MUPPETS AND THE CHILDREN OF THE 21st CENTURY
Kyle Mahoney – The creations of Jim Henson are timeless; they will stand the test of time and live on many years after we’re gone. But with the changing interests of each new generation, will all of his characters stay culturally relevant… or will this happen again?
For two years I worked at my old elementary school through the YMCA After-School program and currently I am working at the YMCA Summer Day Camp. So I talk to kids about what they like and they talk to me about what I like, and what does Kyle like more than anything? MUPPETS!! So I would love nothing more than to share with you what I’ve learned about Muppets and children.
My first day working at After-School was in mid-September of 2010, I was put in the Kindergarten through 2nd Grade Room. “Great!” I thought to myself, “I get to talk with some kids about Sesame Street, some of them should still like it at this age!” But boy was I wrong; I walked up to a kindergartener and asked who their favorite Sesame Street character was. “Eww no! Sesame Street is for babies!” My heart broke; I couldn’t believe that five years olds thought that Big Bird and Cookie Monster were for babies. I mean I regularly watched Sesame Street until I was in second grade, and even then I still watched “Elmo Saves Christmas” every year. I then proceeded to ask if they liked Kermit the Frog. “Who?”
I just got up and walked away in confusion. What kind of world were we living in when kids didn’t like Ernie and Bert and didn’t know who Rowlf the Dog and Animal were? I didn’t even bother to ask if they knew what Fraggle Rock was. I was distraught; I really didn’t know what was going on with the children of today. Thankfully I knew that in a year things would get better, but we’ll get to that later. The kids later learned that I did like Sesame Street, and through my teachings they learned who some Muppets were, or at least what they looked like. But nothing that really made me have faith in our children.
For the remainder of the year, the kids latched on to my other interest like Disney, video games, and Adventure Time. Then September 2011 came along and I already had my metaphorical panties in a bunch because advertising for The Muppets had started and kids were finally becoming wise to who the Muppets were. Also Fraggle Rock had started to air on The Hub which made me extremely happy. I still didn’t get the knowledge and love of the Muppets from the kids that I wanted, but some of them seemed excited for the movie. Things stayed the same, I taught kids about the Muppets, kids made fun of my Sesame Street shirts, and yet loved when I was Cookie Monster for Halloween.
Then the day came, November 23, 2011, my 19th birthday… but more importantly the release date of The Muppets. I remember being late to work that day, but I showed up in my Statler and Waldorf “Haters Gonna Hate” t-shirt with donuts. I was put in the 3rd through 6th grade room and the kids loved my shirt. They thought it was hilarious. I ended up seeing The Muppets three times, and most (if not all) of the children saw the movie too. I don’t think I heard one negative review, but then again the kids liked The Last Airbender.
I was very content though, as the kids made references to the movie, asked me all about Muppet stuff, and when it came out on DVD they kept asking me to bring it in. A kid even recognized when I started to hum “Rainbow Connection.” I was legitimately happy; the Muppets had come back into the social norm. Little girls pretended to karate chop like Miss. Piggy, boys said “Wocka! Wocka!” after telling a bad joke, and my friend and I used Miss Poogy’s voice on a regular basis. One day a child ran up to me and told me “I watched The Muppets twice yesterday, Kermit the Frog has such a good singing voice, and he’s so funny!” That specific little boy was one of my favorite kindergarteners so this made me happy beyond all belief.
Parents asked me what Muppet things would be fun for their kids to do, where they could buy things, or even share memories of Muppets from when they were kids. They told me how it was something they could do with their kids, something they both enjoy watching. I even had a conversation about how Disney should release Seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show. (Hint, hint Disney.)
Then my summer camp job started. I was a counselor for first grade boys and on the first day, the most amazing thing happened. A child came up to me and asked, “Are you a Man or a Muppet?” I looked at this kid and told him, “I may look like a man on the outside but I am a Muppet on the inside.” The kid laughed and then walked away. This child asked me one of the greatest questions. And I had not told any kids at camp about my Muppet love. So he thought that referencing “Man or Muppet” would be funny without my intervention. I eventually told the children how much I love the Muppets and they were very responsive.
I have been asked to sing “Mahna Mahna” countless times and kids have even started singing “The Muppet Show Theme.” The kids have also been asking me what Muppet Stuff I own. “Mr. Kyle, do you have Muppets From Space?” “Mr. Kyle, do you have Muppet shirts?” “Mr. Kyle, are you wearing Muppet underwear?” The list goes on. But for a full list of my Muppet possessions (even though it’s outdated) check out my Muppet Fan’s Muppet Collection Chronicle. I’m sure as the summer goes on there will be more Muppety fun (I’m planning on having them perform “Man or Muppet” for the camp talent show).
But what does all of this mean? It means that the Muppets are gonna be around and be relevant for a long time, but it’s good to know that it won’t just be the crazy, over-18 fans. It will be the youth, the “target demographic” (whatever that means). That means more TV appearances, more merchandise, MORE EVERYTHING!! This means we are going to have a very Muppety future, including a movie that has one of the simplest and most awesome logos ever!!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org