Muppets aren’t the first group of characters you might think of as offensive, but in this new world order really anything is possible. After all, this is a set of humorous puppet characters that have been around for decades, entertaining children and adults alike with their shenanigans. But now, according to Disney+, The Muppet Show is getting the “offensive content” tag because of some of its early messaging and character depiction.
Disney+ just recently added all five seasons of The Muppet Show on Disney+ but slapped on a blanket disclaimer at the start of the show, before each episode. It reads like this:
“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.”
The disclaimer fails to say where exactly the Muppets went wrong in their depictions or what exactly was offensive during the production. That part isn’t all that surprising. There’s no reason for the company to outline exactly what was done in poor or discriminatory taste, leaving it more to the viewer to decide after a blanket statement. But considering how many different characters they covered over the years, it isn’t a leap to consider they ran afoul of some stereotypes from time to time.
The Muppet Show ran for five seasons starting in 1976. Each episode would have a guest star who would interact with the Muppets through a variety of skits and songs. The “cast” featured the names we grew to know and love including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Swedish Chef, and many more. And the guest star list was an impressive one once the show picked up steam with Florence Henderson, Lena Horne, Jim Nabors, Twiggy, Ethel Merman, and Vincent Price all appearing during the just opening season. The list of celebrities only grew over time.
The Muppets aren’t the only old Disney characters, or shows, to get labeled offensive as Disney+ re-releases a significant part of their original catalog. Recently a whole host of shows and movies were taken completely off the Kids’ section of the streaming service citing significant issues with racist storylines and characters. Some of the more notable names from that group include Peter Pan, The Aristocrats, Swiss Family Robinson, and Dumbo. Each was cited as having starkly racist depictions of characters and ethnicities that may have been “suitable” for the time but have aged quite poorly. Disney stopped short of fully removing the scenes, characters, or even shows in question but are being very careful in how they are brought to the masses.
Disney is using an independent auditor to review all of their old productions and it stands to reason that so are other production companies. It’s unlikely this is the last we hear of offensive content labeling from Disney+ or other services. The Muppets were part of a different time in broadcasting when the rules around stereotypes were held to a lesser standard.
It doesn’t excuse the behavior of the writing at the time, but there was clearly a different way of operating when the Muppets first hit the screen. It puts Disney in a tough spot with how they release their catalog in the present day. Getting rid of all the old “classics” isn’t in the plans, but they need to acknowledge mistakes that were made. This disclaimer for The Muppet Show is Disney’s way of trying to acknowledge the mistakes without actually removing the program.