The Monsters of Creativity

I grew up in a household where taste was regulated like morals, which is why I've made certain that my son is free to like what he likes whether I share his tastes or not. I may not be a SnoopDog fan, but I will never make anyone else feel bad for being one.  I've also made sure that no one else will make fun of my son or bully him for his interests or aesthetics.  One more advantage to unschooling.

One of my most favorite artists, one of the two that have given me hope since I was four years old, is Jim Henson.  The other is Charles Shulz.  On sheer creativity and originality they are unmatched.  Their humor is simultaneously warm and fuzzy yet ironic with no end to making fun of stupidy and narrow mindedness.  How could I not relate?  Whether it's Woodstock's impossibility of flying consistently right side up or Kermit's quiet hope and conviction, they often seem more real and truthful to me than many a "real" hero.

The intensely colored fluffy fur and bouncy feathery hair, the googly ping pong eyeballs, the eyelids and eyebrows that go up and down, and the micro expressions all characteristic of Henson's creations fascinate me.  Their textures and hues are at once familiar and other worldly.  I marvel at how one group, his Muppet Workshop can concieve of Robin, the naive nephew of Kermit, and the entourage of groupie monsters that hang around with Muppet Show guest star Alice Copper.

It's the monsters and really freaky characters I've loved the most from Cookie, Harry, Animal, and Doglion to the dorks like Beaker... they speak to me like Maurice Sendak's Wild Things come to life with a touch of Monty Python's goofiest off the wall skits.  Don't even get me started on Yoda or that little dog-monkey that sits at Jaba the Hut's feet in Return of the Jedi.

The Muppet Show ran on the then available channels from when I was 10 until I was 13.  I had Muppet everything, stuffed and puppet ones, spiral ring notebooks and folders for school, and even a purse with Muppet characters painted on it.  If it had Animal, The Swedish Chef, or Beaker on it, I wanted it.  

Yes, these Henson licensed accessories were just the recipe for acceptance in junior high - if you read that completely sarcastically, then you understood correctly.  My fellow classmates, all girls, found my fangirl accessories yet one more way to point out that I was weird and didn't belong... anywhere.  

In hearing Fraggle Rock co-creator Michael Frith speak at Dragon*Con 2013 and in reading Make Art Make Money, a book by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens of brilliant lessons on how Henson's success is useful for all artists, I learned just how passionately Henson wanted the Muppets to be for adult audiences rather than only for children.  Henson's whole concept behind The Muppet Show was aimed at adults with the added benefit that kids would love the Muppets' cuddliness enough to make whole families watch together.

This adult oriented concept was what made all three major American networks repeatedly turn him down.  They saw all puppetry as being simply for children, and, as is often the case in American culture, therefore easily dismissed.  Though CBS aired The Muppet Show, it was produced by ITC in England, and, of course, ultimately incredibily successful around the world.

I've always known my fanatacism for all things Muppets made me one more step outside the proverbial box.  (There might be more than a touch of gonzo in me.)  Now I understand that my classmates in junior high just weren't mature enough to appreciate art aimed at adults.

This past Halloween one of my son's friends, who is 11, dressed up as Animal.  I gushed appropriately as we took turns screaming, "Woman!" in our best Animal impressions.  My husband jokes I have a thing for drummers.  Not true.  It's Animal's extreme obsession with playing music contrasted to his sedate primitive naivete and the way his fur and monobrowed eyelids pop open when he's doing what he loves the most that make me laugh everytime. 

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