Friday, August 17, 2012

Random Muppet #12: Mary Mary Quite Contrary

On the Muppet Wiki, there is a "Random Muppet" button which sends you to the page of one of the thousands of Muppets in existence. I will press the button and discuss the importance of the Muppet that comes up, no matter how obscure. No skips. No redos. This is the Random Muppet Challenge.

Random Muppet #12: Mary Mary Quite Contrary

The argumentative gardener who you can't live with or without.

Performer: Stephanie D'Abruzzo

Muppet Universe of Origin: Sesame Street

Most Significant Appearance: Sesame Street, December 7, 2009, "Episode 4198"

It's a typical day on Sesame Street, which means that a nursery rhyme character is going to appear and wreak havoc on everybody's parade. Today's victim is Oscar, who finds his trash can surrounded by piles of dirt. At first, he is pleased with the change, but he soon learns that the dirt is just the starting point for Mary Mary Quite Contrary's new garden. Just as in the original poem, Mary Mary has some interesting ideas for what constitutes a garden, and, with her partner Mother Goose, she starts planting silver bells and cockle shells, refusing to accept conventional garden norms.

So, now it's just a pile of dirt with junk in it.  Oscar should be pleased.

Once Gordon teaches Mary Mary that a garden, by it's definition, must be used to grow things, she decides to make the most beautiful, lush garden in the world. And why does she decide to do this? Because Oscar doesn't want her to.

Oscar's trash can has never looked better!

In order to run Mary Mary out of town, Oscar calls up her grouch-counterpart, Hairy Hairy More Contrary, to plant a grouchy garden. Hairy Hairy brings smelly plants and weeds and dirty pigs to create an absolute mess. But Mary Mary, being ever so contrary, sees beauty in the squalor, which causes Hairy Hairy to leave in a huff (since a grouch's work must never be appreciated).

I wonder if everyone has a grouch counterpart, somewhere in the world.

The new stinky garden causes anguish for all the neighbors and they plead with Mary Mary to take it down. But she remains firm, refusing to leave. Enjoying the new grossness, Oscar praises the new garden and welcomes Mary Mary onto the block, allowing her to stay.

And with that, she promptly dismantles her garden and leaves. Though, she does leave behind her maids all in a row, to ceaselessly torture Oscar with their singing.

Women are hard to understand. 

Why Is She the Best Muppet?

People are complicated. So when two or more people inhabit the same area, conflict is bound to arise. Likes and dislikes are at odds with one another and the only way to survive is through patience and compromise.

Grouches are anti-people. They strive to bring about the absolute worst in humanity. If you choose too interact with them, they will do all in their power to make it the worst experience ever. Usually, people try to combat a grouch's pessimism with overwhelming niceness. They feel that if they can teach them good manners, then the grouch will become a better person.

But sometimes, you have to fight fire with fire.

Well, they fought with water, but you get the idea. 

Mary Mary Quite Contrary is the world's worst roommate, for people and grouches alike. She isn't inherently evil. She just always wants to do the opposite of what others want from her.

And this desire is genuine. Throughout the entire episode (save for the very end), Mary Mary is always able to come up with reasons to validate her contrarian behavior. She comes to her own decisions and they just always happen to be contrary. The episode handles this imbalance carefully. One could assume that Mary Mary simply doesn't have free will. Whatever one character says, she is destined to do the opposite. Yet she can always explain her actions.

She wants a garden with bells and shells because she thinks they are pretty. She then wants a garden with flowers because she learns that a garden should have flowers. She then wants a garden with weeds because, to her, they are beautiful. Mary Mary is always getting the garden she wants, and everyone else must deal with her decisions.

The only point in which she breaks is during her final contrary decision, where she leaves Sesame Street for good, claiming it is only because Oscar wanted her to stay and she must remain contrary. "Aha!" you may say. "This proves she has no free will!"

Does it though? Let's examine why she arrived on Sesame Street in the first place. When the dirt arrives, Oscar is happy. When the flowers arrive, Oscar is sad. When the weeds arrive, Oscar is happy. When Mary leaves, Oscar is sad. And he'll continue to be sad because she left behind his least favorite part of the garden. Mary Mary spends the whole time manipulating Oscar's emotions. He likes her, then he hates her, then he loves her, then she leaves.

If this sounds familiar to you, then I'm sorry. But this type of relationship happens all too often. At the end of a break up, we can find ourselves hating the other person for long after they've left. Little things they left behind remind us of the past and cause us to get upset all over again. We try to rationalize their behavior, and unfortunately, many people end up settling on some less-than-kind words to describe their exes. We make them into terrible people because it helps us understand the situation better.

But people are complicated. There is no on/off switch, no black and white categories. Like Oscar, we'll just have to accept that people can hurt you, but their reasons will remain forever unsaid. It's best to move on and let them go.

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