Arts & Culture News

Muppets Cartoonist Guy Gilchrist Came to Town and Talked Cancel Culture

From left, Miss Piggy, Guy Gilchrist, Brad Gilchrist, Kermit and Fozzie Bear
courtesy Guy Gilchrist
From left, Miss Piggy, Guy Gilchrist, Brad Gilchrist, Kermit and Fozzie Bear
This past February Disney+ added The Muppet Show to its streaming platform. Flipping through a few of the episodes — watching musical guests from John Denver to Alice Cooper — is wildly nostalgic.

Those who grew up watching the felted sketch show in the late '70s are the same ones who, a bit later, watched Jim Belushi on Saturday Night Live. It was a time when we rode in cars with no passenger side mirrors and seat belts lost in the crevices of the back seat, and the rowdy variety show (loosely managed by a soft-spoken frog who was in love with a vain pig, whom he also fat-shamed regularly) was that generation's breakfast cereal.

In one episode, Elton John performed “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,” backed by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, who just crushed it. Later on, surly Sam the Eagle asks why the British rock star dresses “like a stolen car,” which works on levels never glimpsed at by Dora the Explorer or The Wiggles. The naïve Dora and Captain Feathersword lacked the range to capture a chuckle from both adults and kids at the same time.

But, then there was that time when Scooter, the backstage gofer, gave singer Kenny Rogers a heads-up for a curtain call. Rogers complains about the amount of stuff in his dressing room. Scooter explains that his uncle, who owns the theater, sold the mineral rights to the dressing room. Then, several Muppets bounce in wearing white headscarves and one asks, “Before we start drilling, where should we park the camels?”

In another episode, Johnny Cash sings “Ghost Riders in the Sky” in front of a Confederate flag.

This is why both of those episodes, along with 16 others, begin with a disclaimer, albeit in tiny type for exactly 12 seconds, warning of “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

click to enlarge Cartoonist Guy Gilchrist continues to illustrate after a career that started with Jim Henson's Muppets four decades ago. - GUY GILCHRIST
Cartoonist Guy Gilchrist continues to illustrate after a career that started with Jim Henson's Muppets four decades ago.
Guy Gilchrist
Guy Gilchrist had a hand in the Muppet legacy. At just 24, he was tapped by Jim Henson, the original creator of The Muppets, to illustrate the “Muppets” comic strip, which ran around the world in 660 daily newspapers from 1981 to 1986. He also lent his vision to other Henson characters including the Muppet Babies and those in Fraggle Rock. Starting in 1995, Gilchrist took over the daily comic strip "Nancy" and continued that story for 22 years. This past week, Gilchrist was in Plano for an appearance at Madness Games and Comics where he hosted a cartoon workshop and met with fans.

“When the Muppets show was brought back, I saw the disclaimer. It was a big deal,” Gilchrist said in an interview. “Here’s what I think: I think Jim [Henson] is smiling. I really do. For a bunch of reasons, and some I won’t share and some I will. I can’t speak for Jim, but here's what I think: The Muppet universe is the most inclusive in the universe.”

Others haven't taken the disclaimers too lightly, particularly conservatives. The Greg Gutfeld Show on Fox News dedicated a segment to it, which was introduced with an ominous “canceling tornado” visual.

“Who gets appalled at a furry little doll? Yeah, the cancel tornado is always looking for its next victim and now it’s The Muppets,” Gutfeld said, adding “Not a bad marketing ploy, Disney.”

They then looked at a few clips where Kermit talks to Miss Piggy about losing weight and flirts with her “hotter sister.” They laughed at being on the right side of jokes and one commentator pointed out that the show has, in fact, been added to Disney, not taken off, albeit with a disclaimer.

Disney is reviewing its full library of content in an initiative called Stories Matter, looking for material “that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures.” In making the decision to run the material, Disney stated it is  seeking to acknowledge “its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”

Gilchrist says he isn’t upset about the shows' disclaimers.

“In 1977, whatever we were doing back then was very hip for its time, but it was a time,” he says drawing out the last word. “When we were loving to each other and kind to each other and having fun and being silly, but all in that era. Had Jim still been here, things would have evolved.”