Gonzo as a nonbinary icon. Gonzo as an illegal alien, living here without the proper paperwork. A chef promoting gun violence with a blunderbuss. A man performing the stylish Miss Piggy? Clearly a drag act. Countless shows referencing climate change and claiming humans are harming the earth. The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.
I hate to sound like Sam the Eagle here, but folks, it’s time that we admit it: the Muppets should be banned.
“Wait!” you may say. “The Muppets are just innocent, wiggling dolls that make me laugh. There’s no reason to ban them.”
Okay, I don’t actually want to ban the Muppets, but the above hypothetical argument is not an effective counter to someone who does. Yes, the Muppets do make us laugh, but no, they’re not “innocent” whatever that word might mean to you. They’re the products and mouthpieces of adult humans who had, and still have, a subversive sense of humor.
They’re the conduit through which adult humans talk about controversial topics in society. Sure, there are jokes, and maybe Miss Piggy was never intended to be compared to drag queens, but that doesn’t stop the human mind from drawing these connections.
Who’s to say what connections are and are not present in the media we consume? Creators, writers, and showmakers love embedding themes and deep messages in media. Some do it for fun, some for layered storytelling, some for mysterious reasons that future scholars will no doubt explicate in their doctoral dissertations. The audience can choose to engage with these themes or not. It’s perfectly valid to enjoy the Muppets simply as wiggling dolls. It’s also valid to understand Dr. Teeth’s obsession with earning money as commentary about the pressure on artists to make a profit first and make meaning second.
Whether or not each of us chooses to look deeper for these messages is a personal choice. But there is always one group choosing to engage with these deeper themes and possibly hidden messages in stories in bad faith: People who want to ban those stories.
As pointed out above, there are plenty of ways someone could interpret the Muppets and find them distasteful. This distaste plus prescriptivist attitudes leads to banning. Think of it like Jimmy’s mother forbidding him to watch The Smurfs because it promotes witchcraft. (Turning Smurfs into gold is still a lost skill.) Except now, Jimmy’s mother is telling her congresspeople that no one should be able to watch The Smurfs. Congress listens and passes laws that restrict access to The Smurfs.
Does this sound ridiculous? It’s not a thought experiment. It’s happening right now. Except replace the Smurfs with LGBTQIA+ media and performances and you’ll see exactly what’s happening across the United States. According to the ACLU’s website, 491 anti-LGBTQ bills in 46 state legislatures have been active at some point during the 2023 legislative session. Forty-three of these bills target “Free speech and expression,” which means they’re limiting access to books and banning performances like drag shows.
The bills have names like “DEFENSE OF CHILDREN’S INNOCENCE ACT” or they describe their purpose as restricting public funding for sexual exhibition. With this framing, any opponent of such bills risks may be accused of being in favor of ruining children’s innocence, or wishing to give their tax dollars to sexual performances, both of which don’t have a good look politically. In this way, the bills pass and marginalized communities suffer for it. They have their creative outlets, their means of self-expression, their voices ripped away from them.
The culture of banning material considered “unsuitable” is out there and there’s no reason these same laws couldn’t be applied to the Muppets.
For instance, one person might watch a sketch with Ernie and Bert and say, “These two Muppets are exact opposites living together and it’s hilarious!” Another person could look at it and say, “They’re a gay couple and I love seeing that representation.” And, sadly, a third person could say, “They’re a gay couple and no preschooler should be seeing this! It’s grooming!”
Which interpretation is correct? Doesn’t matter. What matters are the actions that result from each. One of these interpretations could get a 54-year-old television program pulled from the air because of new legislation. Has this happened yet? No. But do we really want to wait until our favorite shows, movies and books have been challenged before we do something about it? Again, no.
So what actions can Muppet fans take to head this off? Start with love. Watch, rewatch, and talk about the Muppets with other Muppet fans. Talk about it with non-Muppet fans. Ferret out any and all reasons that the Muppets might be bannable. Find every last excuse some bigot could have for putting Fraggle Rock on a blacklist and prepare yourself to defend it.
Why is it important for audiences to have access to the Muppets? Why is it important that our favorite characters talk about controversial topics? Why should the Muppets be increasing representation for marginalized groups and creators especially amidst this current wave of opposition? It’s important that we answer these questions ourselves so that we, the fans, control the conversation and make it one of joy and love and passion and not hate and misguided right-mindedness. A great place to start looking for these answers is in the Pride Month Profiles right here on the Tough Pigs website.
Tell the world that this media is worth having. When detractors come to challenge it, or if they’re already challenging it in a state near you, challenge them back. Vote no. Send emails. Show up and let love lead the way. Do it now and do this with any media that you love. Do it for any media that even has a hint of queerness. Especially do it for the shows, movies and books that are queer all over, because those have already suffered from bannings and they need your staunch defense and fierce love the most.
Click here to ban the Muppets on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Katilyn Miller