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‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’: A Celebration of Scoundrels

Emmet Otter is a thief and a liar.

His mother Alice Otter is a thief and a liar.

All of Emmett’s friends are enablers who encourage terrible behavior. Frogtown Hollow is filled with small-minded folks who dwell in a caste society where the poor serve the needs of the wealthy. And the Riverbottom Nightmare Band deserved to win the talent contest.

Basically, your childhood is a lie.

Since 1977, Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas has carved a niche for itself as a unique Muppet holiday special that claimed to represent themes of family, friendship and working together. The plot is simple: Emmet and his Ma are poor but happy folks who are preparing for the holidays. They work hard to survive day to day by performing menial tasks for neighbors that pay a low wage as they struggle to keep food on the table.

As Christmas approaches, both Emmet and his Ma wish to give the other a special gift. Unfortunately, plans go awry and while they are not able to reach their end goals, they each learn an important lesson in working together. But then the end.

On the surface, the story appears to be about how small problems such as crippling poverty can be overcome with familial love. But in truth, Emmet and his mother disregard the needs of others for their own selfish reasons.

In the story, Emmet and his friends wish to enter a local talent contest so they can win $50, a staggering amount for these river-dwelling animals in hipster clothing. And since it is a small town, his mother also gets wind of the upcoming talent show and makes her own plans to enter and win. Each wish to prevail in the showcase as a means to buy each other a Christmas gift.

But despite all their good intentions, both Emmet and his mother Alice decide to use the worse means possible in an effort to achieve their goals.

Due to the death of Emmet’s Pa (who may or may not be a possible swindler when he was alive), both Emmet and his mother were left in dire straights. Despite appearing to be the most beloved duo in all of Frogtown Hollow, their neighbors watched from afar as they were forced to sell their most-prized possessions over the years just to survive. Barely scraping by year after year, Emmet and his mother were left to perform menial tasks for neighbors who appeared to enjoy keep the duo underfoot. Ma takes in laundry while Emmet and his trusty toolbox acts a local handyman, performing odd jobs for quarters.

To appear in the talent show, Emmet requires a washtub so he can play the washtub bass, which requires puncturing the tub. The same tub that his mother uses to perform her laundry duties. The same tub both he and his mother rely upon for their very livelihood.

The justification of the thievery is that once he wins, he’ll be able to put a downpayment on a used piano, which his mother had to sell years before in an effort to survive.

(No plan beyond that initial first payment, by the way. Emmet isn’t one for long-term planning.)

Knowing that his mother will say no to placing one of their few means of survival in danger, he opts to take the tub without asking and destroy it to create a bass instrument, thereby placing both him and his mother in dire straits.

In turn, Ma decides that for her part in the talent show she requires a lovely dress. And since dress material doesn’t grow on trees, she opts to take Emmet’s toolbox and sell it for scrap so she can use the money to make a pretty frock.

That’s right. A mother took one of her son’s only possessions and one of the few means of financial independence in an effort to look cute.

Her justification is that once she wins the talent contest, she’ll buy him a guitar. Because guitars are handy for fixing broken gates. So it appears that apple didn’t fall far from the tree as far a lacking the ability to play a responsible fiscal future.

This is the ultimate failing of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. That both him and his mother act as selfish tools, disregarding serious repercussions and future fiscal responsibility in an effort to better their personal positions.

The holiday special attempts to play-off their narcissistic actions as a sort of updated The Gift of the Magi, but this just isn’t the case.

In Magi, the characters sacrifice possessions with deep, personal value so the other can have their heart’s desire. The objects that are sold do not hold value for the greater good of their survival, but are merely sentimental to the owner. There is no loss to the whole, but to the individual.

In Jug-Band Christmas, Emmet and his mother attempt to buy each other gifts by stealing from each other.

Not borrowing without asking. But stealing and/or destroying each others property.

Furthermore, their actions have direct repercussions as it puts their survival in immediate danger. But neither care as they attempt to justify the means by giving each other gifts that will ultimately mean their demise. Their actions rob each other of a means on income, leaving them to possibly starve to death in the months to come.

…Merry Christmas!

Emmett’s friends are no better, as they egg him on to destroy his mother’s belongings and financial well being.

Furthermore, the township itself is slightly dreadful, as they watch their beloved Otter family struggle and suffer from one winter to another without the slightest care or offer of help. Even beloved town resident and local pub owner Doc Bullfrog stands idly by and watches the duo flounder and fail at their endeavors. Although at the end, he offers Emmet and Alice a chance to sing for their supper every night for the enjoyment of the wealthy.

Therefore, considering the riff raff and poor decision makers that make up Frogtown Hollow, is it any wonder that the Riverbottom Boys stand out as the best part of the holiday special?

Sure, they might be a little rude and loud, but what are their crimes? Why does Alice call them hooligans? Are they really bad?

The answer is no. The Riverbottom Boys are not bad. Rude, yes. Loud, yes. But their only real crime is that they look and act different from the rest of Frogtown Hollow and come from another town.

They might have caused a ruckus at the town’s music store, but if they are musicians looking to purchase expensive instruments, shouldn’t they have a right to try out the goods?

Looking at the facts, the Riverbottom Boys are not as bad as those who judge them. They don’t steal. They don’t lie. They don’t judge others the way they are judged. They are merely living their truth. And those who don’t understand their ways opt not to get to know them, but call them names simply because they are different.

Luckily, the upper crust of Frogtown Hollow appear to be into metal, as they name the Riverbottom Nightmare Band the winners of the talent contest, leaving Emmet and his mother in a financial lurch as they both counted on winning.

At the end of the tale, Emmet and Alice impress Doc Bullfrog with their medley and are given the chance to earn a meager wage (and all the mashed potatoes they want) by singing in his superclub every night.

It is unknown if the position comes with benefits or sick days.

So, if you wish to teach your children that stealing, lying and judging others based on their appearance is part of the spirit of Christmas, then by all means, continuing enjoying Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.

But if you disagree with this philosophy, then give your family the gift of Die Hard this Christmas.


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