A link has been making the rounds on social media, where NPR conducted a survey of 18,000 listeners to determine who were the most popular Muppets. It’s been shared with me from a couple different friends, and it was definitely an interesting exercise, but let’s be honest here: it was also incredibly wrong. I mean, any list that ends up with Pepe the King Prawn beating out Ernie has some obvious flaws. Flaws I feel compelled to point out publicly. I’m not exactly sure where to begin, but I’ll do my best here.
First of all, I’d like to attack the very basis of the exercise. “Rank the top Muppets” to me is sort of like saying “Rank your family members.” I mean, sure, you may have some family members who you just like more than others, but you’d have to be close to certifiably insane to decide to make a list like that, much less make it public. I’m one of 10 children, once you take in all my step and half and full siblings. I could make a list ranking my siblings from least to most favorite, but why in the world would I do that? I mean, maybe (just maybe) if someone had a gun to my head and said I had to rank them or else I’d die, then I might decide that would be a good idea, but even then I’d do my darnedest to eat the list once the gun was put away.
Ranking Muppets is different than ranking movies or books. It’s like you’re ranking people. And sure, People Magazine does the whole “Sexiest Man Alive” poll or whatever, but this list isn’t ranking the Muppets in terms of sex appeal (because first: ew, and second: obviously Gonzo.) No, it’s going full on for popularity, plain and simple. Which is just misguided and icky from the get go.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the idea isn’t bad from the beginning. That ranking Muppets by popularity is a good idea. Even then, the list made some pretty huge goofs. For one thing, they made their pool too big. “Muppets” (for them) included Sesame Street characters as well. So they didn’t just make a “Rank your family members” list; they made a “Rank your friends and family members” list. And sure, the list talks about being “ruthless,” but there are some things you just don’t do. Sesame Street characters do different things than Muppet characters. Ranking one or the other would already be painful enough, but now you’re opening yourself up to huge biases in what people are looking for in a TV show character.
Which leads me to another critique. The way they ranked this was by popular vote. There’s no way of proving somebody didn’t go all American Idol on the vote and just make multiple calls to vote. Ballot stuffing is the only thing that accounts for Pepe’s presence as high as he is. (Sorry, Pepe. If this list were “Best Muppet with too many legs,” you’d be right up there, my friend.)
Even then, they made some bizarre choices. Statler and Waldorf are considered a single character. Dr. Honeydew and Beaker are separate. Labyrinth characters count. Star Wars characters don’t. Why not, pray tell? Frank Oz did Yoda, Miss Piggy, and Grover. All were puppets. Is it that Yoda looks more “realistic” than Grover? But the puppets in Labyrinth look more realistic than Grover too. Where’s the line?
Could I look at this list and find other flaws beyond the Pepe ranking? Sure, and I had planned to, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought each time I make a nitpick about the list, I’m granting it a little more power, and coming closer to doing the very thing I’m critiquing the list for doing. The trick is to not buy into that reality. The more we feed it, the stronger it becomes.
So, since I’m so ready to cast stones at NPR’s top 25 list, am I ready to come up with one of my own? Of course not, though I do have this list of favorite siblings, now that you mention it . . .
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