Many of us grew up watching Muppet Babies. Recently I tracked down the episode “Muppet Babies in Toyland,” which includes a song that is truly remarkable for its staying power once it enters one’s head. Although I watched the episode in a (vain) attempt to get the song out of my head, I found that it was amazingly fruitful for philosophical analysis. I embed the first part below; parts 2 and 3 may play automatically afterward, or you may need to click the links manually.
The episode opens with Gonzo coming under attack from a robot, who proceeds to take many of the other Muppet Babies hostage. At this point, Scooter intervenes, explaining that the robot — called the Trans-Go Jobot — is in fact his newest toy, which he saved up six months to buy himself (his source of funding is unclear). Despite being threatened by the robot, the babies are fascinated with him, and all their other toys pale in comparison, including the toys from Nanny’s childhood that she provides to give them something new and presumably stop them from whining. Much of the rest of the episode consists of the Muppet Babies entering an imaginative land of wonderments, singing in praise of their love of toys, while the Trans-Go Jobot periodically steps in to ruin things. Ultimately, it becomes clear that Scooter will never gain full control over the robot and they lock it into a closet and press all the buttons on the remote, causing it to explode. Rather than being disappointed, all the babies, including Scooter, are excited by the possibility of using the pieces of the robot as raw materials for new toys.
I believe that the Trans-Go Jobot could productively be interpreted as the various systems of discipline and control, which carry a force of fascination at the same time as threatening us. The episode traces the course by which the fascination is set aside as it becomes clear that the robot does not serve the babies’ enjoyment — it is a security guard rather than a proper toy, and a security guard with no sense of what constitutes a genuine threat — and the babies are ultimately constrained to topple the robot’s rule and mine it for raw materials that can truly serve their enjoyment. Is this not Agamben’s messianic use of the law, which becomes an object of study, or play?
Particularly revealing here is the role of Scooter, who could represent the reformist liberal who believes that the existing system can somehow be redirected to serve enjoyment, i.e., that the robot can somehow be brought under control and be used as a genuine toy. In a moment of crisis, he finally sheds his illusion and is the first to suggest that the pieces be used in new ways, arranged in new and unforeseen formations. Would that we had more Scooters!