Thursday, September 8, 2011

Creation for Destruction

As much as Jim Henson enjoyed building puppets, it seemed he enjoyed destroying his works even more.  Take this early promotional video made for IBM:


An early, be-fanged Cookie Monster puppet enjoys the perks of the company's new coffee machine in the break room.  He drinks the coffee, eats the cup, and then devours the machine.  As a final button, the gluttonous creature learns that the machine comes equipped with an explosive anti-theft device much too late.  The destroyer is destroyed.

Maybe he should switch to a non-life-thhreatening snack.

This skit was repeated on multiple shows, implying that the machine had to be rebuilt from scratch every time (for as you can see, the parts are ripped apart and not simply removed).  But Henson knew that there is a pleasure in seeing the destruction of a complex item.   It is impressive to see hundreds of dominoes stacked in a pattern, but the real fun comes in knocking them over.  Henson enjoyed these monstrous puppets with huge appetites, and they became a staple of his early works.

Henson would later explore this concept in depth in the Fraggle Rock episode "The Preachification of Convincing John."  One of the main ideas in the world of the Fraggles is that they play and have fun while the miniature Doozers work and build all day.  The Doozers build magnificent crystalline structures that the Fraggles eat and haphazardly knock over daily.


Mokey Fraggle, the most sympathetic Fraggle believes that they are doing harm to the Doozers' environment by eating their buildings.  She, with the help of the very convincing Convincing John, rallies everyone to refrain from destroying the Doozer constructions.

The Fraggle Oath swearing off Doozer buildings

Convincing John works his magic.

Unfortunately, the Doozers' work ethic causes them to keep building and building until the space in Fraggle Rock runs out.  This inconveniences the Fraggles, but Mokey swears them off until she learns that the Doozers are also being negatively affected by the new law.  If they do not have any room to continue building, they will die.

While the greater message appears to be "Do not interfere with the eco-system, or you will upset the natural balance and harm whole species," the less obvious message is that sometimes, destruction is a part of life.  And it can be really fun to participate.  I cannot count the number of times I've taken apart a Lego model just so I could rebuild it.

Henson loved his puppets, but he did not choose to keep them in pristine quality.  Rather than make multiple versions of one thing, he enjoyed creating, destroying, and rebuilding.  He did this with his ideas as well, reworking sketches and songs.  It is all part of the creative process and one that he allowed the audience to witness and enjoy.

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