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The Politics of a Muppet Villain

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll admit, when I noticed that the villain in the new Muppet Movie was a “rich oil man”, and eyebrow was raised.  After all, I’ve seen one-sided political stances placed in movies and children’s programs before and I feared this was another example of it.

Evidently Fox News felt the same way, spending a whole segment on the topic.  As I watched this debate unfold, I didn’t hear a great point come from either side. 

First, it struck me that the three people upset over Tex Richman had not even seen the movie.   They didn’t even mention that it’s Chris Cooper who plays him.  At one point, it’s as if they think Tex is a Muppet.

I think it’s important to see the movie.  After I saw it, I felt that Tex Richman isn’t nearly the political message he could’ve been.  You’re not beaten over the head with the fact that he’s an oil man.  More than anything, his sole reason for being there is to give the Muppets a reason for getting back together.

And yes, Tex “Rich man” uses real words to create a name.  However, I would argue that this is less about politics and more about Muppet name generation.  After all, there once was a time that there just so happened to be a guy that owns frog leg restaurants who was named Doc Hopper.

On the other side of the argument, I felt uneasy that she found it necessary to spend time promoting why politics in kids movies is okay and why her point of view should be heard in them.  She would have been better off making the points that I am making now.

How about we meet in the middle?  Yes, politics rears its ugly head in the wrong places in movies in TV shows.  However, are we sometimes guilty of just looking for it and using it as a means to cry foul?

I agree there’s nothing wrong with being rich and there’s nothing wrong with being in the oil industry.  The thing we have to remember is there are bad people in every walk of life…rich, poor, big business, small business, etc.

I think it’s a stretch in this case to think that a child will walk away from The Muppets with a generalization that all rich oil people are bad.

Chris Cooper as Tex Richman

They’re going to get that misleading message in other places.  You’d have an easier time trying to convince me that after watching a murder mystery in which a nurse kills her patients by injecting poison in their bodies and claim the message is that nurses can’t be trusted.

There are plenty of films where it is 100 percent clear that a film is either covertly or abrasively trying to make a statement.  More often than not, people know it and react to it on a grander scale…not in a seven minute debate on one network.

I remember a screenwriting mentor tell me one time, “Don’t write a movie for the sake of sending a message”.  I also had a movie critic friend who would always call out a film when it beat you over the head with a message, but was more forgiving when a message was subtle enough where the audience could come to their own conclusions.

My guess is most right-leaning and left-leaning parents who took their kids to see the movie, left thinking one thing….

It was an entertaining film.

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In Defense of the Ewoks

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I am here to officially announce my ongoing, undying support for a little tribe of bears.  These aren’t just any cute little bears, either.  They are a group of highly organized, brave warriors.  Despite being somewhat primitive, they aren’t afraid to wrap their hands (or paws?) around some technology (aka speeder bikes, AT-STs) and use it to defend their home.  May the silent minority be silent no more!  I like the Ewoks!

Many of today’s jaded fanboys will cringe at that statement.  They have to understand, however, that the statement is not the problem.  It just might be them.

As many fans anticipate the release of the Star Wars trilogies on Blu-Ray, commentaries are popping up all over the internet about what we’re going to see.  As with many things the jaded fanboys complain about, I understand their point with some things and roll my eyes at others.

I have never understood the hatred toward the Ewoks.  The only theory I can come up with is that there is just so much testosterone pumping though some fans, that if every creature in the galaxy doesn’t look and sound like Boba Fett, Greedo, Chewbacca and Darth Vader then they don’t belong. Some may even make the ridiculous claim that it’s impossible for them to exist.

The Ewoks can pwn an Empire.

If they don’t use cool blasters, fly cool ships or hold the title of badass bounty hunter, then they’re nothing more than irrelevant peons.  The implication is Ewoks are too cute and too simplistic to play a role, much less help defeat the mighty Empire.

When I hear fans complain about things like this, I am baffled by their lack of knowledge of history, mythology and story.  If you know anything about these topics you know how the Ewoks definitely belong in the Star Wars universe.

Without going into all of the historical and mythological examples that inspire the creation of such characters, let me just remind everyone that the little guy beating the giant is nothing new.  That’s what the Ewoks represent.  Some of the best stories of all time involve an underdog finding a unique way or gaining a fate-driven opportunity to overcome oppression or tyranny.

A tribe like the Ewoks wouldn’t be even living on a planet like that if they didn’t have some sense of how to live and defend their livelihood.  We see that first-hand when Luke and the rebels get caught up in their net.  Think about it, in one big swoop, they incapacitate a Jedi, a wookie and a clever, blaster-wielding smuggler.

You mean to tell me that this huge tribe of inhabitants, combined with the rebellion in a dense forest, couldn’t overwhelm the Empire?

Think about the arguments that were made against the Vietnam and Iraq war.  One of the key arguments of anti-war activists involved the deadly and overwhelmingly challenging terrain the enemies possessed and how that may get many in the world’s best military killed.  The Empire faced that same quandary on Endor.

You can’t just base your interpretation of the “details” in something like this and proclaim it as truth.  Many fanboys took a similar approach when it came to Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans.  The scenario is similar (though Naboo is no Endor) but Jar Jar was the difference maker.

When we first meet Jar Jar, he has been branded as a clumsy, scatter-brained fool who is so useless that he isn’t welcome in his own home.

Before the movie is over, we learn that even people like Jar Jar have a purpose in life.  In this case, he single-handedly brought two segregated societies together in order to preserve life and freedom on the planet. Not only is that a common historical and fictional theme, but in the mythology world, “The Fool” has a significant role in a story.

The Ewoks and Gungans, like it or not, fit into the Star Wars universe on multiple levels.  That is undeniable.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not written anywhere you HAVE to like any character in any story.  Nonetheless, when it comes to how you dislike a character, perhaps it’s best to do something Yoda might ask you to do.  That is, control your anger and don’t let it cloud your judgment.

Personal hatred of any character doesn’t always mean they don’t belong.