The Muppets and Suspension of Disbelief

Published: May 31, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Today’s article was written by Maria Nance! Thanks Maria for your insight and hard work!

Imagine you’re me, you’re sitting in your room, thinking about the Muppets, because what are you gonna do on a Friday night? Go on a date? No! Think about the Muppets! And a thought crosses your mind,”I wonder what Kermit’s doing right now?” 

Is he swimming in the pond he has at his house? Is he helping his nephew Robin, with homework? Is he using Zoom to keep in touch with the other Muppets? Is he in a work Zoom right now and No Gonzo, I don’t need to see your collection of bent spoons, this is a script meeting, Good Grief! 

And then you remember something crucial: he is a puppet, and he’s probably in some storage facility, or most likely in a blue tote in Matt Vogel’s home. And you laugh at yourself, because why would you think about this puppet like he has a job and a life, and family? Why am I so invested in his friendship with the failing comedian bear? Why does my brain tell me he needs couples counselling with a certain pig starlet? Why do I think Gonzo has a collection of bent spoons?!?

The simple answer is Suspension of disbelief. Okay, end of article, thank you for reading! 

Click Here to suspend your disbelief on the Tough Pigs for-

No, wait, sorry, I need to go into detail.

The term ‘suspension of disbelief’ was coined in 1817 by poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and according to him, is an essential part of storytelling. It literally means the intentional avoidance of critical thought for the sake of enjoyment in fiction. But you’re not intentionally avoiding critical thought, are you? No, you can’t be! This is the Muppets we’re talking about, you actively think about them, and critically, on the daily.

So why is it when you sit down and watch a Toy Story movie, you don’t immediately become engrossed in Buzz Lightyear’s day to day? Even though Disney wants you to be so they’ve announced a Buzz Lightyear spin-off prequel, and why don’t they just acknowledge Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, you wonder? You don’t care! You don’t care about Buzz Lightyear’s favorite ice cream flavor! But you do care and know that Kermit the Frog’s favorite ice cream flavor is dragonfly ripple. It’s not like the Toy Story movies aren’t enjoyable, because they are. They’re wonderfully animated and brilliantly executed works of fiction. But that’s the thing, you recognize they’re fictional. Why does suspension of disbelief work only during the film for Buzz Lightyear, but works all of the time for the Muppets?

Buzz Lightyear: Muppet movie poster thief

In part, it has to do with the fact that in their own show, The Muppet Show, they showed us what they got up to behind the scenes. Buzz Lightyear doesn’t show us around Pixar Studios. In other variety and comedy shows in that genre, as the audience, we just watch what’s on the stage. We’re not supposed to see what’s happening behind the curtain. Whose Line is it Anyway? isn’t showing us what Colin Mochrie’s doing on his day off! That’s what his twitter’s for! It has to do with the fact that they are tangible, physical objects. We can’t hug Spongebob, we can hug a person in a mascot suit pretending to be him, but we can’t hug, talk, and interact with an animated sponge. But the Muppets, being puppets, are real, physical things we can interact with. Celebrities can interact with them, the Muppets can go on talk shows, and react to the audience clapping for them. You can’t interview a storyboard panel! And it’s not just because they’re physical objects, it’s also because of the performers.

Puppeteer’s jobs are literally built on suspension of disbelief! Puppeteer’s are there to convince you that this man, who throws boomerang fish, has an apartment! David Rudman’s job is to trick us into thinking a blue furry trash bag eats cookies! It doesn’t matter that we briefly see Jim’s knuckle on the coat rack during “Stepping Out with a Star” because Kermit’s singing and dancing! The thing is, the Muppets know this. They know that we know, that they are inanimate objects being animated! That’s the wild thing to think about! That’s why Kermit comments for us to ‘think about that, friends’ when he sips milk from a straw and the milk disappears. If he didn’t comment on it, I would just go “Oh yes, Kermit’s drinking milk, cool, I do that.” not “OH MY GOD, A PUPPET DRANK MILK! THAT’S SUCH A COOL, PROBABLY COMPLICATED PUPPETRY TRICK”

They comment and acknowledge that what they’re doing can’t be done truthfully, because they’re not real. But they’re real to me, and to you, and to tons of fans. They’re real in two layered ways: they are complex three-dimensional characters that we root for, and they are as intractable as any human is. So, yes, I know and fully realize they are fictional, but that doesn’t deter me from thinking about the time Scooter said he was going to lend Walter his old green, satin, Muppet Show jacket; isn’t that just the coolest? 

Once our brain accepts that the world of the Muppets can do anything, nothing’s off limits. These over exaggerated couch cushions and coats can do anything, even breathe. We continue to accept, even though subconsciously and consciously, we know they can’t do that. It’s different from cartoons because the Muppets live in our world, just a more Muppet-y version of it! Suspension of disbelief works, not because we start thinking everything we see is real; it works because our brain says two conflicting things: we’re sitting watching a puppet movie/show, and we feel what we’re watching is happening. As long as there are some forms of consistency, our brains will accept anything. And the only constant in the Muppet universe is that anything is possible, and anything can happen!

And you know what? It’s okay to think a lot about the goings on of these characters, it just means they mean a lot to you. There’s a reason fanart, and fanfiction, and fan-sites like the one you’re reading right now exist, darn it! It means art matters, puppetry matters, and that you care. It’s fantastic to care! It’s okay to care, it’s wonderful, you’re believing, you’re pretending! You’re doing exactly what the Muppets want you to do, have suspension of disbelief, and wholly accept that these scraps of felt and foam want to make you happy by putting on shows and movies.

So, maybe you’re not me, thinking about the Muppets in such a way. Maybe it’s just me who wants to know if the Electric Mayhem share an apartment, or if they just sleep on their bus. Maybe I’m the only one who cares how Uncle Deadly takes his favorite recreational drink on the weekends! Are Wayne and Wanda dating or is it just all a part of their act? Has Sam the Eagle talked to his ex-wife in a while? Is Rowlf a part of a litter, and if so, is he the oldest or the runt? And you know what?!? I wanna know why Gonzo thinks a soup ladle should go in his bent spoons collection! 

Now you Click here to suspend your disbelief on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Maria Nance


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