Michael Giles Purgason
Editor’s Note: Michael Purgason was a student in one of my courses this past year. Even though Michael was a graduating senior who was applying for medical schools, he took a keen interest in the subject of my English class and in the “Humor in America” blog. Tragically, Michael was killed in a car accident in July. With the permission of his family, I am publishing the piece below, which he was in the process of making final revisions for “Humor in America.” –Tracy
As a child growing up two of my favorite films that I watched frequently on VHS were Muppet Treasure Island and A Muppet Christmas Carol. One thing I always noticed about these two films in particular was that they were the only two Disney movies my parents and older siblings would be happy to watch with me consistently, and they would laugh hysterically right along with me. To this day these films remain two of my favorites, and they make me laugh every time without fail.
After my most recent viewing of Muppet Treasure Island I began to ask myself, “what is about these puppets that are so clever and humorous?” While I’m sure that I have not narrowed down all of Jim Henson’s genius in my mind, I believe that I have set out on a productive path to answering that very difficult question. Before I get into any sort of Muppet criticism, a lot of the humor is pure good old-fashioned cleverness on the part of the writers. The roll call scene before the Hispaniola sets sail in Muppet Treasure Island is one example of a scene that renders its viewers into fits of side-splitting laughter without using too much complexity.
The first aspect of the complex and clever humor that goes into a Muppet film is each individual Muppet’s very real presence in popular culture. The Muppets are presented publicly as though they are real life Hollywood figures. They show up on the Red Carpet, they are invited to be presenters at awards shows, they make guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, and they frequent other such public appearances. What is significant is that they are presented as though there are actually living and witty puppets walking around living their lives as working Hollywood actors. The ways in which other celebrities converse and interact with them indicate that they are real and they have their own place in the society of actors. If the logical minds of human audiences didn’t know better, they would believe that The Muppets are in fact real life conscious entities. This creates a false consciousness in the minds of audience’s in which we live in a world where Muppets exist as real and conscious entities.