Debate Flashpoint

10.04.12

Short History of Muppet Activism: Romney Likes Big Bird & More (VIDEO)

Mitt Romney said he loves Big Bird but threatened cuts to PBS at Wednesday’s debate. Watch video of more of Jim Henson’s creatures gone political, from a Muppet foray into the Chick-fil-A gay-marriage war to their campaign against childhood hunger.

Can you tell me how to get to Activism Street? Mitt Romney said at Wednesday’s debate that he “loves Big Bird” but he’s not willing to “borrow from China” to subsidize Sesame Street’s network, PBS. It's not the first time a Muppet has entered the national debate on a key issue. Here’s a look back at notable Muppet activism.

Romney: ‘I Love Big Bird’

Video screenshot

Is Snuffleupagus safe? The Republican presidential nominee vowed to make good on his campaign promise to defund PBS—even though he admitted his fondness for the Muppets. “I’m sorry, Jim,” Romney told the Denver debate moderator, PBS’s Jim Lehrer. “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.” Romney’s comment immediately went viral, with tweets flying about “killing Big Bird.” Romney must have a fondness for the yellow bird—he mentioned Big Bird at a campaign event in December, when he promised not to kill the bird but said his show needed to start selling ad time. Looks like Romney wants capitalism to be the next lesson on Sesame Street.

Childhood Hunger

Video screenshot

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

Video screenshot

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.”

HIV/AIDS Awareness

Video screenshot

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.

Environmental Conservation

Video screenshot

It’s not easy being green, but Kermit and company are committed to showing viewers how they can be. Starting in the early ’80s, 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 of ways to conserve energy.

Self-Acceptance

Video screenshot

When Sesame Street head writer Joey Mazzarino’s 5-year-old daughter, Segi, who was born in Ethiopia, expressed her jealousy of girls with long, blonde, 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!”

Anti-Bullying

Video screenshot

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?

Video screenshot

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.”