So, last night, as of this writing, my husband Steve, our friend Jay, and I did something extraordinary. We watched the final episode of Fraggle Rock. I know this would not be extraordinary, but we had, in fact, watched all the other episodes prior to that, so last night closed off a marathon Fraggle-watching.
In a very literal sense, Fraggle Rock is the ultimate emotional roller-coaster of children’s television. As we watched it, we laughed, we cried, we sang along, and, just maybe, we learned something, too.
I thought that I would share a little of why this show seems so important to the three of us, and maybe inspire you to take a look for yourself.
A Bit of History
In case you’ve been living under a rock (and not the series’ eponymous one, clearly), Fraggle Rock is a show developed by Jim Henson Studios from 1983-1987. It centers around small, furry creatures named Fraggles who live in the caves that riddle a massive rock. Their world borders ours, and, when the fraggles discover this, they dub the outside world “Outer Space” and begin referring to humans as “Silly Creatures”. Fraggles live in a strange symbiosis with tiny insect-like humanoids called Doozers, who love to construct crystalline towers out of radishes. Since Fraggles love to eat radishes, they constantly demolish Doozer constructions to eat them, which gives the Doozers joy, as it allows them to continue to have space to build.
Outside the Rock in the “other direction” from our world is the Kingdom of the Gorgs. The Gorgs are a trio of towering giants who believe that they rule the universe. They also grow the radishes that the Fraggles and Doozers use, forming a third part of the symbiosis of the Rock’s ecosystem. It’s a bit ironic that, although the Gorgs are, for the most part, rather dim creatures, their trash heap is a sentient being and a font of wisdom.
The series primarily revolves around five Fraggles: adventurous Gobo, who longs to be an explorer like his Uncle Matt (who’s actually a completely inept individual); Wembley, who’s tendency to “wemble” (meaning to be indecisive) belies his incredibly compassionate nature and easy-going wisdom; Mokey, a dreamy poet and artist who sometimes gets in trouble due to her desire to protect and nurture others; the boisterous Red, a tremendously competitive athlete who often finds herself frustrated by comparisons to Gobo; and Boober, a quiet hypochondriac who would rather relax by doing laundry than get involved in adventures.
This mega-viewing was not my first exposure to Fraggle Rock. When I was a teenager, it was airing for the first time on HBO. I watched it pretty religiously, as I had Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. At some point, however, I stopped watching it. Judging by the episodes and songs I recognized, and the ones I didn’t recognize, I stopped watching it sometime around the end of the second season. This isn’t shocking; that would’ve been around the time I was turning 16. That was the same year I stopped going to see Disney films (blame it on Disney’s The Black Cauldron), so I may have been having a spate of “growing up” and thinking certain things were too childish for me to stay involved with. Luckily, as an adult, I have no such compunctions.
Let Me Be Your Song
One of the things you notice immediately when watching Fraggle Rock is how pervasive music is throughout the series. Not only do characters often use music and songs to express themselves, but music is often a key plot point as well. In one episode, a near-fatal afflection of boredom can only be cured by performing the correct song and dance, and in another, the ringing of a bell is the only thing that can awaken the Rock’s slowly ebbing life during the winter. In one of the last episodes, the Fraggles gather to perform the Song of Songs, only to realize that the Song must expand to encompass all the other creatures whose lives are touched by the Rock.
When we attended a museum show about Jim Henson’s life and works, none of us were shocked to find that the two figures chosen to represent Fraggle Rock were Gobo (who’s arguably the leader of the Fraggle Five and the show’s main character) and Cantus. Cantus is the leader of a group called The Minstrels, a troupe of wandering performers who aren’t all Fraggles. Cantus is one of the few characters in the show voiced by Jim Henson himself, and it’s pretty clear that this character is the one who voices a lot of Jim’s feelings in the show. Which leads me to the next major theme of the show…
Everything Is a Part of Everything
The theme of inter-connectivity between these different creatures and peoples is incredibly important to the show and something Cantus and the Trash Heap often end up encouraging and nurturing when they appear. When Junior Gorg finally meets the Trash Heap, he is taught to see things from a new angle, and to understand how the main species of the Rock fit together. On the surface, it may seem that the Fraggles simply benefit from the labors of others, but it’s clear that the Fraggles have their importance, too. Not only do they spread music and play to the other species, but they’re also something of the monitors of the water supply, as is shown in some episodes.
It’s no shock that Jim Henson more or less said, “Okay, I’m going to try to save the world,” and this show is the result. It shows a desire to promote harmony, stamp out prejudice, and foster a love of the environment. Through song, silliness, and real emotion, the Fraggles and the others who inhabit their world learn to deal with each other and the world around them.
I Can Do It on My Own
Amazingly, another theme that’s strongly put forward in the show is the idea of being an individual. Even as the Fraggles learn to be part of the world, each of them realizes that what makes their unity stronger is how deeply each of them embraces who they are. And, of course, they slowly come to understand that not every Doozer is like every other Doozer, and not every Gorg is a monster.
There’s a brilliant moment in one of the last episodes of the show where Gobo finally meets “The Silly Creature” for the first time. Since Day 1, the Fraggles have lived adjacent to the workshop of a human inventor named Doc and his dog Sprocket. Although Sprocket and the Fraggles meet earlier in the show, it isn’t until the last two episodes that Doc finally encounters a Fraggle. In fact, at first, it’s shown that he literally can’t see Gobo when the young Fraggle explorer comes face-to-face with him. Finally, however, the two touch each other emotionally (and physically), and Doc finally sees Gobo. Gobo has a profound realization. “You’re not a Silly Creature at all, are you? You’re a You. Just like I’m a Me!” Gobo suddenly realizes that Doc is as individual as any Fraggle, and the Fraggle world opens a little more widely.
I could go on and on about the nuances of this show. For a “kids’ show”, it deals with some amazing issues, including spirituality, loss, sacrifice, and death. But, honestly, that’s what made Jim Henson and his creations so amazing. He never spoke down to kids; he treated them with respect for their intelligence.
Did Jim Henson save the world with Fraggle Rock? Well, it’s hard to say. Certainly, it seems like tolerance for those who are different continues to get better and better as time goes on. As I’ve said before, I never would’ve predicted that gay marriage would be legalized in my lifetime, but here we are. Maybe as more and more people who grew up watching Fraggle rock come into power, they’ll remember the lessons that we learned through those catchy songs and heed them. Washington could use a visit by Cantus or the Trash Heap; there’s a little too much political wembling going on for my tastes.
As efforts to save the world go, I’m giving Jim’s an A+.
So, do you remember Fraggle Rock? How do you think Jim did in creating a T.V. show to save the world? Or do you simply remember it for the catchy songs? Let us all know.