Sep 23, 2015

Watching the Muppet Show

I didn't watch the premiere of The Muppets last night.  I was worried that it would remind me too much of my college days, when I watched the original Muppet Show.  

Or that it wouldn't.

In college I spent most of my free time in a little bookstore off the Student Union lobby that looked and felt like an old-fashioned living room, with a writing-desk for a checkout counter, low mahogany-stained bookcases, two armchairs, and a green couch by the western window. It stocked some bestsellers and miscellaneous nonfiction, including The Little Prince and Dag Hammarskjold's Markings but mostly science fiction and fantasy, with some underground comics under the counter.

It provided a bright belonging place for "head cases," boy who were majoring in English or philosophy or music, who wanted something greater and nobler from life than carrying briefcases into skyscrapers.  We called ourselves the Bookstore Gang.

During any hour of the afternoon and early evening, half a dozen members of the Bookstore Gang could be found standing by the counter, or sitting on it, or browsing through the shelves, or reading in the armchairs or green couch that blazed with western sunlight.  We discussed classes, comic books, movies, ghosts, and politics, but for some reason never girls.  When the bookstore closed, we adjourned to the Rathskeller or to the TV Lounge, to argue and advise and review, discussing The Wizard of Id or Saturday Night Live, yelling "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" while stuck-up Business Majors stared.

Everything we watched or listened to or read was hip, anarchic, iconoclastic, but my favorite was The Muppet Show (1976-81), with Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street hosting a comedy-variety show, juxtaposing parodies of medical dramas or Star Trek (" space")  with musical numbers, while the elderly gay couple Statler and Waldorf heckled everything (except for the famous guest stars, of course).

And what a cast of guest stars!  Everybody who was anybody stopped by:
Joan Baez
Milton Berle
Bert and Ernie
Joel Grey
Arlo Guthrie
Vincent Price
Tony Randall
Sylvester Stallone

Other hip, anarchic, iconoclastic tv programs and movies -- Monte Python, Mary Hartman, Saturday Night Live, WKRP in Cincinnati, Blazing Saddles, The Cheap Detective, Silent Movie -- were loaded down with fag jokes and hetero-horniness, but The Muppet Show had neither.

Only Miss Piggy regularly displayed heterosexual interest -- at Kermit and various male guest stars -- and she was always rejected. And instead of constantly ridiculing gender transgressions, same-sex contact, and "fags," like most venues in the 1970s, The Muppet Show offered a pleasant nonchalance about diversity in size, shape, affect, and affection (who knew what Gonzo the Great was into?).

Muppet creator Jim Henson was a gay ally, as is his daughter Lisa, now CEO of Jim Henson Enterprises. In 2012, the company severed ties with Chick-Fil-A due to its homophobic bias, and donated existing proceeds to GLAAD.

I always knew that the Muppets were gay-friendly.

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