Just a Reminder: Jim Henson Was a Human Being

Published: May 30, 2024
Categories: Commentary, Feature

With a documentary about him coming out in a matter of hours, there sure seems to be more talk than usual about Jim Henson these days. Some of it’s even from folks who don’t obsess over the Muppets! Hopefully, Jim Henson Idea Man reminds people about just what made him special, from his life to his work to his very nature. But I’ll give a word of warning: the portrait of Jim you’ll see is going to be complex, particularly with how he balanced his role as a creative visionary with being a husband and a father. So before people start complaining about this documentary ruined their childhood, there’s something important I want to remind you about:

Jim Henson was a human being!

I know there’s a tendency among Muppet fans to view Jim as this magical, mythical figure, as if he was something more than human. To be fair, I understand why, given how imaginative his work was and how much he accomplished in such a short life span. It makes sense to give him that sort of reverence when taking the whole of his career into account, especially with his relationships with his coworkers. To be in charge of such a large company, with all the pressure put upon you to succeed, and not let your ego take over is a nearly supernatural achievement, and an especially rare one at that in the entertainment industry. But to nearly deify him denies the self-acceptance that Jim himself stood for. I think he put it best in the letter he wrote to his children: “Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.” In making him more than mortal, we deny his truth.

Yes, it’s true that Jim spent an incredible amount of time working, to the point where it drove a wedge between him and his wife, Jane. And it’s true that when he was far away from home, he’d seek companionship from others, all of which would be factors in the couple’s eventual separation. That same nonstop drive to create also meant that his children would often work on Muppet productions just to spend time with their father. But in the same regard, it’s also true that they’ve shared fond memories of working with him, and all of them, along with Jane, continued to keep his legacy alive in various ways long after his death. The issues don’t erase the love he had for his family, and the love they had for him, nor do they take away from the incredible things he created. To view him as more of a legend than a man doesn’t make sense if you want to understand Jim fully. He made mistakes both in his creative and personal lives, just like the rest of us. If anything, it makes me appreciate Jim’s story even more, and frankly, gives me hope. He wasn’t a demigod. He had many different facets, just like everyone else, and if he could make such wonders, well then, anybody can.

We as a species can be messy and mixed-up, and that also goes for anyone who worked for the Muppets. It’s okay to disagree with something they say or even find them off-putting at times. And you don’t have to like everything they do. Don’t rob them of their humanity. That’s the problem with putting people on pedestals: eventually, they lose their nuance, and that can be what makes them a true inspiration. Jim Henson loved fast cars, dessert carts, and “Pogo” comics. He thought he might be able to end war with puppets. He jet-setted across continents for his work, maybe without realizing what he was giving up to do that. He could be stubborn, and he could be gentle, sometimes at the same time. He hated confrontation. He wasn’t one to yell, but he got angry, just like the rest of us. And he created some of the most impressive projects to ever appear on a screen. But most of all, Jim Henson was wonderfully, marvelously human, and that’s worth recognizing.

Click here to put away the pedestal on the ToughPigs Discord!

by Matthew Soberman – Matthew@ToughPigs.com

Tagged:Jim Henson

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