“Laugh! I Thought I Should’ve Died”: British Music Hall Humour and the Subversion of Childhood on The Muppet Show
Through the abundant use of the bawdy, humorous songs of British music hall, The Muppet Show delivered a potent critique of constructed notions of a protectionist childhood. Paradoxically perhaps, the music hall songs, carnivalesque comedy, and frequent depictions of sex, sexuality, and violence also did much to construct The Muppet Show’s intended “family” audience while simultaneously providing a direct challenge to its normative sanguinuptial (blood and marriage) construction. This intergenerational family audience is crucial to the child’s interpretation of The Muppet Show’s complex and contentious content, subject matter that is rarely included in media made for a solely child audience. While the musical sketches open up an interpretive space for the child to encounter, resist, and subvert the range of fluid identities hinted at onscreen, the process is simultaneously constricted by the musical-visual texts themselves and by The Muppet Show’s family-reception context. As such, this case study reveals the inherent tensions of targeting a family audience through music and television.