- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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After the CEO of Chick-fil-A took a stance against gay marriage, the Jim Henson Company cut ties with the fast-food chain. But it was hardly the first time the Muppets have gone activist. From childhood hunger to media bias, watch video of past social campaigns.
Bert and Ernie may balk at the notion of making honest men out of each other, but that doesn’t mean Muppets aren’t vocal gay-marriage supporters. The Jim Henson Company, which created the Muppets and Sesame Street, severed its ties with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, to whom it supplied toys for children’s meals, after the tender peddler’s chief executive, Dan Cathy, told the Baptist Press that the company supported the “traditional family” and the “the biblical definition of the family unit.” But it’s not the first time Jim Henson’s beloved creatures were used to campaign for a cause. Here’s a look back at notable Muppet activism.
Not every Sesame Street character has an unlimited supply of cookies. In October 2011, the show introduced Lily, an impoverished Muppet who starred in a one-hour primetime special about childhood hunger. “Sometimes I go with my family to the food pantry,” Lily tells Elmo, unsettling the furry red monster. “Elmo never has to think about where his next meal is coming from,” he responds. The special, which was sponsored by Walmart, aimed to raise awareness of hunger issues and food insecurity in the United States, where 17 million children have limited access to food.
Healthy School Lunches
Really? Pizza is a vegetable? Kermit joined Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers on a November 2011 “Weekend Update” segment of the late-night program to rant and rave over a congressional decision that would allow the use of tomato paste on pizza to satisfy the vegetable requirement in school lunches. “Cafeteria pizza barely qualifies as pizza. It has the same nutritional value as the tray it’s served on,” griped Meyers. “Have you been to the town pool? Those aren’t swimsuits, those are sausage casings,” the flabbergasted frog said, adding, “I’m really gonna be in trouble for that one later.”
How does one explain the gravity of South Africa’s AIDS epidemic to children? Takalani Sesame, the South African version of Sesame Street, tackled this tricky task by introducing Kami, the world’s first HIV-positive Muppet, in 2002. The red-haired, yellow-bodied Muppet debuted with the goal of challenging the stereotype of the sickly, HIV-infected child with her bubbly and friendly personality—dispensing valuable information about the disease for kids to soak up. On World AIDS Day in 2006, Kami appeared with former U.S. president Bill Clinton to deliver a message about HIV and AIDS.
It’s not easy being green, but Kermit and company are committed to showing viewers how they can be. Starting in the early ’80, the Muppets began filming environmental public service announcements for the conservation organization National Wildlife Federation. Among the dozen clips: Kermit and Fozzie criticize pollution, Rowlf sings a song about the soil, and Miss Piggy frantically runs through a checklist about ways to conserve energy.
When Sesame Street head writer Joey Mazzarino’s five-year-old daughter Segi, who was born in Ethiopia, expressed her jealousy of girls with long, blond, straight hair, Mazzarino took to the show to spread a message of self-acceptance. He penned a 2010 song titled “I Love My Hair,” sung gleefully by a proud puppet with an afro: “Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop, ‘cause I love what I got on top/ It’s curly and it’s brown and it’s right up there. You know what I love? That’s right, my hair!”
Big Bird has big feet—and that’s enough to deny him entrance in the Good Birds Club, at least according to a group of bullies that tease the yellow giant for his size. In a 2011 episode of Sesame Street addressing the headline-grabbing bullying epidemic, Big Bird is traumatized by the insults and asks the fairy Abby to make him smaller, so the bullies would stop berating him. Of course, his friends soon rally around him, and help the beloved bird understand why he’s special—helping kids learn how to stand up for themselves in a safe way.
The Right-Wing Media?
Kermit and Miss Piggy: Communists? That’s what Fox Business Network alleged in a segment blasting 2011’s The Muppets movie as part of a pawn in a liberal media plot to “brainwash your kids against capitalism,” because the film paints an oil baron as a villain. Ahead of the movie’s London premiere, the Muppets staged a fake press conference to address the accusations, during which Kermit laughed at the charge: “If we had a problem with the oil companies, why would we have spent the entire film driving around a gas-guzzling Rolls-Royce?” Miss Piggy concurred: “It’s almost as laughable as accusing Fox News of being news.”