Our pal JD Hansel runs the Muppet Hub, which includes the podcasts 11 Point Collar and Let’s Talk Muppets, which our own Jarrod Fairclough has appeared on a couple of times, and will again soon!
JD Hansel – At this point, we’ve all heard (and probably said) that it’s a great time to be a Muppet fan, but I’m going to keep saying it for as long as I can, because it’s really very true. Thanks to the magic of the Disney Marketing Machine, Muppet awareness is everywhere again, so it is also a wonderful time for making new Muppet fans of the common people. However, there is a lot more to making new Muppet fans than a successful marketing campaign that plasters Kermit’s face on buses, and to some extent, the rest of the job may be where we the fans are called to duty. Once the new show kicks back into gear, we have to do what we can to help the ratings and shares for these last few episodes of the season – lest the program reach its demise. In a recent conversation with Jarrod Fairclough and Steve Swanson on “The MuppetCast,” I brought up my theory that the difference between a casual Muppet fan and a diehard Muppet fan usually concerns respect for (and investment in) not only the semi-fictional Muppet characters, but in the real people behind them. Now that Disney has finally displayed willingness to show off the Muppet performers, there is no better time than now for the Muppet uberfans to show everyone to whom they owe the beloved Muppet characters so that they may become bigger fans, and I recently found a fun way to do that.
I’m proud to have a sizable collection of Muppet stuff, as many of us are, but I’ve rarely had a chance to put it to good use until this past summer. Many months ago, I became aware that my local library frequently displayed the collections of members of the community. They had a display case that was five feet (roughly one and a half meters) high, and it had held everything from old weaponry to Mr. Potato Heads to camel-themed decor, all featured for one month at the doors to the library’s main collection. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to use my Muppet collection as an advertisement of sorts for the Muppets. After inquiring about how I would arrange to borrow that space for a month, I was quickly put in touch with the woman who managed the displays, and I was easily able to book the display case – for free – for a whole month. I also found that I could put my business card in the display case so people could visit my Muppet fansite to learn more, which is another plus.
This left me with the task of selecting which merchandise from my collection would be used, and how it would all be arranged, which was fun, challenging, and sort of enlightening. At first I thought that the obvious answer was to go chronologically, presenting a little taste of the different Muppet productions through the years, but that would not only require more space than I had, but more merchandise for each production than I had. So, the option that I quickly found very enticing was to focus on the characters of each of the primary Muppet performers, letting everyone know who specifically was to thank for their favorite characters. By setting up a space on a table I had with the same dimensions, I was able to plan out exactly how I would arrange everything, giving more prominent performers more space for their many main characters, and putting common character duos (e.g. Statler and Waldorf) next to each other. The saddest part was knowing that, due to the small space, I would have to choose only a small number of performers to focus on, and I had to create a section at the bottom display where many of the other important puppeteers and their characters could be acknowledged. (This even meant that no female performers had their own section, which is not only disheartening, but is a reminder of the fact that we need more female Muppets, and I am very happy to know that this website has addressed that issue quite well.) The surprising discovery I made about my own collection is just how little merchandise I could find based on Richard Hunt’s characters, which I was able to work around with some creative solutions (like featuring his page in a Sesame Street book and using Subway’s Muppets Most Wanted Beaker bag), but it is unfortunate that the amount of Janice merchandise that’s been produced cannot compare to that of Animal, or even Doctor Teeth.
As far as I am concerned, the display received enough positive feedback that I consider it to have been a success. I was happy to hear from some of the library employees and volunteers that it had been a very popular exhibit. It not only kept some children amused while their parents were busy perusing the aisles, but some adults told me that one could spend hours appreciating all of the little details hidden in each section. What pleased me the most, however, was hearing people recognize that they had never thought before about the hardworking men and women behind the Muppets, and what I had done helped draw attention to that. This makes me wonder, what else could be done to bring attention to the people we admire? Suggestions are more than welcome, and I hope those who read this may be inspired to find their own ways of spreading Muppet love in their communities.