Thursday, May 17, 2007

Henson and other things

Yesterday was a day of mourning for me. Jim Henson died May 16, 1990.

So I spent the day in quiet reflection and repast, contemplating my own position in the universe...

Actually, I didn't remember this date until late in the day. If I had, I would surely have spent it watching my Muppet Show DVDs, sitting in my living room, surrrounded by Muppet paraphenalia, as I plan to later today.

It's always been one of my biggest goals to work with the Muppets. Interviewing several Muppet-eers for the now-defunct Cinefantastique was one of my career highlights, as was setting up this job at the actual Muppet Offices in Manhattan - which, of course, no longer exist. When Amy and I went to visit and arrange the articles, The Muppets were still the sole property of the Jim Henson Company, not the Disney Corporation. People still cared about the Muppets then, too.

We got to see Jim's office. Kept exactly the way it had when he died. There was a stained-glass window - on top was Ernie and Bert, below, the likenesses of Jim and Frank Oz. I swear it felt like someone had just left.

As we sat in this enormous conference room, just Amy and I and Veronica Hart, head of public relations, seated at this enormous carved table with Muppety feet on all four corners, Jane Henson walked in, apologized and walked out. I couldn't believe it.

I really do hope, some day, to write for a new Muppet Show. Right now, though, the Disney Corporation is adamant that the Muppets "no longer resonate with the American viewer". Perhaps that's because they've been kept out of the spotlight for so long? The Muppet Holding Company, as it was called until recently, has a new president now, however. Maybe things will change.

* * *

I've never been accused of being on the cutting edge of anything. So it should come as a surprise to no one that I discovered James Farr's Xombie this morning. Literally this morning. There's an interview with him up on Film Threat right now, and I couldn't help but sympathize with his trials at getting Xombie made by the majors. As he points out, studios are afraid of anything they haven't seen before. We went through a lot of that, and are still going through it, with The Resurrection Game. So swing on over to and check out the episodes. They're really terrific.

* * *

While on hold for another technical support problem - this time banking-related matters - I couldn't help but realize that I was talking to yet another person in India, rather than anyone in the actual bank I was calling. As I sat and waited, a political pop-up window opened, urging me to feel some sort of outrage over the immigrant "catastrophe" we're facing in America. See, immigrants are flooding into the United States and taking our jobs away. I felt that was about half right, or, actually, two different statements. Immigrants are flooding into our country. Check. They're taking our jobs away. Check. But only the ones we send overseas through national greed and focus on the bottom line.

I don't see college graduates crying out over the need for more dishwashing and hotel cleaning jobs. They're crying out because all of our tech and customer service positions have been given away to folks in other countries who will work for much less than Americans will.

So all this hue and cry about immigration. That's the smoke-screen, right? That's the "hey look over here!" wave of the arms while our jobs vanish from the country. Which am I really supposed to care about? (Don't bother writing to me to tell me how misguided I am about this issue, btw. If I'm ignorant of an enormous amount of facts and figures and statistics and the fact that Pablo the Pool Boy ran off with your mom, ya know what? I'm okay with that hole in my education.)

I should just relax and wait a while. In a few more months, we can worry about gay marriage and abortion again. (As far as I care about these subjects: as long as neither are made mandatory, I don't care who does what. I don't plan to marry a gay man and I am unlikely to ever have an abortion of my own. So it's not my right to tell anyone else that they can or can't.) America will always have it's hysterical causes. So long as we don't mention the war.

With all of this going on, smoking, of course, is the brand new villain. The smoking ban in Pittsburgh lasted for about 14 hours before it was suspended by pending lawsuits issued by two area restaurants. To which I say: bravo and don't hold your breath (no pun intended). Again: I don't smoke. I hate smoking. I'd love it if every smoker I knew magically came to their senses and stopped smoking today so we could all eat in peace without someone having to run outside for 5-7 minutes. But it ain't going to happen.

And that being said, it shouldn't be up to anyone to tell anyone else what they can and can't do. We already have smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants, to whatever successful degree they exist. Why do we need city-wide bans? Why did New York or California need these things? Why should we persecute an entire section of our society simply because they're committing suicide right in front of us? Everyone should have the right to commit suicide any way they like. And for us non-smokers who don't want to inhale second-hand smoke? Tough. It should be up to each individual to decide whether or not he should shun his friends. As far as my smoking friends go, they don't blow smoke in my face, they don't smoke inside my house when they come over. They don't force a cigarette into my mouth when I eat. That's pretty much all the courtesy I require.

* * *

So a few weeks ago, mankind saw the death of Jack Valenti, one of those villains in history who truly believed he was doing the right thing at all times. He was the head of the MPAA which, of course, is another evil company that truly believes it has the best interests of everyone in mind. Like anti-smoking legislation, it believes it knows better than you. Whether they want to believe it or not, they're censors. Watch This Film is Not Yet Rated for examples of this. For the independent filmmaker, they are the quiet gestapo. They don't come into your house and seize your film - they don't want anything to do with your film, but please come right in Mr. Spielberg and tell us all about your latest war atrocity production.

Now, that being said, the MPAA was set up to prevent the government from stepping in and doing the censoring that Hollywood didn't want to do. Just like the Comics Code, as it was established in the '50s, Hollywood took it upon themselves to self-govern, according the changing mores of the movie-going public. Except, unlike the Comics Code, which has relaxed over the years and has, almost, completely vanished, the MPAA has no strict code to adhere to. Everything is done on a case-by-case basis. So, of course, ample amounts of cronyism abound.

But Jack Valenti stood by it all the way. He knew better than he thought we should. And now that he's gone, his ill-conceived notions of propriety continue to endure. The next element to be taboo in American movies? Smoking, and the depiction of smoking. And, of course, the horrible notion of "the glorification of smoking" (!).

And around and around and around.

* * *

Another entity convinced of his own inherent goodness recently called home: Jerry Falwell. Though I'm sure his ministry will continue to stomp their jackboots over anyone not of their faith, the good reverend is gone from this Earth now. Every random website has a poll: "Jerry Falwell - Heaven or Hell, cast your vote!" I don't think it matters.

If the universe works the way I think it does, and there actually is a Heaven and Hell, well, Falwell went to Heaven. He was convinced that everything he said or did was mandated by his devotion to God. Jews and Homosexuals, in his view, really were responsible for 9/11 (makes as much sense as every other theory). Unless he was a terribly good actor, Falwell was an utter slave to his convictions. He was pious, he was hollier-than-allayou. So, of course, he got his ultimate reward. To think otherwise is either shadenfreude or a gross misunderstanding of the laws of the Divine.

* * *

This is why I love the Muppets. On the Muppet Show, none of this shit mattered. And I hate that I've reached a stage in my life where all of this actually does matter to me. It's a sign of horrible maturity where you are actually affected by the world around you.

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