S01xE07: I Want to be You

Red is excited, Gobo's a jerk

Be yourself, kids! Even if your self is kinda self-centered and your friends don’t like you!

Red Fraggle can’t stand not to be the center of attention, so when demanding everyone watch her show off doesn’t actually work to get people’s attention, she decides people would pay more attention to her if she were more like someone less annoying, for example, Mokey. Except apparently she doesn’t actually understand why anyone likes Mokey, and picks the most ridiculous and annoying ways to imitate her.

But don’t worry, Red learns that her friends like her after all, as long as she’s saving their lives, as opposed to bullying them into doing stuff she likes.

Look, I don’t really know what to say about this episode. I don’t think I like it very much. The whole thing started when Gobo ignored Red even though she was really excited about her new slide thing, so, more evidence for my mounting theory that Gobo is actually a jerk?

Mokey and Mokey-in-training, singing to a beetle

I’ll be honest, I’m not real keen on “always be yourself” messages. I mean, no, you shouldn’t try to pick one person and be like them as much as possible, because probably you have good qualities that are yours alone and all that, and also that is kind of creepy, plus it never works. But there’s a lot more to being a person in society than just doing what you want all the time and acting on all your impulses because they’re “authentically you” and don’t ever change just because other people think your behavior is wildly inappropriate or hurtful or whatever. People have to make allowances for each other in order to get along.

Like, if you get the feeling lots of people don’t like you, and you want to be liked more, I don’t see what is wrong with trying to figure out what does make people likeable, and what it is that annoys people about you and trying to change yourself for the better! Sometimes when you are unpopular it is because you are a mean and selfish jerk, and I support selfish jerks trying to be less like selfish jerks.

On the other hand, sometimes when none of your “friends” pay attention to you or appear to like you, it is because you have managed to fall in with a group of jerks who are really unfair towards certain people or kinds of people, in which case it is probably time to find some friends who aren’t awful. Other possibilities include: talking to your friends and trying to be honest with each other. But none of these things happen in this episode, the message is that if you make your friends feel bad for not paying attention to you, everything will work out ok, and I’m not sure I can get behind that. Sorry, Fraggle Rock.

I mean the thing about Red is that she’s often not a great friend herself, you know? She doesn’t have any respect for Gobo’s uncle, and remember when she wouldn’t accept any of her friends’ help on her big swimming thing? Friendship is supposed to be reciprocal and Red hasn’t done a lot on her end so far!

I guess it’s true that that’s a lot of subtlety and introspection for a children’s show message (if people don’t like you, maybe you should spend some time considering why they don’t like you and whether or not you think that’s fair), but what else am I here for?

Also I think it’s actually kind of great that Red is loud and attention-seeking and convinced of her own greatness, so, never change, Red! But dump Gobo, he’s bad news.

S01xE06: The Preachification of Convincing John

This one’s another lesson about interdependence, and environmental balance. Mokey spends some time pondering Doozers, and decides that it’s not right for Fraggles to eat Doozer constructions (they are made out of some kind of radish-based material, and Fraggles mainly eat radishes). But when the Fraggles stop eating the Doozer constructions, they fill up the whole cave and get in everyone’s way. Mokey realizes the error of her ways when she overhears our very first ladyDoozer (a mother, naturally) talking about how Doozers need Fraggles to eat their constructions or else they’ll run out of room to build, and the whole point of a Doozer’s life is to build things, and if they can’t build they’ll die.*

Here again we see a little more about the mechanisms of Fraggle social control. They appear to have a sense of personal honor that requires them to uphold solemn vows, if someone asks it of them. Mokey of course asks her friends to swear a vow not to eat Doozer constructions, and with the help of a reclusive Fraggle named Convincing John (who can convince anyone of anything), gets all of the Fraggles in the Rock to swear it too.

Also we learn that well-meaning liberals ought to make sure they really know what they’re doing before they start trying to meddle in the ecologies that surround them! Shut up, vegans. The tasty animals want to be exploited and eaten. The cow lives to produce milk, and if you don’t take her milk so she can make more, her life will have no purpose! Except there is a problem here since Doozers are sentient and capable of giving consent, and the animals that humans depend on for food, aren’t so much.

On the other hand I think it is a perfect analogy for people “protecting” forests from wildfires. The life cycle of most of the plants actually depends on fire, and preventing fires does bad things like keep new redwood trees from growing, or leave so much deadwood and underbrush lying around uncleared that when it finally does catch fire for real, the fires are so huge and intense they utterly destroy everything in the forest instead of cleansing/restarting the cycle, and also seriously threaten human life.

So this episode is sort of like a big FU to Smokey the bear, and I approve!

Not that campers should deliberately try to set forest fires, that would be sort of dumb. But actively suppressing all fires in a forest turns out to be even more dumb.

Convincing John as a character could probably stand up to some analysis but that’s going to require a real critic, I just blather on for the hell of it.

*unless you’re a ladyDoozer, in which case you raise Doozer babies, I guess? It’s not like we’ve seen one do anything else. Here’s the thing: male and female Fraggles are clearly free to live how they like and engage in a variety of activities and gender seems to have little to do with it unless you are an Old Fraggle banging your gavel and telling other Fraggles what to do. there’s a certain tomboy/earth hippie split going on with Red and Moki, but as long as princesses aren’t involved and it’s not madonna/whore I’m not going to complain. Why don’t the Doozers get to be this way too? Seriously, if you say “Doozers build” again and again as the purpose of Doozer life, and then it turns out half the Doozer population doesn’t build, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Is this ancient Sparta, where the value of a woman’s life depended on her success in producing warrior sons?

(no, THIS is Sparta)

(sorry. I should stop).

S01xE05: The Thirty-Minute Work Week

Hey that’s like me, spending thirty minutes a week watching an episode of Fraggle Rock and writing about it! If only someone would pay me a living wage for it so I didn’t have to do any other work.

Wembley and the Trash Heap, crying together

Gobo is such a jerk he makes the Trash Heap cry! He is a megajerk!

Wembley learns the importance of having a job and making up his mind. So, Fraggles do have jobs after all. Thirty minutes a week! And of course we see that the Fraggles enforce their work requirement through peer pressure and catchy songs, rather than hierarchical authority. Anyway, Wembley is old enough to have a job but he hasn’t picked one yet, and his friends are getting impatient with his indecision. I relate, y’all! Life choices are hard.

Mokey tries to help by bringing him along to her job, but Gobo decides the thing to do is be a jerk in order to force Wembley to decide. Well don’t you just know what’s best for everybody and also have a plan to push them into doing it, Gobo? Again. I’m not sure I would like being Gobo’s friend! I have this thing where being deceived and manipulated really pisses me off.

Wembley is so crushed at the idea of losing his best friend he goes to the Trash Heap alone, where he realizes that he loves firemen because of their hats and sirens and all that kind of fun stuff. So of course he’s going to be a fireman! And all it takes to be a fireman in Fraggle Rock is to like hats and climbing ladders!

Do can do whatever you love, children! And by “love” we mean enjoy the illusion of being, in the most superficial way! Do Fraggle firefighters ever even have fires to put out? They live in a cave where the weather is the same all the time, and they eat radishes (picked, so far as we can tell, only by Mokey).

Maybe the point is to show kids that being a productive member of society is good, and also personally fulfilling, and maybe that will help them be more willing to do their chores? But only if the chores consist of a half-hour a week of dancing around in a silly hat.

Wembley singing with the Firefraggles

Fighting fires: mainly involves singing and silly hats

PS: fire*men*, Fraggle Rock? Remember our discussion about gender roles? Fraggles aren’t even men, they’re Fraggles! There did seem to be one ladyFraggle in the crowd of firefraggles (totally what I’m going to call them ok), so I guess ladies can be firemen. One can, anyway. But the president of the volunteer firefraggles is another old dude Fraggle, who only seem to show up when they need to bang things and be leaders. Cool.

S01xE04: You Can’t Do That Without a Hat

The All-Knowing Trash Heap

The trash heap is pretty sweet

Boober learns to believe in himself with the help of superstition and the placebo effect!

Boober wants courage, and the Trash Heap tells him he needs to wear his hat, which Boober totally buys, and he goes around being brave just long enough to lose his hat and panic. But then he acts bravely while he’s not wearing the hat, and realizes the courage has been inside himself all along. There is a song and everyone is happy. You can all be brave if you decide to be! I am pretty sure that is not very close to how it really works, but anxiety and self-doubt really are on some level a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I’m not going to quibble on this point with a show aimed at 6-year-olds.

We do finally a little bit of how Fraggles organize themselves. Boober’s friends dig up a previously-unseen elder Fraggle in order to hold a meeting, which basically consists of the old guy showing up and telling everyone to look for Boober’s hat, and then they do. Considering the utter lack of argument in this meeting, Wembley must be a lot more representitive of the average Fraggle temperament than say, Red or Boober. I’ve never tried to make a decision with a group of more than three people that didn’t involve way too much time talking about it.

Boober in the Gorg's garden

Boober, being brave without his hat!

In other news, Doozers uphold traditional gender roles by being construction workers and also only being male.

Also there’s something about exchanging things and losing and finding and I don’t know what, in the bits with Uncle Traveling Matt and Doc. Ok. The song Boober sings when he gets his hat back is supposed to tie all this together, I think, but I’m not really feeling it.

Considering that all Doozers do is build, there really should be some lady Doozers building, too. You could argue, at this point in the series (not having seen later episodes that do involve female Doozers) that there just aren’t lady Doozers, but Fraggles and Gorgs clearly have two sexes, and even if Doozers are the exception, why should they be so obviously coded masculine? It just doesn’t make sense except for the part where it is a natural consequence of unexamined sexist assumptions about gender roles. I want better from you, Fraggle Rock. Come to think of it, I’m not sure many of the bit-part or background Fraggles are female either, but since Fraggles don’t seem to have much in the way of secondary sex characteristics aside from vocal pitch anyway, I guess this isn’t too much of a thing at this point.

Also now that I think about it, the Trash Heap may not precisely be a source of authority for the Fraggles, but she’s certainly trusted without question. And her advice to Boober certainly hinges on that – she could have told him just about anything would give him confidence, and he would have believed her, and it would have worked. His confidence in her would be transformed into confidence in himself. But she also basically lies to him – he doesn’t actually need the hat, he just needs to believe. And when he realizes that at the end, wouldn’t he realize that she, in some sense, tricked him? I’m seeing kind of a pattern to this benevolent deception thing.

S01xE03: Let the Water Run

Editor’s note: I’d originally had this post scheduled for Friday, I figured once a week was a posting schedule I could handle for sure, but then I got my first comment and decided to celebrate with an early post. I am nothing if not a sucker for approval from strangers.

Red Fraggle sings with her friends

Red sings about how she don't need nothin' from nobody!

In today’s episode we learn an important lesson about interdependence. It turns out that the water the Gorgs use to take their baths is the same water the Fraggles swim in, which is supplied by the water system in Doc’s workshop. When Doc turns off the water to do some repairs, the Fraggles and the Gorgs are both out of water. Also, Red planned a “swimming extravaganza” to show off how awesome she is, and hurts her friends’ feelings when she rejects their help setting it up, until Gobo shows her that she really can’t do everything all on her own. Sometimes you have to rely on your friends and then take credit for their accomplishments.

We also learn an important lesson in being a passive-aggressive jerk in order to teach your friends a lesson! When Doc turns off the water, the Gorgs end up draining all the water out of the Fraggles’ pond, and Red can’t have her swimming show, so she goes to Outer Space to steal Doc’s umbrella because Traveling Matt reported that umbrellas cause rain, after he saw humans opening umbrellas just as rain began to fall. I guess between this and the pipe bangers thinking that they bring back the water even though they have nothing to do with it, there’s also a lesson here about superstition and the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, but I’m trying to keep these short ok. I mean I’m three episodes in and I haven’t even touched Traveling Matt’s messages as an exercise in defamiliarization and the value that can have to small children. Anyway, Red wants the umbrella but she’s too afraid to actually go out and get it. Gobo, totally predicting this state of affairs, just casually shows up because he wanted to “stretch his legs” and then hangs around oh-so-innocently until Red, humiliated, admits that she can’t do it. Then he’s all “oh, whatevs” and makes to leave until Red finally swallows her pride and asks for his help. Then Gobo is totally smug about how that’s all he was waiting for, and goes out and gets the umbrella for her.

The pipe bangers use the umbrella

The head pipe banger knows just what to do with a sacred banging stick

Man, aren’t friends supposed to like, understand and support each other and help them save face, instead of being passive-aggressive and manipulative and making them humiliate themselves in front of you? If the other Fraggles are upset by Red’s actions, maybe they should…tell her? And explain why? But it’s all good because Red totally gets the message and doesn’t mind the sneaky way it played out. Also she lets everyone be impressed that she brought back the umbrella even though she actually wimped out. Gobo, being the show’s excellent and well-rounded Everyman we all sympathize with (also master of passive-aggressive manipulation), naturally doesn’t mind.

And all’s well that ends well in Fraggle Rock, even when your only water supply is threatened by mysterious forced entirely beyond your control, and you are sort of crappy to your friends.

S01 x E02: Wembley and the Gorgs

Wembley's just been fed by Ma and Pa Gorg

Wembley likes his life! Don't judge him!

In this episode, Wembley learns an important lesson about the value of freedom after being captured by the Gorgs. He is an excessively agreeable sort, and when he learns that the Gorgs are King and Queen of the universe but have no subjects to order around, he volunteers. He only thinks of his new life as a bad thing when the Gorgs threaten to force his other Fraggle friends to be their subjects too, and realizes this would be pretty crappy for them. Then he saves the day and everyone gets home safe.

But! Children also learn an important lesson about violence as a tool to solve their problems! When the other Fraggles learn of Wembley’s capture, Gobo leads them to the rescue with a stirring battle song complete with snare drum and makeshift armor, and the only alternative plan is Boober’s certainty that Wembley is already as good as dead. A military response is the only response! Then when the rescuer Fraggles, confused by Wembley’s lack of going along with the heroic rescue, get captured too, the first thing Gobo does is poke Pa Gorg in the nose with a stick. When you’re stuck in a cage and have no power, obviously the thing to do is physically lash out at your captors before exploring any alternative options.

Wembley, believing in the goodness of the Gorgs and trusting their promise of a fair trial, mounts a stirring defense of his friends that saves their lives but confirms their arguments that the Gorgs are not interested in fairness but only enslaving Fraggles. Wembley reacts to this betrayal of his trust by biting Pa Gorg’s nose, and then everyone escapes safely back to Fraggle Rock. Seriously you guys, arbitrary authority figures are not to be trusted, negotiations are useless and the only answer is violent attack! Then what happens is everyone gets home safe and Wembley learns that being happy only matters if your friends think you’re free.

Gobo Fraggle playing a drum

Gobo Fraggle, warmonger

Alright, cool. Authority is not to be trusted, and freedom is worth violent rebellion. Which, ok I guess that is the message that gets taught about the American Revolution and a lot of people believe in the value of freedom, but there’s this thing where not everyone has the same perspective on who is an oppressive, illegitimate authority and what freedom means. Like the people who are still nostalgic for the Confederacy because they were justly rebelling against the Federal government’s oppressive attempts to take away their freedom to enslave black people.

Look, I’m a fan of freedom myself, and Lord knows I have trouble obeying arbitrary authorities, but TVTropes claims that Jim Henson conceived of Fraggle Rock when he wanted to do a show “about world peace.” I do see a lot of that in the show, in a lot of ways, but biting people on the nose is not my preferred method of achieving peace. In the real world, the Gorgs don’t just forget what you did by the next episode.

S01 x E01: Beginnings

Doc and Sprocket in the workshop

Doc and Sprocket, setting up the new workshop

Ah, the episode that starts it all.

At first I was gonna go all-out with the recapping, blow-by-blow TWoP style. And then I remembered this is a 25-year-old children’s show about colorful muppet creatures. If you wanna watch the show, watch it. I’m hardly qualified to be a TV critic, so I’m also not going to spend too much time commenting on how good each episode as a TV show, either. I’m just here for the twisted alternatives readings of each episode’s messages, and I should not spend too much of my life on it.

So anyway, most of this episode is setup. First we meet Doc and his dog, Sprocket, who in the course of cleaning up an old disused room, unblock a hole in the wall leading to Fraggle Rock, undisputed center of the universe and home to the to Fraggles, the very pinnacle of civilization and culture. And of course we meet the main Fraggles: Uncle Traveling Matt, (the name is some kind of entertainment industry insider pun, and I love insider nerd jokes even when I don’t get them without explanation) Gobo, Red, Wembley, Boober, and Mokey. There are various musical numbers establishing the Fraggles as musically talented, fun-loving creatures, and Doozers as tireless little construction workers. Junior Gorg shows up just long enough to show that he is big and out to get the Fraggles.

We even meet Marjory the Trash Heap! I love the Trash Heap. The wise and all-knowing Trash Heap delivers the first lesson of the series to Gobo: friends help! Traveling Matt is out exploring Outer Space (what Fraggles call the human world. Do I need to explain this shit? Would anyone who’s never seen Fraggle Rock bother reading?) and sending messages back to Gobo through Doc’s mail, which Gobo has to risk confronting Sprocket to get. At first he’s too afraid to do it, but his friends support him and eventually save him from Sprocket. They helped! Traveling Matt’s need to go explore the world is part of another message, I think, if less explicitly put. Together I think they make an episode that is mainly about the value of taking risks in a supportive environment in order to try new things.

Fraggles gathered around a Round Thing

Our Heroes, confused by a ball

I’m not seeing a whole lot of possibly-unintentional subtext with this one, though it might just be that I’m tired and probably coming down with a cold. I did notice watching this episode that Matt seems to be the only old Fraggle. He’s also the only one with family. None of the main Fraggles have parents who are around, or siblings, Matt doesn’t seem to have any children, and I don’t remember ever seeing baby Fraggles. This is sort of weird! I mean, as a children’s show it makes a certain amount of sense, the lack of parents means that the main Fraggles can be independent without directly addressing their age, and the Fraggles definitely live in a kind of children’s idealized dream world, where there’s no work or school and they just do what they like with their time.

There is also the fact that Fraggles seem to have a pretty anarchic social structure. Not only are there no parents or teachers or bosses, there are no politicians or authoritative leaders at all. If a Fraggle wants something to happen, that Fraggle takes the action necessary to make it happen. The creatures with a defined power hierarchy are the Doozers, who just work all day and don’t live a life that is likely to be enticing to the younguns, and Gorgs, who we soon find out are pretty ridiculous in that they call themselves King and Queen of the Universe but pretty much live alone in a castle without anyone to rule over. Fraggles live in a universe where obeying authority and yielding to hierarchy is either boring or ridiculous. Kinda subversive, I’d say. And this point, at least, I am sure is completely intentional on the part of the show’s creators.