Jan. 31st, 2008

phamos: (henson)
Last week was the 16th anniversary of Richard Hunt's death. Richard Hunt was one of the main muppeteers in the '70s and '80s; you may know him as the voice of Scooter, Janice, and Sweetums on The Muppet Show, or as Don Music, Forgetful Jones, and Gladys the Cow on Sesame Street, or even as Junior Gorg on Fraggle Rock. Richard Hunt died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 40.

I wrote a couple of years ago (but I totally can't find it in my tags -- bogus) about how I found it disheartening that Muppet fans who attempted to even mention that Richard Hunt was probably gay got shut down very quickly. Yes, there is a Muppet fandom, mostly centered around a website called Muppet Central. Although I am obviously a big fan of the Muppets, I don't post very often on those posting boards, mostly because I've found other Muppet fans to be strange and offputting. Have any of you seen King of Kong? Yeah, well, that same level of socially awkward nerdery and arrested development, but without the hand-eye coordination and capacity for relatively advanced spacial analysis. Periodically on the Muppet Central boards, a Richard Hunt thread would pop up, and things would go along swimmingly for about 4 pages of people blubbering all over themselves about how he was an amazing puppeteer who brought joy into the lives of millions (which he was, and he did), and then someone would say, "So, hey, was he gay?" And other people would say, "Yeah, um, was he gay? Not that there's anything WRONG with that, um, hey, yeah, but, uh, was he? I think he probably was..." And then a moderator would sweep in and lock the thread and say people weren't even allowed to discuss the subject out of respect for his friends and family.


I'm all for being respectful of people's privacy, especially people who aren't alive to clear the record themselves. But I just thought it was pretty gross that some people found any mention of Hunt's possible sexuality to somehow be an insult to his memory, or somehow inherently distasteful. I'm not saying that we should have big long discussions on the technicalities of HOW he got AIDS -- how often he did it, what positions he did it in, whatEVER -- but, you know, people talk about Jim Henson's marriage and separation, and the fact that he had five kids. In a sense, that's talking about Jim Henson's sexuality just as much as saying the words "Richard Hunt was gay" is talking about his sexuality. Jim Henson was straight. Richard Hunt was, presumably, gay. (Yes, I realize I was working on a presumption all these years, but although it isn't politically correct to say so, the vast majority of young men who died of AIDS in the US in 1992 were homosexuals or intravenous drug users. The man was a rather flamboyant puppeteer. You do the math.) I was sad that, apparently, Richard Hunt's family hadn't come to terms with his homosexuality, and thus did not want it to be discussed. That, at least, was the impression that the Muppet Central moderators gave when they shut down threads "out of respect for his family."

But then last week the newest Muppet podcast went up -- it's a two hour tribute to Richard Hunt, including a ridiculously long, rambling conversation between the host and Richard Hunt's mother (who is extremely charming, but seriously -- that shit needed an editor). About 15 minutes into the conversation, Jane Hunt makes an offhand comment about Richard being gay, something about how he loved to go to the opera and how that was apparently a THING for gay men of a certain age. And the host is obviously IMMEDIATELY uncomfortable, and starts stuttering. Jane Hunt brings it up again, a couple of times actually, notably discussing how Richard had gone to Venice to scatter his lover's ashes. Oh, man, the host did NOT know how to field that one. At the beginning of the podcast, the host specifies that the interview should be rated "PG-13". And it suddenly struck me -- it was never Richard Hunt's family that didn't want people talking about his sexuality, or people at the Jim Henson Company. It was Muppet fans themselves, or at least a certain faction among them who found it distasteful. Let's look at this carefully -- grown men who obsessively watch puppet shows find it gross to talk about gay stuff in relation to "children's" entertainment. Does that strike anyone else as super ironic? Because, you know, this isn't about protecting the delicate sensibilities of children or whatever. Cuz really, kids don't care. And any kid who is old enough to be reading the internet is certainly old enough to know that there's such a thing as homosexuality -- and parents may do well to discuss it with their children in the context of a respected performer like Richard Hunt rather than letting them do their own research on less kid-friendly parts of the web. This is about ADULTS being uncomfortable with homosexuality, and I think that's pretty sad.

And that's all i have to say about that.


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