What Did The Muppets Teach Generation X?

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kermitembedPhoto: Courtesy of Disney.
It's Sunday, so you've probably got some time to sit down with Elizabeth Hyde Stevens' 5,000-word paean in Salon to Jim Henson and his influence on Generation X, but let's give you the CliffsNotes version first.

If anyone knows Henson, it's Stevens. She's written just as profusely for The Awl about the history of the Muppets and created a course at Boston University called “Muppets, Mickey, and Money." Recently, she published a self-help-ish book about Henson and his approach to business. You might even say she's obsessed.

A Gen X'er herself, Stevens is clearly keen to locate Henson's values on her own, and that's precisely what she does in her Salon piece. While her case is a little meandering — she cites a number of definitions of "Generation X" and quotes celebrities who were born as much as 20 years apart, as well as a definition of "Sesame Street Generation" plucked from the troll-baiting depths of Urban Dictionary — she's not wrong.

The fact is — and it's one that she hardly ignores — that tens of millions of children both in the United States and around the world grew up on Henson's artistic vision, which was at once fun, informative, and soberly real. (The pessimist in me is quite partial to this supercut of Fraggle Rock characters discussing death.) Stevens doesn't really need 5,000-plus words to convince us that Henson, the Muppets family, and Sesame Street have had a deep and lasting impact on pop culture and its makers. Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Big Bird — or even Nu’man, "the camel who is Bird’s equivalent in the Arabic show" — are part of our collective DNA.

And, with them, so is Henson's ethos of inclusion and reconciliation, with a side of silliness. Or, at least it should be — it's easy enough for Stevens to say that "global citizenship" and "collaboration" are essential tenets for Generation X, even if there is plenty of evidence that not everybody who grew up in that generation is immune to selfishness, xenophobia, and apathy. But, instead of dwelling on that, Stevens' piece serves as a gentle and welcome reminder that Henson and his family of felt characters taught us these things, and we shouldn't soon forget them. (Salon)