Coming out of a serious writing jag, I’m thinking about Worldcon, that happened over the weekend in San Jose. Like many other purveyors of the art, I’m sometimes confused and puzzled about how people interpet what science fiction is supposed to be. Is it necessary to turn sci-fi into a competition, an argument, or a conflict? I did a bit of thinking, and it occurred to me that we need less anger, and more Jim Henson.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but don’t ignore the point: It isn’t just about where we’re going, it’s about who we’re going to be when we get there. I read that one time, and it’s always stuck with me. There’s no point in creating new things if the only purpose they serve is to be weaponized against innocent people.
Most geeks understand that. The best example I can think of is our old friend, Jim Henson. He was more than just the Muppets, of course. Jim created an enduring legacy of love, peace, and joy that he expressed through art and relationships.
There’s an article reprinted from Life that explains it like this: ‘Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson’s greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’
Jim Henson had flaws but he was also a tolerant, patient man. That’s not to say that he tolerated everything. Many people conflate the two, and that is yet another byproduct of our toxic age. “Underneath the zaniness, there was a kind of decency that the characters had about the world and to each other, and I think that was one of the legacy’s that Jim left,” Jerry Juhl, Head Writer for the Muppets said. “At the core there was always this kind of sense of social values and decency.”
Beyond that, through the Muppets Jim Henson showed a sense of ‘wonder, delight, [and] optimism.’ That’s sadly missing from the 2018 sci-fi landscape. Social values and deceny are being challenged. The loudest guy and the biggest sign seem to be winning.
We have the opportunity, though, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t need to shout louder than the other guy. We just need to be. We can communicate our priorities by what we do, and the choices we make. None of these things are revolutionary in themselves. We’ll find, as Henson did, that we already know what the right thing to do is, we just need to do it.
Jim Henson did that. In so doing, he destroyed his foes, not by defeating them, but by befriending them. That wasn’t really original, it came right out of the Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’
So, although it seems like dark times, there are opportunities for light. Jim Henson showed us the way. Let’s find the next Jim Henson, or be the next Jim Henson, so that we can light the way for the next generation, too.