The Muppet Show Was More Controversial Than You Might Remember
Disney+ finally released all five seasons of The Muppet Show on February 19, making this past weekend the perfect time for many fans to revisit Jim Henson’s classic series. If you were one of them, you may have noticed the disclaimer at the beginning of certain episodes.
“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” it reads, via The Guardian. “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” It then goes on to mention the company’s commitment to creating diverse stories and lists the URL for Disney’s Stories Matter initiative for more information.
As The A.V. Club reports, the message lasts for 12 un-skippable seconds and appears before a total of 18 episodes. While Disney doesn’t specify what exactly is problematic in each one, viewers will likely pick up on the show’s racist portrayals on their own. In season 2, episode 19, for example, Peter Sellers does a caricaturish impersonation of a Romani person for a song called “A Gypsy’s Violin.” Spike Milligan’s impressions of several other cultures in a rendition of “It’s a Small World” are similarly offensive (season 3, episode 15); and when Johnny Cash hosted the 14th episode of season 5, the barn set where most of the program takes place features a very prominent Confederate flag. Some of the puppets themselves are also designed as stereotypical, reductive versions of the cultures they’re meant to represent.
Disney’s assertion that such elements “were wrong then and are wrong now” underscores the point that they were never OK, but the popularity of The Muppet Show—and the fact that people generally don’t remember it as a frequently offensive program—are evidence that racist depictions like these were common enough to seem unremarkable when it came out in the late 1970s. So if you are planning to indulge in a nostalgia-tinged Muppet Show marathon anytime soon, be mindful of what you might’ve missed as a kid. And if you want to know exactly what’s wrong with each episode, viewers are sharing the details in this Reddit thread.
[h/t The A.V. Club]