Hi, Muppet fans and well-dressed zoo animals! Welcome back to the Muppet Book Club. Last time we met, we read the Sesame Street book Bert’s Hall of Great Inventions, written by Revena Dwight and illustrated by Roger Bradfield in 1972. You, the readers, had some good things to say about it. And what did you have to say? Let’s find out! (If you missed the book the first time around, click here to read it before proceeding!)
C. Jackson: That bird is working more diligently than the two Muppets combined. More like “Bird’s Hall of Great Inventions.”
Vendaface: How does a bird hold a hammer? Already this book poses great philosophical questions.
Iceguppie: Ernie’s completely baffled by the hose, like he thinks it’s a microphone or something.
Carson: What/who are Bert and Ernie hiding from? The critics? The children reading the book? The ToughPigs Book Club?
Beth: “Revena Dwight” sounds like a name made up by a nerd name generator.
Staci: This says that it was written to help children “understand natural animal characteristics,” but I don’t think hammering a nail is something a bird does in nature.
Matthew Soberman: I don’t quite get why Jim Henson and Frank Oz get performing credits in the book. I mean, it’s great anytime Muppet performers are acknowledged for their work, but I don’t quite get it in a silent book. Unless early copies of the book involved Henson and Oz visiting readers to narrate the book. I wasn’t alive in 1972, so I’ll assume that’s correct.
Joe N-G: But of course they do! In fact, they’re right here in my living room. They’re very confused.
Shane Keating: “other Jim Henson Muppets.” Dang, Roosevelt Franklin and Betty Lou just got “Season 1 Gilligan’s Island Theme” ‘d.
C. Jackson: Ernie, Roosevelt Franklin, Betty Lou, and a generic old man bust out the zoo animals, and dress them in the finest Italian clothing, parading them around the grounds in an Ocean’s Eleven style caper. (Andy Garcia as “The Lobster.”)
Iceguppie: All of the zoo animals escaped, because the entire budget for reinforcing the cages went into making this sign the absolute best. You have to put on a good show to hook in zoo tourists, escapees, what have you.
Evan G: Given the phrasing, it seems like the animals aren’t exhibits in the zoo, but patrons. I mean, the line between animals and characters is so thin on Sesame Street. Is this a Fluffy kind of elephant or a Horatio kind of elephant? We need more data.
Carson: Ernie noticed Bert’s hall and said to himself “Let me ruin his day.”
Erik: The constant switching between verse and prose is a bit disconcerting. Why can’t this book just pick one or the other?
Ryan R: It seems like you’re supposed to read the sign as part of the text, but that means we have lines ending with zoo, too, new, and Inventions.
Amy Frushour Kelly: The author hasn’t quite gotten the hang of iambic pentameter. But it’s a good try.
David H: The writing pattern is mostly four lines, the first three that rhyme, the last one doesn’t. Is this an existing kind of poetry, and if so, what’s it called? It’s definitely not a haiku.
Ryan R: I don’t know if it has a name.
Three of the lines, they sound the same.
And then, as if it’s all a game
The fourth line unexpectedly ends with a totally different sound and it’s kind of weird.
Amy Frushour Kelly: I can’t stop wondering what kind of fur coat that kangaroo is wearing.
Staci: Hopefully it’s faux.
Jessica: Well, on further thought it’s not ultimately any different to a human wearing a fur or leather coat, but it still seems wrong. And on further further thought, anyone wearing that sort of thing in a world of sentient animals is an unsettling thought to say the least. I guess there are ‘normal’ animals too… Probably best to not think too hard about it.
Ryan R: Yeah, the world Sesame Street takes place in seems to have Muppet animals that can talk and Muppet animals that can’t talk. It’s kind of like Narnia. They also have non-Muppet animals who can’t talk, but I don’t know if they have any non-Muppet animals who can talk.
C. Jackson: Meanwhile, Bert has constructed a museum INSIDE the zoo. A hat on top of a hat, if you ask me.
Shane Keating: I kinda like how even though this book came out in 1972, Bert and Ernie are drawn in their primitive, crummy, 1969 looks.
Carson: I love how Bert acts like no one has ever seen a plane before.
Matt Lydick: Oh, poor Season 1 Bert. Just wait until Sesame Street gets a movie. Then you’ll wish Ernie never laid eyes on a plane.
Amy Frushour Kelly: Bert and Ernie have a hipster groove going here. Bert’s wearing skinny jeans and Ernie’s in Chucks. They should both have beards and glasses with heavy black frames. And tattoos.
Anthony White: “Alright Ernie, the next time you have to haul ass to the west coast or somewhere, you can try sitting on a goddamn bird.”
C. Jackson: Good thing the old man is always carrying around his lucky cage-full-of-mice.
Iceguppie: Why would you need to pick up a mouse cage in the first place? I guess it’d help if you had piles of owls blocking your driveway and couldn’t afford an owl trowel.
Evan G: WHY WOULD YOU USE PINCERS TO GRAB A CAGE OF MICE. BERT’S EXPERIENCES ARE NOT UNIVERSAL AT ALL.
Beth: Why is Bert unable to grab a mice cage with his hands? Were they gnawed off by a dinosaur?
Staci: No matter how I read “Its a PINCERS, Ernie” accompanied by this photo, all I hear is Bert saying it in a tone that implies “It’s a pincers, you idiot. I bet you didn’t know that, you little sh**.”
Jessica: Also… “a pincers”? Does it come in a set with a scissor?
Beth: Where did the lobster come from? Did Ernie have it in his pants? Gonzo would be jealous.
Amy Frushour Kelly: How did the lobster get up onto Bert’s nose? It wasn’t present in either of the two previous panels. Do lobsters leap? Did Ernie throw the lobster at Bert’s face? Did Bert, while holding the cage full of mice using his pincers, lean down to smell the lobster? There are many mysteries within this page.
Shane Keating: They’d never be able to get away with Bert swatting Ernie in the head these days.
Anthony White: You can tell by the look on Bert’s face that he just wanted to smack Ernie over the head with that flyswatter, and it’s probably just a coincidence that there’s a fly there at all.
Matt Lydick: Hey cow, I see you now…
C. Jackson: Roger Bradfield ran out of brown paint.
Beth: A green cow wearing shoes, carrying Roosevelt Franklin on its back. Of course. I want to read its autobiography!
Vendaface: Look at the two different pairs of shoes that cow is wearing. That made me laugh for what seemed like hours.
Iceguppie: Neither the flyswatter or the tail actually hit any flies. I’m calling this one a draw.
Carson: Bert secretly likes being swatted by a cow. Moooooo-ve over Bernice, Bert’s got a thing for cows now.
Evan G: Holy smokes. This is the most violent image ever portrayed in Sesame Street media.
Reginald: Bert is trying to murder Ernie.
Anthony White: He doesn’t care how many green shoe-wearing cows he has to mow down or how many ears he has to lose in the process.
Beth: I love how the bulldozer is pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Shane Keating: So, Bert has to use a trashcan as a pedestal, but has access to a bulldozer?
Iceguppie: “Ernie, you’re driving me straight up the wall!” “Yes, but this gecko can climb on the ceiling!”
Matt Lydick: Betty Lou seems to be interested in that chicken. Looks like she and Gonzo would get along.
Reginald: “ZOOM!” is the sound of a charging goat.
Evan G: I don’t condone violence, but like, maybe Bert deserves this at this point.
Matt Lydick: RIP Bert’s ability to sit down for the next two weeks. 🙁
Amy Frushour Kelly: I just noticed the goat’s tie features a festive strawberry pattern. Huh.
Evan G: Folks, I present to you the ideal playable character for your next DND game. Bert, Lvl. 1 Paladin. Lawful Neutral. Weapon: Copper Flyswatter. Proficiency in Inventions, Hating Animals, Oatmeal.
Matt Lydick: The other Muppets are too afraid to tell Bert that his suit of armor is never coming off.
Shane Keating: The blue guy looks less frightened and more like he’s lost his contacts.
Vendaface: Professor Hastings?!
THEN COMES BABY IN A BABY CARRIAGE
Staci: Wow, Bert’s “180” when he concedes Ernie’s claims is almost as abrupt as Kermit’s in “Being Green!”
Matt Lydick: That’s a relief. For a second, I thought Bert was going to insist that the baby was his invention.
Beth: Bert has crossed the line into kidnapping Baby Whatnots, and no one gives it a second thought.
Carson: I would not trust Bert with my baby.
Anthony White: It’s Herry’s sled buddy from The Together Book! Too bad he/she had to be Bert’s guinea pig, so we probably won’t be seeing him/her for long.
Iceguppie: It’s not much of a carriage if it has to stay plugged into the wall, unless you have a really long extension cord. It only has three legs, and worst of all no seatbelt to keep baby from bouncing out. Better not take that one to the patent office.
Amy Frushour Kelly: This electric jumping baby carriage is fascinating and unnecessarily complicated. Why the faucet on the back? I could understand a drain, but a faucet? Why is the back leg mechanized when the front legs are simple poles? Why only three legs? Why no wheels? It can’t jump far with that extension cord. At least there’s a horn for safety.
C. Jackson: So, in conclusion… “The Hall of Great Inventions” consists of:
– A plane.
– The electric light.
– A hose.
– A flyswatter.
– A bulldozer.
– A suit of armor.
– The electric jumping baby carriage.
…Terrific. Good work there, Bert. Proud of you.
The title page declares that this book was “written to help children become more aware of natural animal characteristics and see counterparts in man-made machines and tools.” Is this a bold attempt by the author to prevent the readers from forming their own interpretations of the book? What do you think the book is REALLY about?
Matthew Soberman: I believe the point of the book is actually “no matter how hard you try, someone will always come by just to one-up you.” Bert has taken all this time and effort to show off all the inventions he believes have had the greatest impact on humankind, and Ernie comes along and says, “screw that, I got some animals that will do that for me.” People are insensitive jerks, essentially. Especially Ernie.
Anthony White: It taught me that Bert is ready to create a multi-species massacre to discourage opposition to his ideas, no matter how easily they can be challenged. Classic Bert.
Matt Lydick: This book is clearly about the destruction of man’s ego.
Iceguppie: It’s about an animal army trying to take over the planet from humans who foolishly think they can replace them. The title page explanation was to prevent the publishing company from being attacked.
Vendaface: This book seems to pose the idea that all of mankind’s inventions are merely hollow and inferior attempts to replicate the natural world around us.
Amy Frushour Kelly: Shattering the dreams of your closest friend and smiling about it.
Staci: I feel like they felt a responsibility to explain how each of their publications was adhering to the organization’s mission.
Evan G: Mankind’s futile attempts to assert themselves against the harsh, unfeeling cruelty of the natural world. Effectively, this is Moby-Dick, except instead of one animal, it’s all of them. Poor Bert.
Some of Ernie’s animal friends wear hats, while others are bare-headed. Why is this?
Staci: None of your beanies.
Anthony White: That’s clearly some sort of Animal Farm-esque hierarchy thing, I’d rather not get into it.
Shane Keating: I am much more shocked that they let that lobster go out in public without so much as a necktie.
Iceguppie: They ran out of fabric and the zoo didn’t have any silkworms around.
Matt Lydick: Hat protest. Why should all animals have to wear hats? Just because they’re colorful, goofy looking characters doesn’t mean that they have to fall under all of me the funny-cartoon-animal stereotypes.
Evan G: Some of my friends wear hats, while others are bare-headed. What are you suggesting here, Ryan?
Bert gets really excited about common objects including a flyswatter and a hose. Does Bert have an unusually deep appreciation of the modern conveniences we all take for granted, or is he just kind of dumb in this book?
Joe N-G: Bert’s fascination with flyswatters and hoses doesn’t strike me as too out of the ordinary. He’s always been interested in the mundane and boring, so taking delight in stuff like that isn’t so different.
Alexandra: Considering that Bert had a whole song about how awesome paper clips are, I’m not surprised by his love of flyswatters either. It’s perfectly in character. Who knows, maybe in Season 50 of Sesame Street, Bert will cut loose with a song about the virtues of the hose.
Ryan R: I would be happy to see Bert express a love for flyswatters or hoses on the show. In the early seasons, the writers didn’t hesitate to throw in new aspects of the characters’ personalities at any time — Bert likes marching band music! — but once a character has been around for a while, that sort of fades away. So yeah, Bert should sing “Hoses and Flyswatters are Tops in My Book.”
Shane Keating: He can see the beauty in simple things that we mere mortals cannot. That doesn’t make him dumb, it makes him one of a kind.
Iceguppie: He’s hoping to get a subsidy from the local flyswatter and hose factories by upselling them so hard. Unfortunately for his hopes of getting a bigger budget, they’re both being run by Grover.
Vendaface: Bert represents the inventions that much of our modern society is built upon, he also shows the reliance we have built upon them. Ernie represents our desire to leave modern society behind and go back to nature, always showcasing its superiority to modern society and the effect over reliance on them can have. But Bert also got to bit Ernie with a flyswatter so it kind of evens out.
Staci: Bert appreciates technology. He was an early investor in Bitcoin and will be retiring to Malibu with Emily Bear any day now.
Ernie and Bert are roommates and best friends, yet Ernie seems to have no prior knowledge of Bert’s job as curator and tour guide of the Hall of Great Inventions. Which, by the way, is located at the zoo. Isn’t that all pretty weird?
A.J. Allen: Very weird, and I wouldn’t want it any other way in a Muppet experience.
Shane Keating: You’d think that, but I went through this exact same thing with my sophomore year roommate.
Anthony White: Grover has his own museum that somehow houses everything in the entire world. Bert’s rusty shack of dusty knick-knacks is small potatoes.
Matthew Soberman: More interesting is how Bert got permission to build an exhibit about human inventions at the zoo. Who does Bert know?
How much would you expect to pay for an electric jumping baby carriage?
Reginald: A buck three-eighty.
Beth: The same as for an electric armadillo stretcher.
Shane Keating: $25. Though, that’s 1972 money, so it’s probably $500 in 2017.
Anthony White: I would hope no responsible parent would pay for Bert’s rickety baby killing apparatus. Probably like 250 bucks at Walmart.
Iceguppie: Depends. Does it work for pigs? A final model that’s a bit more sturdy would probably go for forty bucks, and a bit extra if you want one with a battery pack instead. I don’t know how much regular baby carriages cost, let alone how much they were forty years ago.
Carson: 30 cents and a back massage.
Evan G: $6.
Matt Lydick: You mean how much would I pay to murder a baby? That’s sick.
Matthew Soberman: Three easy payments of $19.95, plus shipping and handling. But if you order in the next twenty minutes, they throw in a second electric jumping baby carriage absolutely free, so it’s basically just paying for itself.
David H: Is Ernie a Luddite?
Anthony White: I always wished that The Together Book had more animal & child-aimed sadism and this book delivered.
Iceguppie: Never give up on achieving your goals, except if it involves making something new and unique, because there’s no such thing as a truly original idea.
Matt Lydick: Character development greatly enhanced the Muppets’ success. Ernie’s still the smiley, insensitive jerk we would see later on, but Bert is so far removed from the loveable square that we know today.
Carson: I wish there was a Great Hall of Inventions in real life. I’d bring all 12 of my chimpanzees. Not because they remind me of inventions though. They just like getting out of the house. Fresh air is nice.
Vendaface: Elephants wearing hats are always cute.
Amy Frushour Kelly: I have a better understanding now of the interpersonal dynamic between Ernie and Bert now. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
Evan G: I absolutely love the art style of early 70s Sesame Street materials. It’s so off-model and expressive in some really terrific ways that I miss in newer stuff. So that’s good. The rest of this is pretty much garbage.
Click here to pick up a cage full of mice on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com