Friday, March 30, 2012

The Muppets

I heard some great advice on creativity last year. It started out discussing the old adage, “Write what you know,” and then explained why that’s a bad idea. What you know about may not necessarily be interesting, not to other other people and probably not to you, since you know it so damn well. No, instead what you should do is “Write what you want to read”. This advice can be applied to any kind of creative activity, “Make the music you want to listen to,” “Paint the picture you want to hang in your living room,” and so on. I think it’s great advice for three great reasons, and we’re going to talk about The Muppets while I explain those reasons.

But first, some interesting and relevant backstory on the movie itself. From what I understand, The Muppets is the product of the efforts of one Jason Segel, who has essentially made the world’s first wide-release fan-fiction-film. This in and of itself is a pretty cool thing to do, considering that he took the Muppet’s real history of not being famous in a long time, and their fake history of how they met and who married whom (SPOILER: It’s Beaker and Dr. Teeth) and plays it straight. He even goes so far as to, basically write himself into the movie, not as the character he plays, but the one who loves the Muppets and desperately tries to bring them back together. It’s pretty much exactly what an average fan-fiction writer would do, and maybe even more so: They know and love the universe they’re writing about, adhere to its rules strictly, and, at least in Segel’s case, love it so much they would write themselves into it. If you think the part about knowing the universe, loving it, and adhering to its rules is not that special, ask yourself this question: How much different and better would the Star Wars prequels be if a fan-fiction writer penned them instead of Lucas? We wouldn’t have C3PO being created by a young Vader because a fan of Star Wars would know that’s fucking stupid. Yoda and Chewbacca wouldn’t know each other, because a fan of Star Wars would know that’s fucking stupid. This advice I mentioned before, about making what you want to see, it could have fixed those movies and here’s why.

For one, it seems to me that anything marketed for mainstream audiences don’t have much artistic appeal to them. In other words, they blow. Trying to make everyone happy is how the world came up with pop music and romantic comedies; our world is a much worse place because of these things. We’re no longer experimenting with unique and creative ideas, but instead trying to please all people at all times. I feel like this applies to so many things that I can’t even point to just one example. Actually, since it’s fresh in my mind, or maybe just because it sucks the hardest, let’s go back to the Star Wars prequels again. Lucas tried to insert lots of different things in these movies to make a lot of people happy. There’s romance, action, political intrigue. He even attempts to appeal to children with crude, cartoony humor. While trying to appeal to so many people, it ended up appealing to none of them, and, even if it did, nobody would still think it would be a great movie in any sense of the word.

The Muppets, on the other hand, seems to be almost directly opposed to appealing to everyone except for fans of the Muppets. It actually makes of point of stating in the movie that the Muppets just aren’t cool anymore, people who like the Muppets must be stuck in the 70s, people don’t want this type of entertainment anymore, etc., and the thing is, they’re right about all of that. The Muppets aren’t really cool any more, and they haven’t been in a long time. As for people not wanting this type of entertainment anymore, look at the trend comedies have been following lately and how they’re getting raunchier and dirtier. Movies like Bridesmaids, The Hangover 2, and Horrible Bosses were some of the most popular comedies last year. In this culture, if someone suggested making a comedy with nothing but clean jokes, where the dirtiest thing they could come up with was “fart shoes”, would you imagine that movie would appeal to everybody? Hell no. But, here’s the thing. The movie works because it sticks to this principle and doesn’t compromise on it.

Secondly, making the movie that you want to see means that you’re going to be crazy excited about making it. Each step closer towards completion means you’re more anxious to see it, and that energy fuels your creative process. As I said before, this whole movie was a labor of love, and I believe it shows. Segel didn’t want to do anything shitty in this movie because it would be destroying the movie that he would have loved to see. Any artist should be thinking like this. Every decision should be framed in a way that makes the artist ask if it will make him or her stop loving this creation. I feel like that would create more labors of love in this world.

Thirdly, the thing that you want to create is something that just plain doesn’t exist. Because, of course, if it did exist, you would be enjoying it instead of wishing it existed. It’s this quality that I think makes this advice so powerful. Not only are you making something that you love, something that appeals greatly to a well-versed group instead of minutely to everyone in the country, but you’re making something that doesn’t exist and perhaps would never exist if you hadn’t come along and made it.

Same goes for The Muppets. I think that if there wasn’t somebody in Hollywood intent on making this exact movie, nobody else would have done it. Nobody else would have thought of it. Again, look at the current climate for comedy movies. There’s a lot of dirty jokes, and if somebody would have suggested making a comedy that involved musical numbers just because that’s what they did back in the 70s, it would have been impossible to get made.

I never would have considered myself a “fan” of the Muppets in the sense that I was waiting for another movie to get made or that I would even think about the Muppets at all. However, seeing what Segel and the cast and crew of this movie have done, I’m extremely impressed with the love and effort they put into making the movie that they wanted to made, not what everybody else wanted to be made.

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