Have you ever found yourself on an unexpected media cleanse? Last month, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying movies or TV shows as much as I used to, so I just stopped watching them. And you know what? It feels great! I can already feel my inner spiritual aura purifying its hippity dippity something-or-other. I don’t have any opinions about the latest movie discourse! Must-see TV doesn’t apply to J.D.! I’m usually so stressed about whatever useless fight Spider-Man’s picked with the Hugo director, but it all feels so distant now. I love not caring!
Then I remember that writing about audiovisual media is something I have to do as a Tough Pig. Ah well. It happens to everyone I guess. So I’ve been ignoring the rules for Muppet-related media, and especially for Fraggle Rock. It turns out that this is the hardest media to watch because of how much I do care.
Revisiting it as an adult, I’m mildly mind-blown by how many big thoughts and ideas the Fraggle writers could pack into 24 minutes. When I watch any given episode, I want to write a whole darn book about it, but I don’t have the time or the energy. That’s stressful enough, but what really gets my radish boiling is other fans’ Fraggle takes. When somebody has a negative or thoughtless opinion about something I care about this deeply, it makes me downright furious. I hate caring.
A few weeks ago, to reassure myself that my Fraggle opinions are always right and everyone else’s are a load of Doozer dung, I began watching “I Don’t Care” to prepare for writing this article. I didn’t remember anything about it when I signed up for it – the other episodes I would have liked to review were taken, so I picked this one because it’s a Boober episode, and Boober’s my guy. Wembley is also near and dear, but I am very much a pessimist, a nervous wreck, and a thoroughly unpleasant bummer to be around, according to my therapist.
I kid. I do relate to Boober though, and I greatly admire his negativity. Unfortunately, this is a “Boober is too superstitious” episode, and that’s the version of Boober I don’t get. I’m with him when he’s wallowing in the badness of life, but I don’t relate to the faith in magical objects. It stinks when a character I care about so much acts so differently than I would like him to, and that’s most of this episode. Let’s do the obligatory plot rundown, shall we?
Boober and Wembley are walking by the hole to Outer Space as Boober shows off his new lucky bottle cap that gives him the confidence to do anything, and he decides he’ll go into Outer Space. Wembley warns him it’s too dangerous, but Boober doesn’t care. As they fight about it, Wembley accidentally sends the bottle cap hurtling down a bottomless cavern, and Boober, predictably, is distraught. He goes to the Trash Heap for help, and she gives him a “lucky” blanket, only for Red to ruin it with paint, enraging him. When they try to apologize, Boober yells, “I don’t care!”
Up until that point, it seemed like this was a “Boober learns not to make too much of his superstitions” episode, and we already had one of those this season, but the emphasis on the other Fraggles’ disregard for Boober’s wishes complicates that narrative. It gets more complicated when they book the Hall of Justice, prompting Gobo and company to sing one of the most fun, bouncy, Muppety songs you’ll ever hear on Fraggle Rock: “I Swear (To Be Fair)”. I’d like to book the Hall of Justice to sue whoever decided not to release this track on an album, and the best part of that idea is getting to sing this song as we swear in, which will ensure I’ve won my case before we’ve even begun. And that’s how due process works.
Red goofs around throughout the trial until she knocks juice onto Boober’s already ruined blanket, making it even harder to clean, and Wembley starts using the pages of Boober’s speech to try to wipe it up, making the writing illegible. When Boober gets upset, they all dismiss his feelings. Boober decides he’s going away “to find Fraggles who play fair, who love justice… and laundry!”
“Who cares what he does,” Red mutters as Boober exits.
Wembley replies, “We care… don’t we?”
By the time Red and Mokey are going to see the Trash Heap for advice, I’ve had to admit to myself that I’ve lost track of the story. Whose story was it, and what were we supposed to learn? Now my initial overconfidence looked silly. I had been latching onto one reading of the episode and then the next, forming strong opinions so quickly, only for the episode to keep surprising me. Maybe I needed to loosen up a little.
Wembley goes after Boober to try to get him to forgive his friends and come back to Fraggle Rock. “Wembley, I don’t care. Now get out of my way,” he says, as he throws Wembley into a big Doozer tower, causing it to crash down on our dear little green wimp. For a few minutes there, it appears Boober has accidentally killed Wembley.
Red is trying to wash the blanket and realizes she shrank it as Boober carries a Wembley corpse over to… wherever they are. It’s hard to tell in this show. Red and Boober sweetly yell apologies at each other for everything that’s led up to this point, and Wembley wakes up shouting his own apologies, as I often do. Wembley turns out to be totally fine because Boober put the wet blanket on his forehead, but unlike my therapist, when Wembley says “wet blanket”, he isn’t criticizing my personality. Red apologizes for shrinking the blanket, but Boober says, “I don’t care about my blanket. I care about Wembley.”
So. There’s a lot going on here. Some of this story’s messages seem to be working against each other, but it all feels intentional, and even if it weren’t, I think there’s a way to put it all together. I’d like to focus on its two big ideas about the complicated nature of caring.
I generally think of caring as a positive, but this episode shows how it becomes a problem when we care about things more than we care about people. Boober becomes so attached to his bottle cap that he’s dismissive and rude toward Wembley. When Red crashes into the paint cans, Boober is so worried about his blanket that he exclaims, “I don’t care about Red!” Finally, Boober is so upset about his blanket and his speech that he kills Wembley.
What intrigues me more than this are the moments when the “things” we care about are far more abstract than simple objects. It’s how Mokey gets too caught up in her play to listen to Boober. It’s when the Fraggles get too caught up in Red’s jokes to recognize what Boober is feeling. That’s when we, as viewers, find ourselves occupying multiple perspectives at once: we see how wrong it is for Boober to value his things over his friends, and we also see how wrong it is for Boober’s friends to ignore what he values, yet each perspective is perfectly understandable and has value.
In “I Swear (To Be Fair)”, the Fraggles promise “to treat everybody as if they were me”. This can be read as tongue-in-cheek, as though they’re saying all these nice words while being jerks, but I’d argue that they are, in fact, kind of following the golden rule. Gobo would not have cared if somebody ruined his lucky blanket, because he would not have had a lucky blanket. Red would not have cared if someone ruined her lengthy speech, because she would not have written down a lengthy speech. They think the best solution to Boober’s problem is for him to stop worrying and party with them, because maybe that would be the best solution for them. The trouble is, Boober is not them. He is Boober. He cares about justice and laundry.
In a typical children’s show from this era, I would expect the message to be about the golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. This show, being ahead of its time, instead highlights the platinum rule: whenever possible, treat others as they would want to be treated. That’s this episode’s second big idea. This is why, in the Fraggles’ Hall of Justice, there can’t be any justice so long as those in the majority don’t care about listening to the perspectives of those in the minority, even if those perspectives aren’t obvious or intuitive to them. This is all crystalized in the Doc and Sprocket segments: Doc builds a robot dog to fetch the paper so Sprocket doesn’t have to, without realizing that Sprocket likes fetching the paper. What seems kind and fair to you might not be to others.
Let’s put this in a wider context. I think this “platinum” paradigm shift is growing more widely accepted today, but we still haven’t all grappled with the implications. Just as Red is supposed to party while Boober is supposed to launder, and both are supposed to recognize the value of these differences, human beings are really freaking different from each other, and we’re supposed to be that way. Fraggle Rock should inspire us to embrace different forms of cosmopolitanism – to work toward a society that celebrates its diverse perspectives rather than trying to homogenize humanity.
Many a think piece has been written in recent years about how America isn’t really a melting pot, and we wouldn’t necessarily want it to be. There’s no need for assimilation when you can have a whole table of different foods for different tastes and needs. As someone with particular dietary needs, I experience this both metaphorically and literally as I greatly benefit from a whole spread of food in which everyone is accommodated. Fortunately, this show doesn’t have Boober putting all the foods of different cultures together into one big pot of slop and treating this assimilation as a positive value. If there were such an episode of a Fraggle series, not only would that be obviously disgusting when taken literally (just imagine chicken noodle soup mixed together with tomato soup, French onion soup, and clam chowder, then throw what you’ve imagined right into the trash), but the metaphor would be so blatantly outdated and misguided that Muppet fans would surely call it out as such, right? Is that just me? I mean, hypothetically speaking, if it turned out that the fans seemed to unanimously love such an episode, leaving me alone in my unpopular Fraggle opinions, I might have felt disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.
Fortunately, now that I’ve written out some of my Fraggle feelings here, I think I can learn to accept other Muppet fans’ Fraggle opinions. Upon reflection, maybe I’ve been holding onto my media opinions too tightly. Maybe I’ve been holding onto my idea of Boober too tightly. Maybe I can let go of my ego a little. After all, they’re just things. I’d rather care about people than things.
Strongest Moment: I mean, if we’re being literal, Wembley was surprisingly physically strong when he kept Boober from entering Outer Space.
Weakest Moment: If Boober hadn’t been so weak, maybe he could have finished the job and properly killed Wembley.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Wembley is the one character in this who consistently cares about his friends more than anything else.
Musical Highlight: “Get Blue (Goin’ Down the Road)” showcases the same trick as “Feel So Bad” in an earlier episode. It starts as the blues, but then, without changing the melody, transforms into a happy little ditty.
One More Thing…: When Red is so frustrated with Boober that she says she’s going to kill him, Mokey replies, “You won’t have to Red – I’ve booked the Hall of Justice,” which very much makes it sound like Boober is about to be executed.
Okay, One More Thing…: In the postcard segment, Matt sees a man throwing a boomerang and assumes he’s trying to get rid of it. Indeed, people are usually trying to get rid of the things they throw away, so it’s an intuitive assumption. As it happens, trying to rely on your own intuitions to understand what someone else is after often doesn’t work, but listening might.
I feel like I had more to say about this boomerang bit that I’m forgetting now, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me.
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By J.D. Hansel