I’m pretty sure the 11 words that undoubtedly produce the most happiness are, “It’s time to get things started on The Muppet Show tonight.”
The Muppets have made audiences chuckle, snort and cackle with their skits, songs and interactions for the past 50 years, and fans will continue to adore them for generations to come.
The Muppets — Jim Henson’s brainchild — began their stardom in a television show created in 1976, eventually expanding into multiple movies, a modernized television show and even an experience in Disney World. For those who have been living under a rock, the Muppets are puppets maneuvered by humans off the screen, hence the name “Muppets.” Each has a distinct personality, and together they host a late-night television show that always features a special celebrity guest. Though mishaps always tend to occur on and off stage, the Muppets find humor in their misfortune and always prevail.
This timeless humor has prospered through disco and roller skates, the invention of the internet and perms, and even the current age of TikTok and iPhones. I believe there are a few factors that explain why the Muppets are transgenerational cultural icons, maintaining relevance across time and space.
The Muppets will always remain relevant because they’re ageless. The audience is never informed of the Muppets’s ages, nor how long they have been working in the industry. We don’t know how much time transpired in the Muppets universe between each installment of “The Muppet Show,” or from the show to the most recent Muppets media — the “Muppets Most Wanted” movie — since the year is not mentioned during the film.
Take “Muppets Take Manhattan” as an example. During the movie, a calendar dramatically flips through the months to illustrate time passing as the Muppets search for a producer in New York. Even throughout the various break-ups and reunions in the Muppets, time is presented in relative terms. For example, when Kermit sings “Pictures In My Head” to remember the gang, he explains that a lot of time has passed since he has seen the rest of the crew — but not specifically how much time.
Because the Muppets are ageless, no one expects them to act at like they’re a certain age or reach certain human milestones that would otherwise influence their character arc and the audience the Muppets appeal to. Instead, the Muppets exist in a timeless vacuum and remain young in our hearts, creating easy pathways for new generations to fall in love with the Muppets.
However, this agelessness doesn’t mean the plot line suffers from a lack of maturity. In the 2011 “The Muppets” movie, we follow Kermit as he travels around the world, collecting his original crew from their independent endeavors — like Gonzo’s Toilet franchise empire, Miss Piggy’s fashion line and Sam Eagle’s new television segment. Together they face the most difficult challenge of all — compiling all of their resources and talents to save their “Muppets” brand while an evil philanthropist, along with a band of anti-Muppets, plot against them.
Throughout the franchise, they go to space, work at diners and even visit Russia to conquer evil Kermit. Simultaneously, the Muppets have both a upbeat, youthful energy and the vast life experiences that tend to come with age. We can’t find this anomaly anywhere else in our life — which is why we are transfixed by the Muppets franchise.
Audiences are continually drawn back to the Muppets because they are exaggerated representations of people well all know in our lives. There’s Miss Piggy, the diva of the group; Fozzie Bear, the butt of many jokes; Animal, the drummer who acts like a deranged pet and Kermit the Frog, the voice of reason that often gets overlooked. The Muppets allow us to see all these strong personalities interact — such as Miss Piggy arguing with Fozzie Bear to get the spotlight or Animal wanting to overplay the drums to the other band members’ dismay.
Many good television concepts haven’t been able to stay as relevant as the Muppets. Unlike other character groups, the Muppets have been able to continually intertwine themselves into pop culture by using celebrity guests who teach Muppets lingo and trends from the current era, keeping them connected and relevant. Starting from the first episode of “The Muppet Show,” there have always been guest stars — many of whom are still recognizable today — such as Elton John, Harry Belefonte and Sylvester Stallone.
For the Muppets, nothing ever works out — they aren’t ready for their acts, props are in the wrong place, and in some installments, the world deems them irrelevant. Yet somehow they always find success — because they embrace their quirks and talents together. By being themselves, the Muppets are able to thrive in the Muppet universe and as a brand.
And because there are no groups of people at the butt of these jokes — just the Muppets — people will continue to laugh at these puppets for generations to come. Humor that makes us laugh without putting any group of people down will continue to be shared with future generations without perpetuating hurtful stereotypes.
In a world where there are many disappointments, following the Muppets as they beat all the odds and continuously succeed inspires us to embrace ourselves and each other to find triumph in our own lives.
Talia Spillerman writes about anything and everything. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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