It’s the muppets! (and more)

by Lorien E. Menhennett

I never thought I’d get a hug from Big Bird. Here I get hugged by Big Bird AND my sister at the same time. So amazing.

My youngest sister, Joy, is in town for the weekend. It’s her first time in New York City, and her main tourism priority was a little off the beaten path. Her #1 activity choice in the city was seeing The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s something I’d wanted to see too, though not with quite so much fervor.

I’m so glad we went. The museum, which highlights and celebrates the evolution of cinema and television, was incredible. As was learning (and seeing!) all the muppets I’d grown up with. This was one of the most interactive museums I’ve been to, with stations that allow you to create your own frame-by-frame animations, add strange sound effects or music to well-known films like “Jurassic Park” and “The Terminator,” and dress up your own muppet.

To the latter, I added an additional educational layer. I’m on my neurology clerkship now. One of the issues neurologists frequently get called for is eye deviation. This can be due to a number of things, including failure of one or more cranial nerves to fire and signal the eye muscles to move. I created two different muppets, as you’ll see from the photos below. The one with the red hair has a cranial nerve VI palsy, because he’s trying to look right, and his right eye cannot move laterally (lateral gaze is mediated by cranial nerve VI, while medial gaze is mediated by cranial nerve III). In the picture where I’m smiling with my lovely platinum blond-haired muppet, she’s doing fine, looking down and in toward her nose. In the image where I’m frowning, she’s undergone some sort of trauma, and cranial nerve IV isn’t working, because her left eye can’t make this down and in movement, which is called “intorsion” (cranial nerve IV is the one most likely to be damaged in trauma because of its long course). I know, I’m a nerd.

But it’s not just the muppets. There’s so much more. Of course, you can’t have a museum dedicated to TV and movies without a section on sci-fi. I enjoyed seeing the paraphernalia from Star Trek (I grew up watching The Next Generation series) as well as Star Wars. Some of the Star Wars stuff was bizarre, including mugs featuring the mugs of Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, a teapot with Luke riding a tauntaun, and a scotch tape dispenser with C-3PO.

As a writer, I also couldn’t help but take a picture next to the sign emphasizing the essential contribution of screenwriters. I especially like the quotation it includes from “Sunset Boulevard.”

Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along.

While that may not exactly be true, I do think the writing is often taken for granted because it takes place behind the scenes, rather than directly on the screen, like acting or special effects.

If you’re in the city and haven’t been to this museum, I highly recommend it. It’s a good time, a perfect mix of learning about the moving images that are such an integral part of our culture, of making and doing things, and of laughing. For me, it was especially wonderful to share this experience with my favorite youngest sister. Thanks, Joy.