It is safe to say I am a Muppet fan. Case in point, I had the honor of being the first to get married at the Jim Henson Company (which, it should be noted, was originally Charlie Chaplin’s studio, so I’m going to guess we were also the first couple to play Rock Band in Chaplin’s screening room).
My bedtime used to be determined by The Muppet Show. One of my last weekends living in New York before I graduated from NYU was spent sitting in a theater watching The Muppets Take Manhattan. I may or may not have cried about leaving the city and the gang of friends I’d made. I even repurposed my longstanding fixation with The Dark Crystal into a terrible term paper in grad school. I vaguely remember it having something to do with religion, or Reaganism. Mostly, it was an excuse to re-watch the movie and debate Skeksis’ ritual disrobing practices. The Muppets are a media property that has accompanied every stage of my life, culminating in the warm nostalgic glow of The Muppets this weekend that I’m still basking in.
Needless to say, I was excited when I first heard that Jason Segel was rebooting the franchise. Most, including myself, took comfort in the fact that the franchise was in the hands of an unabashed fan. I’ve recently been exploring the “fanboy auteur” as an emerging authorial archetype in my own work, and Segel is a perfect example of how a fanboy auteur’s liminal identity can be effectively deployed to reach out to existing fan bases and mitigate the claims of commercial opportunism these reboots usually provoke. There’s a great paper to be written about how Segel has paratextually mobilized his identity as a Muppet fan from the announcement of the project through its promotion. If my own response is any indication, Segel’s sincerity and affect was key promotional tool, because he so perfectly echoes the ethos of The Muppets.
I saw The Muppets last night, at the very theater that serves as the Muppet Theater in the film (meta alert!), the Disney owned and operated El Capitan. The fact that the Muppets themselves are now also Disney owned and operated is something that the film brushes up against repeatedly, all the while assuring the audience that the Muppets won’t be sullied by their new corporate context, particularly with a fan at the helm. When the Muppets solicit money, we’re assured they’re doing so to (somewhat paradoxically) save themselves from being forced to “sell out.”
All of this said, what was far more interesting to me was the way that the film frames fandom. SPOILERS follow, so please refrain from reading until you see the film, which is delightful and deserves to be appreciated. If you’ve already seen the film, read on for some initial thoughts on what it means to construct the newest “Muppet” as a Muppet fan.