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Playing with felt and wires

It's a fairly busy news day, but one story that caught my notice was the news that Disney has bought the rights to the Muppets. This deal covers the Muppets, not the Sesame Street characters, and it was a desired outcome by both parties -- Jim Henson was in negotiations with Disney to sell the Muppets but the deal was derailed by his sudden death in 1990.

It's a fitting development in a lot of ways, and I hope to see Disney take care of the Muppets (yes, I'm of the generation that watched first-run episodes of The Muppet Show, and long after many of us gave up on Sesame Street as being 'for babies'). They can start by pulling the licensing for those Muppets/Denny's commercials -- having Miss Piggy shill "Moon over my Hammy" porkcentric breakfasts is sadistic.

I admit, however, that I find the deal disquieting. Disney's copyright enforcement on its characters is well documented -- so much so, one could probably write a book on that single subject, if one hasn't been written already. Henson has taken a much more laidback position in 'protecting its product'. There has been a much freer hand to use Muppets for the purpose of satire and parody, apparently without complaint by Henson (or in the case of Sesame Street characters, the Children's Workshop).

Mind you, the results haven't always been pretty. Over the past couple of days, I have encountered Photoshopped images of Miss Piggy that mimics Janet Jackson's overexposure at the Super Bowl -- that I didn't need to see. People have been arguing whether Bert and Ernie are a gay couple for over 15 years. Long before the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson was infamous for his grotesque, adult parody of the Muppet show, Meet the Feebles (yet again, something I personally did not need to see).

Then there's the Bert is Evil meme. And currently, there's a terror alert system based on Sesame Street characters (despite the supposed evilness of Bert, he only represents an "Elevated" level of risk of terrorist attack).

Now ... we'll still have Bert to pick on and kick around and use as a conduit to our dark fantasies about childhood innocence. But Miss Piggy and Kermit and the rest will probably go behind the Intellectual Property firewall. Future attempts to satirize culture using Muppet images may be tracked and the creators subject to cease-and-desist letters from Disney's attorneys. Nursery school walls may need repainting. And Disney has a proven, lucrative set of products whose copyright terms give the company added incentive in convincing Congress to add more extensions a la the Bono/CTEA Act.

It was fun while it lasted.


Among the Muppets parodies out there is Avenue Q, which actively uses sounds and voices similar to Sesame Street characters. It's a very successful musical. I'd hate for people to not be able to create these kinds of parodies.

Seeing what Disney has done to Winnie-the-Pooh, I am disturbed but resigned. One more piece of my childhood mined for marketing revenue....