Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Disney adds disclaimer to Muppet episodes

Entertainment | The 1970s variety sketch comedy makes a rough landing on streaming TV
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/23/21, 01:23 pm

Fans of Kermit the Frog and his friends rejoiced when Disney+ added all five seasons of The Muppet Show to the streaming platform on Friday. But one change to the variety show, which ran on prime-time TV from 1976-1981, had viewers scratching their heads: Eighteen of the more than 100 episodes opened with a trigger warning.

The on-screen message resembles those Disney added before some of its older movies like Dumbo and Peter Pan. Those films employed exploitative caricatures of African and Native Americans, which were common in the midcentury decades in which they were produced. “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the warning reads. “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

In one flagged episode of The Muppet Show, comedian Jonathan Winters dons a feathered headdress and does a mock Native American chant, while in another, Muppets in Middle Eastern clothing drill for oil in singer Kenny Rodgers’ dressing room. Johnny Cash sings a song in front of a Confederate flag in one episode that drew a warning.

Some fans and fellow entertainers have scoffed at Disney for spoiling the fun for the Muppets, who have embodied kindness and inclusivity since their inception.

“At the time it aired, The Muppet Show (like its parent Sesame Street) was noted for making an effort to nudge young viewers away from thinking only in terms of white Americans, taking pains to include a wide variety of ethnic types in the zany fun,” wrote National Review critic Kyle Smith. He bemoaned the trigger warnings as attacks on “a nonproblem with a meaningless blob of sensitivity signaling.”

Others, accustomed to the knee-jerk reactions of contemporary cancel culture, looked on the bright side: At least Disney didn’t pull the shows altogether. One note: Some scenes and episodes did not make it to the final Disney+ cut, but that’s likely because of issues securing rights to songs performed on the show. There’s also speculation, reported in Entertainment Weekly, that one episode featuring actor and writer Chris Langham was cut because he was later convicted on child pornography charges.


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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Tue, 02/23/2021 07:23 pm

    I'm inclined to consider the inclusion of warnings on some of the Muppets episodes as a fairly sensible middle-of-the-road approach. Better than banning or discarding them. And when we are watching with our families, the warnings can remind us we have a teachable moment:  "Yes, kids, once upon a time we thought it was ok to make fun of someone because they are a different color or come from some other country. But now we understand they are made in the Image of God just like we are.  And He loves them like He loves us, and wants us to love them too."

  • Katie
    Posted: Tue, 02/23/2021 09:51 pm

    Agree.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 02/24/2021 10:39 am

    Ah, what a gift it would be to see ourselves today as those 40 years from now will see us. 

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Wed, 02/24/2021 01:49 pm

    Agreed, Alan E.

    "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."

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