2012: The Year of the Muppet

2012 was one of the most high-stakes, high-drama years for muppets in recent history. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian reports. 

Last March, Greg Smith quit his job as an executive director at Goldman Sachs and published an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing his former employer. Smith raised a great many questions about the integrity of the investment banking world, but curiously, only one word stuck. That word was “muppet.”

“Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets,'” Smith wrote.

Smith then went on to land a six-figure book deal to write about his experience at Goldman, which goes to show that you really can judge a book by its muppet.

Goldman Sachs responded to Smith’s allegation by launching an internal probe that became known as “the muppet hunt.” After dozens of staffers were interviewed and millions of their emails were examined, investigators found roughly 4,000 references to “muppets” -- 99 percent of which were apparently related to Muppets: The Movie.

No further details have emerged from the affair, but Goldman’s stock price has gained some value in the months since Smith’s accusation, suggesting that a fool and his muppet are not so easily parted.

Muppets -- the 99 percent, not ones who trade on the futures market -- did not take this assault on their dignity lightly. In July, an Elmo impersonator lost his shit in Central Park and embarked on long, xenophobic, anti-Semitic rants while he solicited tips and photographs from tourists (oddly enough, many street muppets are undocumented immigrants.)

“Nasty Elmo” - whose real name is Adam Sandler - turned out to be an emotionally disturbed man who left the park on a stretcher in the back of an EMT van. By mid-September, Sandler was back in costume in Times Square, unleashing a fresh string of assaults onto unsuspecting tourists. When he was taken off the streets for the second time, Mr. Sandler pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to two days of community service. A reporter asked him what had set him off; the rants he shared with the reporter could be “boiled down to his annoyance with and suspicion of people who pose for pictures with him and do not tip.”

The moral of the story? Never look a gift muppet in the mouth.

As traumatic as it was, Elmo’s unhinged behavior did not prepare the world for when Kevin Clash - the puppeteer who practically invented Elmo in the 1980s - was accused of having had sex with teenage boys. Sesame Workshop issued a statement in November saying that "the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want,” and Clash resigned from his position. Clearly, youth is wasted on the muppets.

As the year came to an end, Sesame Workshop had bigger muppets to fry. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney staged a full-blown assault on Big Bird, which, at 8”2, towers over both Romney and President Barack Obama. But Bird’s size did not deter Mr. Romney from accusing his feathered friend of contributing to the nation’s mounting debt crisis.

"I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too,” Romney told muppet emeritus Jim Lehrer during a televised debate. “But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”

After the Democrats used Romney’s anti-muppet platform to criticize him in an advertisement, Sesame Workshop intervened again, telling both parties to remove references to muppets in their campaigns. Muppets, said Sesame, are nonpartisan.

This neutrality was short-lived. Grover, one of the most loved muppets of all, ended the year by rearing his fuzzy blue head in Washington, D.C. Grover always had had a reputation for being funny and cute, but in the days of fiscal cliffs and austerity, he’s best known for his conservative libertarian views. During his leadership of Americans for Tax Reform, a political advocacy group, Grover managed to convince 95 percent of Republicans that when it comes to taxes, sharing is not caring - come hell or high muppet. He even had them sign a document called the Muppet Protection Pledge. Unfortunately, the only muppets the pledge protects are the muppets signing the damn thing. After all, not all Americans are muppets.

Some critics claim that Grover isn’t a real muppet either, but rather, an allegorical muppet -- a Goldman Sachs muppet of Greg Smith’s dreams. That would certainly explain why he hates taxes so much. But there is no question that, furry or fake, Grover is a bona fide chaos muppet -- and that desperate times in Washington call for desperate, desperate muppets.