FRAGGLE ROCK VERSUS DINOSAURS By Kelly Masters (RedPiggy) In the mid-eighties, there was a show called Fraggle Rock. Fast forward to the early nineties, and you get the show Dinosaurs. Let’s take a look at the shows that, in a way, are related, shall we? Fraggle Rock was designed to promote harmony among different cultures, as well as provide a hopeful environmental message. Over the course of four seasons, we find that it is really about Gobo and his personal journey. He begins the series as afraid of leaving his comfort zone, his home, going out into Doc’s Workshop as a desperate necessity to be over as soon as possible. He’s kind of like Ernie of Sesame Street, who dreams of adventure but doesn’t have the spine to explore much farther than his own neighborhood, at least alone. And before I’m flamed for saying that, go watch I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon on Youtube. I don’t pull my opinions out of thin air. At any rate, to Gobo, his home is just his home. He takes most of the environment for granted. Even when the Ditzies, the light and life source of the Rock, start to die out, it’s mostly just an environmental hazard to him (albeit a very dangerous one) that needs to be fixed. He becomes even more cynical as the series progresses, due in part to his realization that his Uncle Matt, his idol in exploration, isn’t nearly the skilled Fraggle Gobo thought he was. When his friends suffer from following Matt’s rules, it’s like his faith is completely shattered. It’s only when he finally learns to sympathize with Doc at the end that he regains faith in his home, and it rewards him by providing him with a magic tunnel that allows him to see his friend. Dinosaurs, meanwhile, also deals with different cultures and environmentalism. Over the course of four seasons, we follow Earl Sinclair and his family and their personal journeys. Earl frequently feels torn between being loyal to not only his work and his family, but also a tradition of wild and bloodthirsty nature. In this way, he is very similar to Pa Gorg, who also had trouble learning from the mistakes of his family traditions while trying to honor them. His wife, Fran, starts off as homemaker and mother, but later grows into the jobforce, battling discrimination and her own arrogance. Robbie, the eldest child, is the typical Lisa Simpson-esque naïve liberal, who shrugs off tradition even when there is something valuable to learn from it. Charlene, the middle child, starts off as completely shallow and materialistic, but later develops an interest in more profound subjects. In fact, while Robbie was the ultra-environmentalist, at the finale, it is Charlene who vigorously protests the destruction of the bunch beetles. Baby Sinclair doesn’t change a whole lot, though it could be said that he learned to value his family more as the series progressed, even if he remained largely sarcastic about it. Ethyl, Fran’s mom, was ready to die when we first see her, as per dinosaur tradition when she reached seventy-two years of age, but as the series progressed, she not only found much to live for, but also had to deal with the lonely reality of being one of the few “old” dinosaurs around (though the fact she wasn’t hurled off a cliff seems to have made the rounds in Dinosaur society, as eventually we see lots of elderly dinosaurs, such as BP’s mom, which could be a whole ‘nuther article in itself). BP Richfield … well … doesn’t really change all that much, but we do see at least an ounce of a softer side when dealing with his family. In the first episode, BP hires Arthur, a mammal, precisely because he has no home nor family. BP laughs with glee at the thought of hurling his mother-in-law in a later episode. However, his own mother lives to elderly status and has BP wrapped around her little finger, while his daughter is one of the only lights in his dark heart. He’s not like Sam the Eagle, though: BP is vicious and cruel, whereas Sam is just a naïve conservative who truly wants what is good but doesn’t understand much of the country he loves. It’s been said on Muppet Central that Fraggle Rock should be lauded for its upbeat optimism. Well, it’s more optimistic than Dinosaurs, I’ll grant you. However, I might be related to Boober: Fraggles aren’t optimistic insomuch as they are willfully in denial of how bad their lives truly are. This is a world where there are cave-ins, carnivorous plants, carnivorous animals, Gorgs who want to kill the “pests” in their garden, humans who unknowingly poison their environment, a magical species without which the entire location dies out – sheesh, it’s a wonder Fraggles don’t need to drink constantly to deal with all the danger. It’s a wonder they can get out of bed each morning. The reason I characterize Fraggles this way is because, if one is truly honest, it’s similar to the cognitive dissonance suffered by the dinosaurs. They are so tempted by the perks of civilization that they tell themselves everything will be okay. Unlike the first show, though, there is no happy ending here. The dinosaurs, we are led to believe in the finale, go extinct. Anything they did to try and help was too little, too late. I can reasonably pin this shift in mood on the absence of one person: Jim Henson. Good ol’ Jim wanted his worlds to have happy endings, if they had endings at all (as I understand it, he fought tooth and nail not to give the Fraggles an ending, but lost the argument). It wasn’t just his Muppet properties either … Labyrinth and Dark Crystal both go to great lengths to make sure everything’s hunky-dory by the end credits. And yet, while it could be said that the Henson company changed in mood after Jim Henson’s death, one has to wonder if he is blameless for the shift to pessimism. After all, Dinosaurs was his idea, even the notion that civilization was the cause of all their problems. His projects had started getting darker anyway, and while he tried to counter discomfort with Dark Crystal’s dark tone with more Muppety silliness in Labyrinth, he was definitely trying to go for a more Guillermo del Toro mood towards the end of his life, and was, as I have read in various sources, rather depressed that fans who willingly joined him on his dream in the Muppets and such seemed to balk at following him into darker regions of the imagination. He must have felt like Kermit whenever Miss Piggy ditched the group as soon as a cloud darkened the sky of their dream. But, that’s another rant for another time. Anyway, another difference between Fraggles and dinosaurs is how they treat other “cultures”, or species. In Fraggle Rock, there’s prejudice and fear, but it’s more like a kid’s discomfort at seeing someone different. It’s innocent ignorance, nothing more. While they do it to lots of different creatures, the Gorgs and the Doozers are the main species that fit with the tolerance theme of the show. It’s only after a couple of seasons are in the hole that Fraggles finally start appreciating the other species for who they are. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, are willfully hostile to both mammals (somewhat understandable as they, unlike Fraggles, are mostly carnivores) and four-legged dinosaurs (who also tend to be herbivores, which is a target of derision in the bipedal carnivorous dinosaur segment of society). There is no “perfect harmony” here. Mammals are continuously on the dinner plate despite the main cast becoming friends with some specific characters and even when Earl agrees with Monica DeVertebrae (an apatosaur) or she gets married to his best friend (a T-Rex named Roy), he never truly accepts her and resents her throughout. In some ways, it’s hard to determine which approach I like better. I’ll always love the optimism of Fraggle Rock, but Dinosaurs simply seems more realistic. Sometimes, an unhappy ending is just inevitable, though one can choose how one deals with it. Teaching children that there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel is setting them up, in my humble opinion, for a very, very sharp learning curve ahead. It’s like putting a happy face on a failing paper in kindergarten and then wondering why they’re not succeeding in college. It’s like telling a tone-deaf screeching owl they can sing and then watching sadly as the person gets thrown out of American Idol for making ears bleed. There’s an episode of Fraggle Rock where Red worries to almost Boober-levels about Mokey’s safety as the latter goes on a solitary journey. Others try to tell her that Mokey will be just fine because she just sort of lucks out, basically. That’s a fine summary of how Fraggles get through their day: they just luck out most of the time. For me, the Fraggles don’t learn if nothing is going wrong. Go watch the episode where Red and Boober get stuck in a cave-in. That has to be one of the most powerful episodes in the series, and it’s an early one at that. From my perspective, it’s our struggles that give us strength. Dinosaurs had to struggle far more often and they just simply couldn’t win regardless. However, it can’t be said they truly lost. While it’s arguable whether BP ever learned anything (on the finale, you’d think he’d at least mention his daughter, but he’s too busy counting money alone in his trailer), it seems everyone else in the main cast was stronger by the end. Was it worth it to grow and learn if you’re just going to die anyway? Yes, yes, it was. None of us are immortal. The Gorgs and Fraggles are long-lived, but even they will die at some point. Sometimes we can’t write our own ending. Sometimes, it’s just a given, but we can write how our characters deal with it. Happy ending or sad ending … in the end, everything ends. But did you learn from what happened before it?