Have the Muppets Been Cancelled?

Published: February 25, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

I’m sure you’ve heard it by now. The Muppets have been cancelled.

Fox News has reported that cancel culture came for The Muppet Show. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that the “psychos” on the left had cancelled the Muppets, because there’s “nothing” they “won’t destroy.” The Muppets, they claim, are sacred, and now everyone and their uncle who owns a theater has something to say about liberals and snowflakes and safe spaces and Lew Zealand.

But wait, you’re saying. The Muppet Show isn’t cancelled. Jim Henson ended the show on his own terms, moving on to work on stuff like Fraggle Rock and Labyrinth. And it definitely isn’t being kept from us, because we can now watch 118 classic episodes right on Disney+ from the comfort of our own living rooms. So how is The Muppet Show cancelled?

Well, before certain episodes, there is a 15-second disclaimer.

It reads: 

This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.

Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe. 

To learn more about how stories have impacted society visit: www.disney.com/storiesmatter

According to the worst people you know on the Internet, this is censorship. 

Now, this is particularly strange to me, because I watched the Johnny Cash episode, which features this disclaimer, and the Confederate flag is still hanging proudly behind the Man in Black. And I’ve watched other episodes, and there’s still weird accents, jokes about Miss Piggy’s weight, spear-wielding natives, guns, and bombs. Link Hogthrob refuses to stop trying to kiss Fozzie Bear in drag. Gonzo hits on Big Bird in one episode, folks. This all happens.

So The Muppet Show hasn’t been censored. It hasn’t been cancelled. It’s right here, warts and all. What’s the deal? Well, let’s talk about this.

Is This Censorship?

OK, so first of all, a corporation refusing to show a piece of media to you isn’t censorship. A month ago, when there was no Muppet Show on Disney+, you couldn’t say that Disney had censored The Muppet Show from you. They just didn’t choose to make it available. Really, it’s not even censorship that Disney won’t release Song of the South. They just won’t release their own art, which is allowed. They also haven’t made Teamo Supremo available and no one’s complaining about that.

But even if you disagree with this definition, you have to agree that censorship doesn’t mean “you can watch over 100 full episodes of The Muppet Show except sometimes you first have to look at a disclaimer for 15 seconds.” People burned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. They didn’t put 15 seconds of white text in front of it.

Why did Disney make a disclaimer? Well, the text says they love diversity. And look, Disney has its major faults, but we do live in a world where Moana, Black Panther, and Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior all exist. Representation is good, folks, and stereotypes are bad. Being exposed to multiple cultures and multiple perspectives leads to more people feeling included, which ultimately leads to better art! And wouldn’t Jim Henson have wanted to educate people about diversity and inclusiveness? The man did a lot of that when he was alive. But if you really have a problem with all that, then sure, take a second and follow the money.

Disclaimers like this exist in part to remove fiscal liability. This disclaimer isn’t new on Disney+. It’s before Aladdin, one of Disney’s biggest financial successes ever, because of its often-negative portrayal of the Middle East. When I watched The Great Mouse Detective, a film where all the characters are singing mice or rats or this one octopus (for some reason), I was briefly warned that the movie features smoking. But in both cases, you can still watch the films. What these kind of disclaimers do is they point out that the company no longer espouses all of the values of the work. This way, no one can blame or boycott Disney for showing kids a mouse who smokes or a land called Agrabah. Disney can make money without worrying about tarnishing its brand’s values. It’s about liability. 

Again, the show is still here. This really is no different from when Game of Thrones comes on TV and we’re told that viewer discretion is advised. No company wants to be responsible for people seeing things they don’t want to see, but they also do still want to give you Westeros or Wayne and Wanda.

But What About the Cuts?

It’s true. We’re all griping that the Disney+ upload of The Muppet Show features some cuts. As you’ve probably heard, two episodes (in the US, four episodes in Europe) have been cut entirely and several songs were cut from scattered episodes throughout. Ah-ha, you’re thinking! This is what Donald Trump Jr. means! This is how the Muppets have been cancelled!

I’m upset too: my favorite episode of all time, the Marty Feldman episode, has a key song cut from the closing sketch. But let’s take a closer look here.

Why are these sketches cut? Well, all the songs and one of the episodes have been axed for music rights issues. In other words, you won’t hear Scooter sing “There’s a New Sound,” but it isn’t because Disney wants to keep our vulnerable liberal minds from hearing what noises worms make. It’s because of corporate control of music rights, and the green at the bottom of everything (and no, I don’t mean Robin). Some deals are just too difficult to make in a way that’s cost- or time-effective. We don’t know the specifics and probably never will, but licensing conflicts always come down to corporate control of media. Which is, oddly enough, something you’d think Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News would be big into.

We can’t know for certain why the other episode was cut, but we can be very confident it’s because of its guest star, the exceedingly problematic Chris Langham. I won’t go into details here, (you can read our ToughPigs review for more information), but yes, this is probably an example of something being cut because of extremely unsavory implications. But we’re not talking about “unwoke dialogue.” We’re talking about criminals here. Is this censorship? One could argue it is, but this kind of move is nothing new and certainly not unsurprising. For instance, the episode of The Simpsons that guest-starred Michael Jackson isn’t on Disney+ either.

So again, not too bad.

But What About the Sacred Muppets?

But aren’t the Muppets sacred? If the Muppets aren’t good, what is? If the Muppets need to be censored, then what doesn’t??

First of all, I never realized Donald Trump Jr. was such a big Muppet fan. I don’t believe I ever saw him on the ToughPigs forum but I don’t know, maybe he and I chatted about Bear in the Big Blue House once.

But secondly, Fox News is claiming that they “don’t remember” the Muppets ever being problematic, and are joking that maybe the left will come for Sesame Street next. So let’s talk quickly, because I do remember the Muppets being problematic… to conservatives. In 2011, Fox News rallied against the Muppets’ return to cinemas because of it’s supposed anti-business message. Conservatives were offended by the idea of an evil oil baron named Tex Richman. Groups like One Million Moms fought against The Muppets sitcom for its adult humor.

And don’t even get me started about the Muppets’ “woker” cousins on Sesame Street, who have been the target of conservative ire for decades. I mean, in 2020 alone, conservatives said kids shouldn’t be exposed to Elmo’s daddy explaining protesting, a TV special about standing up to racism, and Billy Porter in a dress.

Why is it that it’s okay to say the Muppets need to edit themselves in these cases, but it’s bad to give people a 15 second disclaimer before an episode that features Spike Milligan giving a Nazi salute

It’s always weird how this works. Maybe things are only sacred when they support the point you’re trying to make.

And if all these people really thought the Muppets were sacred, maybe they should have showed up and actually supported their film and television productions.

In Conclusion…

Have the Muppets been cancelled? No.

Is there a brief disclaimer before certain episodes that appears for less time than it takes to watch the unbearably long Marvel Studios logo before WandaVision? Yes.

Did some songs get cut, and does that stink? Yes.

But is that because of the so-called “woke brigade?” No.

So no, the Muppets haven’t been cancelled because they’re offensive. But lightning round: The Jim Henson Hour was cancelled in 1989 because no one liked Lighthouse Island. Muppets Tonight was cancelled in 1996 because no one thought Phil van Neuter was funny. And The Muppets was cancelled in 2016 because Fozzie dated the girl from Garfunkel and Oates.

And that’s that.

Click here to stop listening to Fox News and start listening to the ToughPigs forum!

by Evan G.

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