Monday, June 5, 2006

Scary, Even for Muppets

One of the joys of having around someone who wasn’t raised with American popular culture is that they are frequently baffled by it. For example, a lot of animated TV shows today — “Family Guy” and “South Park” foremost among them — reference the popular culture of the past thirty years at the rate of approximately one per every six frames of animation. Go ahead. Check yourself.

That being said, Spencer and I were watching an episode of “Drawn Together” a while back. (And don’t knock it — it’s funnier than you think and now available for download on iTunes at the reasonable price of $1.99 per episode.) Anyhow, they episode involved the housemates starting a suicide hotline. When the phone rings for the first time, the shot goes to a close-up of the phone surrounded by the housemates’ faces, each contorted into wide-mouth versions of their normal selves. The housemates jabber nonsensically and imitate the sound of the ringing phone.

Here’s a screengrab in case my description doesn’t do the scene justice:

(Why they’re all wearing lingerie is another story entirely. Ask later.)

Spencer was baffled, but to anybody weaned on PBS as a child, this is an obvious parody of the Yip-Yips, those weird, floppy alien characters from “Sesame Street.” If you’ll remember, each skit featuring the Yip-Yips concerned them sniffing around some common household object — a telephone, a grandfather clock, whatever — and being initially frightened by it. They speak very little, occasionally saying the name of the thing they’re encountering, and filling the rest of their dialogue with “yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip.” (Hence the name.) I almost didn’t remember the Yip-Yips, actually. My memory was jogged shortly, of course, but I had almost forgotten these odd characters.

We went, of course, to the Wikipedia to investigate. Sure enough, the site offers a healthy profile on these pop culture footnotes, including a full list of the various objects the Yip-Yips have encountered. (I could have sworn there was one where they meet a dog, but I guess I could be wrong about that.)

Most helpfully, the Wikipedia page offers an image of the Yip-Yips, in all their glorious weirdness. Funny that I almost forgot these alien characters existed, because seeing their misshapen mouths and raggy bodies, I realize that I used to be terrified of these things and would run out of the room whenever I saw them while watching one of the various Beta taps that my mom had recorded “Sesame Street” on for me. (Of course, the episodes with the Yip-Yips were the ones that got recorded.) They’re truly frightening creatures, even for Muppets. Whoever thought they’d be appropriate aides in the education of young children was certainly a sick, sick person

The Wikipedia page also reminded me that the aliens had a tendency to cover their eyes with their bottom lips when frightened. And that, even when done by a horrifying monster, is a little cute, I have to admit.

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