Gaia and I watched The Fraggle Rock holiday special “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” on Netflix today. I thought it was really good. I always thought it was a shame that Fraggle Rock wasn’t a more beloved franchise.
I offer this line of dialogue for you to reflect on over your own Festival of the Bells.
Cantus the Minstrel: Last year the cold came and it went away, just as it always did. What is different this year?
Gobo: Nothing. Except, we didn’t ring our bells. But what good does ringing our bells do? There’ no Great Bell at the center of the rock.
Cantus the Minstrel: But there is a Great Bell at the heart of the rock.
Gobo: (After discovering that the ringing the bells unfreezes his friends.) The Great Bell is my bell! It’s Wembley’s bell. Our bells keep the rock moving. Its our music that keeps the rock alive!
Wishing you and yours a joyous season.
When I look back on days like this, I can't help but realize that she'll only be six this one time.
And then seven. And then eight. And then eighteen.
Here's to another year in the sun.
I am often appalled by the quality of the leads written in most PR-derived press releases. The following leads were taken (and rewritten to protect the incompetent) from a recent perusal of PRNewswire.
1: The Commission for Learning Achievement Measurement (the Commission) made important advancements in 2011, introducing a new internet-based learning tool and an achievement network, firming up valuable partnerships and expanding its advocacy efforts.
Translation: We launched a website, another website (or maybe the same website), we did the same old shit with the same old partners, and wasted a ton of money on the CEO’s dumb idea that didn’t turn out to generate as many leads as we thought it would.
Suggested improvements: There are too many things going on in this release. Pick one, be clear about it, why it’s important, and then explain it to your audience without being a dick. If this is a year-end wrap up release, say so, and pick three concrete things your firm accomplished this year and explain them.
2: During this hectic time of year, many people are discovering themselves with yet another complication to deal with: a child struggling to learn in school. Teachers have been slow to report, and suddenly many parents realize that a student certainly needs some additional help with their learning projects and performance. And since our schools are doing the best with what they have, its up to the ready and willing parent to consider supplemental tutoring services such as Get Learn? to provide hope and help students and their families get back on track and raise up their grades while also constructing the educational prowess that paves the track for jogging toward a more successful tomorrow.
Translation: This time of year … blah blah bleak blah blah blah struggle, blah blah blah boring boring boring oops I stopped reading.
Suggested improvement: Delete the scene setting. The target audience already understands the troubles they’ve seen, the rest of us don’t care. Also, the irregular punctuation in your product’s name is a strike against your probable publication. “Get Learn” is just as effective as “Get Learn?” and doesn’t mess with reader’s heads or cause for strange sentence endings.
3. Big Holding Company, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of business support support services to the crystal mining industry in the United States, today announced the grand opening of its latest “Sing The Glorious Crystal” office. The office is located in Pueblo, CO and is the 7th in the state of Colorado.
Translation: The holding company is more important to the writer than the thing actually being announced.
Suggested improvement: If what matters is getting new patients to the new crystal singing office, I would highly encourage you to publish the new office’s information in front of the corporate identity / holding company’s brand’s mission statement pablum.
4. What can you get for just one dollar? Mickey’s Hotdog Palace will be celebrating its grand opening and will be serving one dollar Chicago-style hotdogs today, December 6th.
Translation: Nobody cares about our delicious hotdogs, what they care about is a bargain!
Suggested improvement: This is so close to being a good lead. Delete the nonsense about “What can you get for just one dollar?” because there are tons of things you can get for just one dollar. They have whole stores now that are centered on the concept. The invocation of the $1 bargain only leads me to think about cheap crap that nobody wants.
Where can you buy lunch for just $1? Where can I buy a delicious Chicago-style hot dog for just one dollar? I have no idea, but now I’m interested. What else can I get for just one dollar? A bunch of cheap crap from a store that smells of Chinese packing material and broken dreams, that’s what.
You should hire Gabe Wollenburg to fix your pathetic, miserable public relations campaign. He’s good at it and is surprisingly affordable.
Do you think Steven Colbert knows how much damage his program is causing America?
From: The Word: LetThem Buy Cake (S.9 : Ep. 34)
“Freedom isn’t free, so it’s logical that freedom of speech costs money. If you think about it, we wouldn’t have a budget problem if we’d been charging protestors all along. The government could have made a bundle off those hippies in Vietnam.”
I understand, and you, dear reader, understand, that Colbert is using the time-honored literary technique of satire.
History doesn’t record satire well. Sarcasm doesn’t cross language barriers cleanly. And Jonathan Swift never suggested the Irish really eat their babies. Or did he?
The point is that by producing hateful rhetoric, even though it’s well intended hateful rhetoric aimed to illustrate the logical end of the hateful rhetoric offered by the American political machine, is still hateful rhetoric.
If, like me, you believe that words have power, you will appreciate that hateful rhetoric with another aim is still hateful rhetoric. And if you don’t care about hokum like powerful words, then perhaps the sociologist in you will recognize that prolonged exposure to Colbert’s ratcheted-up level of hateful rhetoric only makes the real hateful rhetoric seem less hateful and easier to tolerate.
I recognize the potential for rampant hypocrisy in my desire for Colbert to stop doing his Colbert thing; I understand that hateful rhetoric is a freedom that my beloved freedom of speech protects.
But I do believe, dear friend, that the world would be better if Colbert retired the Colbert act, and delivered his otherwise reasonable message to the hate-spewing masses via a strait-forward method. Every day he goes on spewing hateful rhetoric, even ironically, is another day too many.
There is enough hateful rhetoric in the world. Lets deal with that at face-value. Fighting fire with fire only surrounds the rest of us in a fire fight.
The Writelarge.com review and appreciation of “The Muppets”
I want to talk about the new Muppets film, “The Muppets”. I don’t think I can keep it short, so I’m not going to try. If you need a short version, I wrote this haiku:
This is a great movie.
But there are some little things
that don’t belie hope.
I went into this movie knowing that It would be a bigger deal for me than anyone else in the family. I wept with joy through the first 20 minutes of the film. Jeni kept looking over at me with that look she makes when she suspects I may be having a moment.
Oh yes. I had a moment. Many. I had moments of pure joy, again and again, even through the sour spots. This film is a salve on the wounds of a long suffering Muppet fandom.
Just the right touches.
Fundamentally, “The Muppets” is a love song written to and by the generation that grew up and during the Muppets glory years. Little details make the difference here, the film makes subtle (and not so subtle) calls back to the original show – not just in the obvious TV flashback scenes, but in thousands of tiny details.
Little things make the difference: There is clearly a banjo riff in the opening song and dance number. The set design surrounding the Muppet Theater that looks – almost too much – like what the already shabby Muppet set probably would look like after 30 years of (additional) neglect. The lobby of Muppet Theater is realized to to shabby chic, beautiful, glamourous perfection.
There is love in these little details. Look at the subtle curves that have been added to Miss Piggy’s head shape, the salt-and-pepper tufts in the fuzzier-than-ever Fozzie Bear, the beautiful ironwork on the fence at Kermit’s Hollywood home. Attention to these little details are not part of the recipe for staging a commercially successful movie, however they are part of another subtle story being told. Someone made a choice to care about these details. Because of that choice, the sum is greater than the parts.
Peter Savieri, the artist who painted a portrait of Miss Piggy for a key scene in the film, demonstrates this “abundance of care” better than I ever could in a blog post at ToughPigs.com. The subtle back story here is that the Muppets matter to this movie’s makers. This was a great fear of the fandom relieved. We’re not going to be subjected to a Muppets rebrand made by people whose attention is really being paid to making money than to the dignity of the franchise.
And then there are The Moopets. As described by the film’s antagonist Tex Richman, The Moopets are “cynical Muppets for a cynical world” (and, apparently, so is Dave Grohl). The Moopets represent the threat of what could have been part of a Muppets rebranding gone horribly, horribly wrong. If the captain at the helm of any Muppets project hadn’t been driven by a love of the Muppets, the Mooppets could have happened. The Moopets have no dignity. The Moopets have no integrity. The Moopets have no problem altering the lyrics to classic Muppets songs to promote their commercial interest. The Moopets don’t mind promoting Cars 2 in random exterior shots throughout the film. Oh, wait… um… never mind that last sentence.
The point is, The Moopets are an over-the-top nod and a wink to the Muppets fandom’s worst nightmare about Disney’s handling of the brand over the years. The Moopets presence in the film tells Muppet fandom that things are going to be ok. The filmmakers have seen your nightmares, Muppets fanatic, and they acknowledge and dismiss them. And there was much rejoicing.
But, of course, just because Muppet fandom has been assured that something won’t go wrong doesn’t mean that anything will go right. The greatest question on the lips of every person in the Muppets fandom over the last year: can “The Muppets” mark the beginning of a silver era for Muppetdom? It’s been a long 30 years.
Sometimes even frogs have rainy days.
It would have been so easy to go for cheap “Behind the Music” laughs at the Muppet’s expense. Imagine the drama and heartbreak and jokes that could have been told about the Muppets spiral through the 90’s. But again, such attention was paid to maintaing the Muppet’s dignity, that instead of spelling out each and every drama the Muppets endured, the viewer is given only subtle hints and clues as to what occurred in the intervening years.
Throughout the movie, the characterizations of the older Muppets were spot on, developed ever-so-slightly in the right directions, with subtle, unsaid backstories– that never went too far into detail as to cement anything in Muppet canon. Specific holes in the last 30 years are left up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks, meaning important questions remain unanswered. Did Miss Piggy and Kermit ever marry? Did the Electric Mayhem ever realize their mellow and profitable dreams? Did Muppets From Space really happen?
Some questions, though, are answered.
Has Fozzie Bear aged? The bear’s brows may have gone gray with age, but Fozzie Bear has regressed. A once beloved comedy icon in his own right, Fozzie is now the featured act in a lowly Muppets tribute band (The Moopets) performing in Reno, Nevada. Fozzie may have well found himself back at El Sleezo Cafe. This turn of events, however, builds on Fozzie’s character. He’s sunk to the lowest level of Las Vegas show culture,– the sub-D-List resort and casino. And yet, he remains forever Fozzie Bear, because even as he takes his lumps, his heart is still in making people laugh. Clearly, the bear will take whatever audience he can get. And we still love him for it. Remember, it was never Fozzie’s comedy that made us love him, it’s his heart– it was that Fozzie Bear gets up on that stage, night after night, and tries his best. The Fozzie Bear we meet in Reno is still at it.
Has Miss Piggy become a good person? Miss Piggy is the most human female lead in the film, showing that she’s both compassionate and dedicated, and maybe one of the few Muppets on good financial, moral, and ethical ground when she’s “rediscovered.” In the past, her relationship with Kermit has been presented as completely pathological; in the intervening years, she and Kermit may well have lived together and were even possibly married. This opens up so many dramatic possibilities. Did Kermit leave Piggy at the altar? Were they on the track to becoming a Hollywood power couple? What went wrong? All this drama is left unsaid, except for a few subtle lines and, of course, the torn photo of the two in wedding clothes (a promotional photo from “He’ll Make Me Happy” the non-canonical Muppets take Manhattan).
The point is, again, the story – and more importantly the franchise– is stronger for the things left unsaid.
The egotistic and self-deluded Miss Piggy is still there, yes. And she makes a roaring comeback at the movie’s end, but underneath is a Miss Piggy who has grown. She comes to Muppet Theater, ultimately, not to once again attempt to ensnare Kermit, but because the rest of the Muppets need her her star power. She knows this. She even steps into a leadership role at one point, cementing her place as the second ventricle of the Muppets beating heart. Miss Piggy showing loyalty to the community? Piggy rehearsing? A Miss Piggy who is honest? This is a new Miss Piggy. This is a Piggy we can love.
But can the frog?
Why is Kermit so depressed? Kermit has been changed. Clearly, he’s been wounded. He’s got some of the saddest lines in the entire film. He snaps at Piggy in the streets of Paris: “Who do you think’s been taking care of that house all these years?” This tells us everything we need to know about where Kermit’s heart has been since we last saw the Muppets.
He’s been clinging to the past, unable or unwilling to make a change or move forward with his life. What was this change? What hurt the frog so? Was it Piggy? Seems too obvious.
We all know what happened that effectively stopped Kermit’s growth and development. Jim died. It’s left unsaid in the movie, but you cannot take the Muppets into the present without dealing with the harsh reality of the past.
Did something break we can’t repair?
In a seemingly simple line from the the first real Muppet musical number in the movie, Kermit wonders aloud if it would be possible to capture the old Muppet magic, or is there something missing that can’t be replaced or repaired.
That something’s name is James Maury Henson.
Throughout the film, Jim Henson remains a subtle presence. He’s shown in backgrounds and in streetlamp flags along the streets where Muppet Theater is located. The “Jim” Muppet is seen the backgrounds nearly as often as the obnoxious product placement for Cars 2.
Henson’s absence over the 22 years since his death is candidly addressed (in the most bizarrely meta moment of a film admittedly peppered with meta moments,) when Kermit looks at the wall of memories in his cottage. His eyes scan across a pin board of promotional stills from many classic Muppet guest stars, but they linger for a second on a particular photo. In the center of the scrapbook as a simple black and white promotional shot of Kermit and Jim Henson.
The loss of Jim Henson was, clearly, the point of the knife that cut away part of the frog’s soul. One can’t help but imagine that Kermit, in his way, has spent all these years trying to figure that out. Trying to get over that loss. Trying to move on. Trying to heal.
The answer might have been as simple as “getting the gang back together and putting on a show,” but like so many simple gestures of healing, it takes a stranger, a wandering savant, to bring back the fertility that the wounded king of the Muppets so desperately craves.
Of course, this makes Walter Kermit’s Percival. Lets not go there.
Cameos of note.
In addition to Henson’s deliberate presence in the film other Muppet cameos appear in the film and are well executed.
- Pepe, the king Prawn, is briefly seen as partner to Miss Piggy’s big dance number, a perfect role for the character who many fanatics believe was at one-time slated as upstart Kermit usurper.
- Wayne and Wanda, endorsed all these years as “wholesome, American entertainment” by conservative mouthpiece Sam the American Eagle, get a brief moment when they think the lights are down to wildly make-out with reckless abandon.
- Robin, Kermit’s young nephew, is mercifully not in the film. Think of the continuity problems this avoids. Good choice.
- Beauregard, the incompetent janitor added in Season 3 of the Muppet Show’s original run is used to great effect.
- Mad Man Mooney’s, the used car dealership first seen in The Muppet Movie, appears as Sweetums comes dashing out of the used car lot where he worked as a car jack prior to joining the Muppets on their first trip to Hollywood.
The selective and intelligent use of the Muppets many one-joke characters were good choices for the filmmakers. But the good choices didn’t end there. Other smart decisions included:
Keeping the franchise clean.
Although there was some talk about trying to arrange an Elmo cameo in the film, no reference to any other Muppet franchise appears. Fraggles and Doozers, Dog Cops, Bear and the Big Blue Whatever, and even Sesame Street, are all good and wonderful things, but don’t belong in a Muppets film.
And let us make special note of the lack of Muppet Babies in the film. Let the two franchises never combine. Let there be healing and understanding around the idea that the Muppet Babies are not, and can never be, Muppet canon.
True Confession: I did notice a “Muppet Babies” lunchbox in Walter’s Muppet shrine in his bedroom. For a few terror-filled moments, I worried that there would be some attempt to align the conflicting timelines of the Muppets movies with the Muppet Babies storyline. But I don’t begrudge Walter his Muppet Babies fandom. We were all young once and made dumb choices.
A few sour notes
There were some moments where the polish wore a little thin in “The Muppets.” In particular, the the film’s inclusion of certain licensed music. No amount of nostalgia will ever make me believe that “We Built This City” was a good choice. It’s made all the more frustrating by the fact that the original songs in the movie are really pretty good. Why not have more new and original songs performed by the Muppet players? It’s been 30 years for goodness sake. Someone must have written a new song in that time.
Other musical miscues abound. The nonsensical merging of a barbershop gag and the otherwise outstanding a capeella performance of “Smells like Teen Spirit” is weird and disjointed. And while “Forget You” performed by Camilla and the chickens was a great moment, there just aren’t very many really great bits in the telethon.
The telethon (warning: spoilers) ultimately fails to raise the money the Muppets were after, so it’s hard to point at the lack of stunning performances as a place where the film falls flat, but given the magic that flowed in and out of every other aspect of the movie, the content of the telethon was not up to the bar set by the Movie’s opening number.
The Rainbow Connection Reprised, (Part II, Again, Some More, the Quickening) was a less than satisfying climax to the telethon, leaving, of course, the Whistling Caruso even less of a climax, leaving, of course, the final number of the film, then again, less climactic. The telethon dribbles to an ending that, frankly, resolves very little, and could have very easily left the movie limping to a dissatisfying end.
Fortunately, the gang at Muppet Studios had a sure thing to turn to: Mah Na Mah Na. Mah Na Mah Na comes in from the bullpen and close down the game. And it works. Give Mah Na Mah Na the save. The film producers, like a good baseball manager, knew that when the starting pitcher starts to struggle, you need to bring in the closer. Good Choice
But let’s talk for a second about The Whistling Caruso.
One of the things that made the Muppet Show of old great was that occasionally there would be these weird moments of real (and often bizarre) talent. A man whistling might have been one of those moments. A Muppet whistling like that is not. I mean, maybe if the Muppet, through some amazing feat of puppeteering, was really whistling, then you’ve got something.
But the point is moot, because Walter’s character is not offered to the Movie-going audience as a performer. Throughout the movie he shows no interest in performing with the Muppets. He even muffs most of his dances in the opening number in Smalltown. The Whistling Cauruso comes out of nowhere. It makes no sense.
Walter’s clearly a ‘behind the scenes’ character. His talent should be leadership and inspiration. He’s the hero, not the star. Walter is a very manly Muppet, too manly to fit into Muppetdom, to Muppety to fit into manhood. It leaves him in a unique position, and to suddenly prop him up as The Whistler cheapens us all. Also, I’m not a fan of his suit.
“I didn’t laugh; I didn’t know how.”
If Walter is the hero, then who is the villain of this film? It’d be easy to say the wealthy oil baron Tex Richman. Tex Richman is clearly a muppet of a man. He’s hardly a villain, so much as he’s a plot device. He even gets a song– and it’s actually pretty good.
I have two suggestions and one assertion.
I’m not a fan of Mary. Give me a second to address Mary directly: Say what you mean and mean what you say, Mary. Your passive aggressive nonsense nearly killed the Muppets again. Go to your room.
I don’t have much faith that Gary and Mary’s relationship will withstand the test of time, other than that Gary will probably remain blindly dedicated to her for the rest of her life because that’s the kind of awesome guy Gary is. Mary is a passive aggressive self-deluded millennial archetype– so much so that the entire town arranges a song and dance number centered around how happy her life is – just so she can have her dramatic moment whining about Gary’s (admittedly weird) preoccupation with his Muppet brother.
But Mary’s skills as an elementary school shop teacher are put to use rebuilding Muppet Theater, and ultimately save the day during the telethon. So, she’s probably not the villain.
2. Uncle Deadly
The Phantom of the Muppet Show has a canonical grudge against the Muppets, and his change of heart ultimately helps resolve what little structure revolves around the Tex Richman plot. But he’s not a villain by his own admission in the film, so that kind of rules him out.
Assertion: The villain of “The Muppets” is none-other than the film’s own producer and distributor, Disney.
Who among us did not feel betrayed by the Disney folks handling of the Muppet franchise in the early years? And are not the dust covered relics of the pre-Disney Muppet icons shoved into an abandoned theme park (that never was) not accurate reflections of every Muppet fan’s observation of the Muppets’ earliest years under the Disney umbrella?
As the fandom’s everyman, our hearts broke alongside Walter’s as he saw the dust-covered Electric Mayhem bus. We cursed the dilapidated state of the theater. We swallowed back the familiar bile of disappointment that we faced through the 90’s as Kermit and friends became less and less a respected pantheon and more and more of an ignored, cast-off investment.
In fact, Richman, as the on-paper antagonist of the film, even reveals his final ace-in-the-hole to the Muppets following the completion of the Muppet Telethon, that it doesn’t matter what happens to the Muppets, because he owns the entire Muppet property: both physical and intellectual. In reality, this ace-in-the-hole really belongs to Disney. Disney, as well as Tex Richman, can take the Moopets and make Mmuppets out of them– fandom’s greatest fears– winked at earlier in the film, stands to become reality.
That plot point is only resolved via a throw-away moment revealed during the final credit sequence. The story and the film end with the Muppets and their fandom standing in defiance of the legal fact that they’ve been sold to big business and stripped of their right to remain Muppets.
Hard to live without
This film’s creators should to be applauded for all their fine work, avoiding doing a cheap “reboot” like J.J. Abrams’ take on Star Trek. They went all-in to bring the Muppets forward into the 21st century with dignity, integrity, and respect.
By all likes, they’ve succeeded, and although I don’t think that we’ll ever see Muppetry take center stage in the modern era of cheap and easy CG animation, the world does need a happy song sometimes, and the Muppets are, thanks in large part to this film, in just the place to bring it one.
Can the franchise ride high on the euphoria of “The Muppets” success? One can only hope so; it has been great seeing the Muppets appearing as celebrities again, appearing in parades and hosting grand openings.
There is no question that Muppet fandom has the will to sustain a revamped Muppet Show.
Only time will tell if Disney has the same.
Gabe Wollenburg used to have a subscription to Muppets Magazine and he believes the copies are still in their neat little stack in the secret compartment in the closet of his childhood bedroom. However, he’s not going to go look because the minute he discovers they’re not there he will have lost something precious.
I think the patterns in Facebook's "clumping" algorithms are interesting. This screenshot, I assume, shows that Facebook believes most people are such horrible writers that it only makes sense to look to the second paragraph or line to deduce a writer's point.
Add to this to the fact that Facebook has recently begun sampling the second paragraph of a blog post to create a link preview and I think we' see the the beginning of a pattern.
However, algorithms can only parse so much content as wibbly wobbly gibbldy gook. At some point, human beings are going to look at the Facebook presentation and think, "Hey. This is entirely inaccurate."
What can we learn from this?
Observe that algorithmic composition is a process inherently flawed. To pigeonhole these writers as buddhists is patently inaccurate, but to pigeonhole the sentiment they're expressing as buddhist is even less accurate.
Humans recognize this immediately.
Krampas is watching
Through Roofs of Tin
and roofs of thatching
Beware! Beware! Krampus is watching!
Say you’re creeping down yule-tide stair
to spot your gifts 'fore morning's there
and should you see black tufts of hair
Run! Black Peter awaits those who dare
to spoil the joy of holiday's morn.
Corporate greed receives his scorn.
It’s not just children who’d be well to fear
CEOs shiver when Black Peter’s here.
It is their greed that brings the Krampus near
through this holiday and in New Year.
Note: Hover over questions to reveal them.
The answer: This ‘true silver’ gets its name from the Sindiarin words for “gray” and “glitter.”
The question: What is Mithril?
The answer: The discovery of this substance was memorialized in stained glass window in the meeting room of the Unseen University College Council.
The question: What is Slood?
The answer: You might be tempted to think that the Vibranium used to make Captain America’s shield originated in this fictional country in Africa, but it didn’t. Cap’s Vibranium was made from Anti-Metal found Antarctica.
The Question: What is Wakanda?
The answer: This metal, from which the robot, “Fender” is allegedly made, is yellow and is said to taste like chicken.
The question: What is afraidium
The answer: Although this metal does exist, the fiction is that it was sold as part of a 1970’s initiative that aimed to flush out would-be nuclear smugglers.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe governed entirely by surly teenagers, Gov. Scott Walker has called a press conference that aims to address the mounting recall effort being levied against him. Lets’ go live to the Governor’s audio feed:
I ran on a campaign that promised the people of this state that I was swinging my arms and that I was going to keep swinging them. The people knew I was swinging my arms, and yet they walked into them anyway. Did I hit them? No. I was merely swinging my arms. From my perspective, they had it coming.
The fact is, the only way I can fulfill my obligations is to grab the people by their arms and use their own hands to slap them in their face. While I may not have ever said I would do so, I also never said I wouldn’t.
Lets not get distracted by this whole issue, when the real question is, why are you slapping yourself in the face?
The bottom line is that when I was elected I called no tagbacks. No further questions.
It appears Gov. Walker has left the podium and won’t be taking questions from the press. We now return you to your regular universe, where something like this could never, ever happen, ever.
* * *
This weekend, whether you’re eating turkey with your loved ones, shopping, working or traveling, please sign a recall petition. I cannot fathom living in a state where elections have no tagbacks. Wisconsin, it is time we stop hitting ourselves in the face.
Writelarge.com by Writelarge.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.