Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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Je réponds aux collaborateurs.

I've been frustrated by the response of Muppet fansites, particularly The Muppet Mindset and ToughPigs, in the aftermath of the Disney-Whitmire schism, so much so that I've been tempted to go all Keith Olbermann on their collective asses. Which I wouldn't do, because then Keith Olbermann would go all Keith Olbermann on ME, saying that, with our democracy imperiled, now seems like a bad time to worry about the integrity of a bunch of puppets. And, microcosmic parallels aside, he would have a fair point.

I was going to go through each of the articles that rubbed me the wrong way and respond to each contentious point individually, but then I realized, I really only have a few issues to contend with, that I can address in a more general, global manner. So here goes:

The fansites have been rightfully criticizing the more hysterical, paranoid, rude, inappropriate, hurtful comments that small-minded trolls have been slinging about the Internet since the news broke. I join my voice with theirs in condemning the histrionic hate-spewing. And yet, I feel kind of condescended to with the tone of general chastisement and tut-tutting that Fairclough and especially Hennes have adopted with regards to the inappropriate behavior, the attitude of "Shame on us! Muppet fans should be better than this!" When, in reality, 95% of the negative noise is coming from probably less than 5% of the fandom, I don't appreciate being lumped in with a few loudmouth jerks, or being shamed for someone else's bad behavior.[*](I had 4+ years of that working at Relay, and that was quite enough, thank you very much.) I think it's quite possible to speak critically of the decision while still taking the high road and not resorting to tasteless insults; that is what I have endeavored to do, and I will not apologize for it.

But what really rubs me the wrong way are the calls for conciliation with Disney, the basic theme being, "Come on, guys; let's give Disney the benefit of the doubt." To which I respond with only one word:


Why should we give Disney the benefit of the doubt? What have they done to deserve it? What have they done to earn our trust?

This is a company that has repeatedly, blatantly, unapologetically broken good-faith agreements with individuals and other companies in service of their own bottom line. Jim Henson--and, after his death, his family--is the example obviously best known to Muppet fans, and well documented in the books Street Gang and Jim Henson: The Biography. Another example would be Robin Williams, who agreed to portray the Genie in Aladdin on the condition that Disney not use the likeness in marketing or other productions, as the Genie's appearance was based upon his own. Disney agreed but obviously later went back on the promise. Then there is the case of Pixar, the story of which mirrors the story of Jim Henson's relationship to Disney in several eerie ways, such as Disney claiming they had an "implied license" to use Pixar characters in merchandising and such before they owned the company, just as they had with the Muppets following the death of Jim Henson and the failure of the first Henson/Disney deal. Furthermore, Pixar, like Jim Henson, wanted to be an independent company, seeking only distribution rights from Disney. Disney, on the other hand, wanted to own Pixar. Guess who won.

When it comes to copyrights, Disney is like Gollum protecting his preeeeecioussssss.[*](Link apropos of nothing, but too good not to share.) This is a company that almost literally rewrote copyright laws just so that its oldest properties wouldn't fall into the public domain. This is a company that actually brought legal action against daycare centers for having unlicensed Disney characters painted on their walls--which, yes, is technically a copyright infringement, but what harm was it doing to anyone? Let me clarify: they weren't using the characters to advertise or promote their daycare business, they weren't implying affliation with Disney, they weren't making a profit off the characters' images in any way; they had just painted images of the characters on their walls--alongside other characters from the world of children's literature, movies, and television--for the delight and comfort of the children in their care. I ask again: whom was it hurting?

And yet, Disney has no trouble turning the tables and infringing other people's copyrights. In addition to the "implied license" examples listed above, this is a company that plagiarized Japanese cartoon "Kimba the White Lion" when making The Lion King, with no recourse to the creators or rights-holders of Kimba whatsoever. As Juan Arteaga says, "Here's a little experiment. Turn the tables, and try to create a cartoon series about a high-pitch-voiced mouse called "Mikey" and his friend "Ronald Duck." Start selling merchandise for these characters, and see how long it takes you to hear from Disney's lawyers."

This is a pattern of behavior, of ruthless, greedy, shortsighted, self-serving, hypocritical behavior that I don't anticipate Disney changing anytime soon because it's been so profitable for them--financially speaking, although it has left them completely bankrupt when it comes to credibility. So when Steve Whitmire, whom I've never known to be anything but honest and trustworthy, essentially says that he was fired from Disney on a false pretext, and that Disney declined to negotiate with him or even meet with him face-to-face, I'm inclined to believe him, even though I don't know both sides of the story, because it's consistent with what I know of Disney and how I've known them to do business in the past.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't be receptive to hearing Disney's side of the story if they were inclined to give it. On the contrary, if they honestly believe that they have a good reason for firing Whitmire, I would be delighted to hear it. I'm more than willing to entertain an opposing point of view; I can respect a valid viewpoint, even if I disagree with it. But the fact that Disney hasn't said anything to refute Whitmire's side of the story makes me feel all the more justified in taking it at face value.

For me, it boils down to this: at what point does conciliation become appeasement? At what point does "let's be calm and rational and not jump to conclusions," become "don't say anything critical about Disney or they'll never release The Muppet Show seasons 4 and 5 on DVD"? At what point does "give Disney the benefit of the doubt" become "for God's sake, don't do anything to anger the evil overlords, like calling them evil, because they hate that"? (For more examples in a broader historical context, click here.)

I don't know the answer to those questions, but I think it's telling when Jarrod Fairclough of The Muppet Mindset says, "I don’t know who to defend in this situation. If I defend Disney, I upset Steve [Whitmire]. If I defend Steve, I upset Disney." Which, to me, is something akin to trying to justify not standing up to a bully by saying, "If I defend someone from a bully, then the bully might get mad and turn on me." Is that the way Jim Henson would want us to respond? Is that the way Kermit would want us to respond?

It all reminds me of what Jon Stewart said on his final Daily Show hosting appearance: "Bullshit is everywhere...the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something." Therefore I am obliged to say, with all due respect, that this whole Disney personnel decision stinks to HIGH HEAVEN.
Tags: idiocy, muppets, the daily show
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