One of my favorite moments in 2011’s The Muppets, and I have a couple, is when our new friend Walter implores Kermit the Frog one more time to get the gang back together and save the old studio. Walter doesn’t yell or scream or make demands of Kermit.
“Please, Kermit,” he says, simply. “You’re my hero. You’re on my watch.”
To me, this moment is the ultimate fan fantasy. Proof that all of this, whatever it is, means something. All the facts and quotes I’ve memorized, all the episodes I’ve binged, all the midnight releases I’ve stayed awake for, and, yes, all the stuff I’ve collected… I want to believe that, should my fandom ever be threatened, I might be capable of swooping in and saving the day. I want to believe that I’m a PART OF THIS.
And I acknowledge that this is a sentiment with a– forgive me– Dark Side. Toxic Fandom is having a real moment right now, and, in my opinion, that toxicity ultimately grows from the generally benign first impulse to be a part of something. To be a part of the magic, of the fight, of whatever it is we’re into. For some, that desire to belong can morph into an ugly need to control. To yell and scream and demand and drive people off of social media and tank RottenTomatoes scores before the movie’s even come out.
So, I think it’s especially important right now that we hop in our little nerd-brain time machines and travel to 2011 and remember Walter. Walter is what we should all aspire to as fans. Walter loves The Muppets. Besides his watch, he also wears his Kermit the Frog t-shirt when it’s time to finally visit the old Muppet Studios in LA. It’s suggested that Walter, who lives a simple, quiet life in Smalltown, USA, sees himself in the works of the Muppets, and that this connection has helped get him through some of the tougher, more alienating times of his life.
WALTER. IS. US.
Walter loves the Muppets without provision or agenda. It’s never suggested in the film that Walter would turn on the Muppets if they Muppet-ed “wrong.” Maybe some of us assholes thought it was lame when the Muppets cleaned up their old studio to “We Built This City.” Maybe we rolled our eyes at the song choice. Not Walter.
Walter needs the Muppets, and the Muppets need Walter. It’s a beautiful hero-fan balance that ultimately results in Walter becoming a Muppet himself. But there’s never a sense in the film that becoming a Muppet is Walter’s endgame from the get-go. Walter’s in this for the love of the game, man.
This is what I want to believe that I could be for any of my heroes someday. I want to be more than my dollars and my presence in a movie theatre and my Netflix and/or Disney+ footprint. Ultimately, I think this is why I carry my Captain Marvel lunchbox and wear my Star Wars t-shirts. Maybe Mark Hamill will see me one day, and he’ll see how much his work has meant to me, and I hope it will mean something to him, too. When we show up en masse to these conventions just for a glimpse of our heroes, I want to believe that’s what the majority of us want. I think we’re more Walter than not, and I think the time has come to be more vocal about it.
So, wear your watch and your t-shirt with pride. If you’re still daring the fearful territory of social media, use it to thank someone for their work instead of tearing them down or demanding anything from them. And, if you ever get the chance to assist one of your heroes, ask not what the fandom can do for you, but what you can do for the fandom. These are supposed to be bright, safe spaces in an otherwise uncertain, sometimes scary world. Fan and creator alike, we’re all in this together. To quote the opening number of The Muppets.
I’ve got everything that I need right in front of me
Nothing’s stopping me
Nothing that I can’t be
With you right here next to me
We’ve got everything we need. At the Con, at the theatre, wherever, we’re sitting next to each other. We can beat the jerks. We can be heroes.
We can be Walter.