for pretty much every other character’s growth.  Again, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t mind having a little more.

But that’s enough of that.  If I haven’t convinced you to check it out yet, then I’m probably not going to.  But I sure hope you do, because for all its craziness and infamy, Food Wars is a series worth biting into.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Muppets, Muppet Babies and an Optimistic Adulthood.

You know, I really should write for Universes Beckon more than I do.  But sometimes there isn’t much I can write about.  What’s been happening in pop culture?  Well, there was some Muppet related stuff.  Playhouse Disney released an intro for their new version of Muppet Babies and people got upset about a new character.  Also, Nerdist reported that Disney is working on a new Muppets show for their new streaming service.  Okay, I guess this is it.  Let’s talk about Muppets!

The issue in question for Muppet Babies is that the new version of it is introducing a new female character named Summer Penguin who will be a regular on the pre-school centered show alongside the characters of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear and Animal.  Characters from the previous version of Muppet Babies Rowlf and Scooter are apparently not going to be on the show and the argument could be made that Summer is replacing another made-for-animation Muppet Baby: Skeeter.  The impact of the original Muppet Babies cartoon is a tricky thing to judge.  Muppet Babies is one of those “gap period” spin-offs (in this case, occurring between The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppet Christmas Carol) that doesn’t seem like a big deal in the grand history of the Muppets franchise but came around at just the right time to be the face of the franchise for a lot of children of the ‘80s and ‘90s.  So, for those kids who are now parents, Skeeter was as much part of the gang as anybody.   I’m not really stressing over it myself.  In terms of characters, the more the merrier.  And I doubt Summer Penguin will be brought into the main cast for other projects.  Though, it is concerning that there is apparently such a dearth of memorable female characters in the franchise that they had to create a new one for both versions (what, they couldn’t have stuck Janice in there).  And even more confusing is that the show is aimed at pre-schoolers when the original show was aimed at the normal 6-11 Saturday morning demographic (though I wish the show luck).  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Honestly, as big a fan as I am, I tend to approach most Muppets projects these days with a bit of caution.  They seem to be a tricky property to get right or do successfully.
Before moving on, let’s address the Snuffleupagus in the room: yes, the Muppets have been different since Jim Henson died back in the ‘90s.  It’s an event I remember well.  Henson was a childhood hero of mine.  But we have to also admit that every media property is going to have to deal with the loss of their creator eventually, if they’re going to last long term.  And we can’t know that Henson’s productions would have kept the same vibe if he had lived another twenty years.  There’s many a creator who has lost his or her touch over time.  We have to focus on what Henson put into his projects at the beginning and where they’ve gone from there.

Now, a great number of post-Jim Muppet productions have been pretty good.  I’ve got a great love for both Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island.  Muppets From Space on the other hand wasn’t so great.

The real issue seems to have started after the Walt Disney Company bought The Muppets.  From the beginning, I don’t think they were quite sure who they were going to aim these characters at.  They had some Disney Channel shorts in which the Muppets interacted with some very small children.  They also had some shorts in which they played music from Disney Channel original movies with the stars of said movies.  So, they seemed to move from preschoolers to middle schoolers pretty darn quick.

After that we got the Jason Segel movie The Muppets and its sequel Muppets Most Wanted.  Now, these movies were good.  I liked them both a lot.  However, they also kind of turned the Muppets into a nostalgia act.  The premises of both movies kind of call back to the Muppets’ two earliest films The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper (word is, the third movie would have been called Muppets on Broadway, calling back to The Muppets Take Manhattan).  The movies had good jokes, good energy, good songs and lots of heart but were clearly evoking nostalgia.  While the first movie did really well at the box office, the second one decidedly didn’t.  This might be a sign that nostalgia as a tool only goes so far.
But then came the Muppets TV show on ABC.

The Muppets was a show done in a documentary style similar to The Office which followed the Muppets as they put on a late night talk show starring Miss Piggy.  One of the main aspects of the show was that it was a “more adult” take on the Muppets.

There’s one problem with making a Muppets production “for adults”.  The Muppets were never specifically aimed at kids in the first place.  No, really.  Just ask any Muppet fan.  Heck, ask Frank Oz (performer of Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy).  He’s on Twitter.

So, what did they do to make the show “more adult”?

Well, Piggy and Kermit split up.  This prompted Piggy to struggle to redefine herself outside of the relationship.  Kermit then seemed to go into a midlife crisis in which he overate and dated a younger woman . . . er . . . pig.  The once daring Gonzo had lost his nerve as a daredevil and settled into life as a mediocre comedy writer.  The Electric Mayhem have settled into life as an in-studio band.  Fozzie had a decidedly awkward relationship with a human woman.  And a good chunk of the humor stemmed from the staff dealing with Piggy’s more outrageous demands all while she treated most of her friends like garbage.

Does any of this sound at all appealing?  Or funny?  Or like the good old Muppets we know and love?  Well, maybe to some people but not enough because the show lost viewers really early on and underwent a revamp midway through to bring in “more joy” and a new antagonist to take some of the heat off of Piggy.  It was a nice change, but it didn’t save the show.

Really, what it did wasn’t make the show “more adult” as much as it made it “more sad”.  It felt like their dreams of performance had become a grind and the friendships they had devolved into a sort of work-a-day office familiarity.  All the characters felt like they had gotten old and settled.  And we’re so used to seeing them strive that seeing them settle is rather off-putting.  And this isn’t just a problem with the Muppets, it’s a problem with how we view adulthood in general.  But I’ll get back to that one too.

But let’s run with this idea for a little while.  The Muppets as characters not only for adults, but as adult characters themselves.  How does that wash?  Well, let’s see.  Going back to the Muppet Show, they’re a group of professional performers well aware of the ups and downs of show business.  They had complicated relationships (Piggy loved Kermit.  Kermit didn’t love Piggy.  Gonzo loved Piggy.  Piggy was annoyed by Gonzo.  Gonzo moved on to find real love with Camilla).  They had a family of sorts in each other and they looked out for each other.  And despite the craziness, they all worked toward fulfilling their one primary responsibility: making sure the show went on.  It wasn’t always easy, either.  They always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short with the threat of Scooter’s uncle kicking them out of his theater always looming.

I have a little book of Henson-related quotes titled Wisdom from It’s Not Easy Being Green.  There’s a quote from Henson himself that says “The most sophisticated people I know- inside they’re all children.  We never really lose a certain sense we had when we were kids.”
And that’s it, really.  The Muppets aren’t childish.  They can just see the world the way children often do.  They’re optimists and idealists.  They keep their ping-pong ball eyes and felt hearts open.  They’re adults who believe that dreams are worth chasing, laughter is the best medicine, nothing beats a good song sung together and that even failing is okay if you do it with your crazy showbiz family by your side.  They’re the ones at the Magic Store.  The ones who’ve found the Rainbow Connection.

The Muppets are the adults that a lot of us wish we could be.  And I think the fact that so many of us see adulthood as something depressing and filled with drudgery and unwanted compromise is probably not the healthiest way to go about it.  How long can we go around acting like becoming an adult is the equivalent of having the joy and optimism beaten out of us before it causes more harm than good?

I think that ultimately this is a little bit of Jim Henson himself that he baked into all these characters and concepts.  And I think that unflappable “youthful” optimism is why people continually misjudge who his creations are for.  The new Muppet Babies may be for pre-schoolers, but the original wasn’t.  It was for school-age children but a lot of people probably think it was for really little kids.  Fraggle Rock was for older kids too, but people would often lump it in the same category as Sesame Street.  And The Muppet Show was a variety show for the whole family and Henson’s way of proving he wasn’t just a children’s entertainer, and most people still refer to it as a children’s show.  Oh, well.

Henson may be gone, but that positive attitude shouldn’t be hard to sustain.  It really shouldn’t.  Either in a Muppet TV show or in life.

There’s more that could be said about goings on in the Muppet world and what makes the characters work.  The performer who played Kermit, Steve Whitmire, recently got fired and replaced by Matt Vogel.  Also, I’ve been following Frank Oz on Twitter and he’s said some interesting things about how much of the camaraderie between the Muppet characters actually came from the Muppet performers.  But I think I’d leave you instead with another quote from Mr. Henson:

“I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best.  I know I drive some people crazy with what seems like ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.”

Until next time.