Updated: Apr 8
After Dumbo and The Aristocats fall victim to the Disney culture censors, family favourite The Muppets now comes with a “negative depictions” warning.
It’s bad news for fans of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo et-al (pictured), after Disney+ slapped a warning on the Muppets, making the furry ones only accessible to those with an adult account.
Those subscribers willing to pay £5.99 for the Disney+ catalogue of Star Wars, Marvel, Star Wars, The Simpsons, National Geographic and Star Wars are now to be greeted with a warning statement that “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”
The Muppets? Adult content? Wowsers.
The statement continues, “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.”
That “conversation” has led to speculation on whether the warning refers to Native Americans, Arabs and East Asians Muppet characters, or if it is wholly concerned with the love of Miss Piggy for Kermit (a frog).
The Muppets catalogue is not the only apparently culturally dangerous family entertainment that Disney seems to find “problematic” right now. The family film Swiss Family Robinson, (as well as The Aristocats, Dumbo and Peter Pan) has also had a warning applied to it for parents worried about what might be lurking in the shadows of Disney’s well-established cinematic universe. But The Muppets, an international brand as well as a band of much-loved characters, is probably the most high profile Disney asset to be so sanctioned.
Created by Jim Henson in 1955, The Muppets made their debut in the television series Sam and friends, then featured in 1960s advertising, and started to appear as popular characters in Sesame Street. As the fame of The Muppets grew, the charming foam characters were spun-out into their own international hit TV show in 1976.
Movies followed in the 70s and 80s before Disney acquired The Muppets in 2004, seen as a smart move at the time for the cuddly crew (The Muppets that is, not Disney) since the Kingdom of Mouse was viewed as a safe conglomerate haven for Kermit and his chums.
Or so it seemed at the time, though of course times and cultural politics change.
It is important to note that, despite Disney’s concerns that the brightly-coloured “stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now”, The Muppets have also been applauded by a range of cultural institutions and organisations since arriving on US television, including the American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Library of Congress, though that was before the full effects of the current culture wars set in.
For years, the defence of the growing cultural censoriousness sweeping the western (and particularly the US and UK educational establishments) was that, though troubling for advocates of freedom of speech, it was an essentially harmless movement. Students and student bodies arguing over artistic and literary artefacts or passing motions to have them banned was one thing, but in the real world, such debates were expected to wither away under economic pressure.
Those critics who did suggest that there was a developing problem that would have wider social consequences as the culture wars spread (such as US commentator Ben Shapiro, Canadian writer Jordan Peterson or UK journalist Peter Hitchens) were routinely dismissed, their warnings ignored.
Those consequences are now being felt, particularly in the Big Tech’, electronic media, publishing and, increasingly, the wider corporate arenas. Disney’s latest lurch into historical editing is another example of that extension of political reach from academia into the commercial world, but it is not the only one. In the UK the British Library and English Heritage are both currently mired in complicated and controversial attempts to change their historical legacies, while in the US, the New York Times has lost such key editors as Bari Weiss after the culture clashes erupted in corporations previously in the business of making money as opposed to changing thinking.
Every cultural revolution whether big or small leads eventually to the victorious party eating its own. In this case, with The Muppets falling into apparent disrepute with the culture censors, what was once a bastion of the liberal left seems about to be gobbled up by what appears to be its children.
Whether The Muppets can survive the Disney “mistreatment” charge is yet to be seen. But if the world of the comedic furry ones does fall, it bodes ill for the likes of the Teletubbies, Buzz Lightyear, Shrek (along with Donkey), Paddington Bear and the other nonsensical characters so loved by children and drunk adults alike.
The Muppets a threat to our children?
Now, that is funny.