The Divine Miss P
By Michael Schulman
Not long before I came out to my parents, we were sitting at the dinner table when the conversation turned to the Muppets. “You were obsessed with Miss Piggy,” my mother said. “You wanted to be her.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” said my dad. “He was in love with Miss Piggy.”
“No, he wanted to be Miss Piggy,” my mom insisted.
“I’m pretty sure he was in love with her.”
I shrugged noncommittally and cleared my plate.
The truth is that it was a little of both. As a child, I was enthralled by Jim Henson’s menagerie; my Muppet lunchbox followed me from apartment to apartment and remains on my windowsill today. If the Muppets celebrated individuality and a community that can be forged among outsized personalities, then Miss Piggy shone the brightest. I can’t remember a time in my childhood that didn’t involve her.
Of course, I idolized her—for her glamour, her bravado, her karate skills, her poor French. I envied her confidence, but I also wanted to curate her wardrobe. She was my first exposure to flair. She was also the prototype for every female friend I’ve had. First there was Ivy, my nursery school “girlfriend,” who joined me on sugar highs; then Laura, the outspoken star of our high-school plays; Allysha, the voluptuous bottle blonde I met at an improv audition at Yale; and now, Rachel, the zany Nebraskan playwright with the ad-exec husband. None are “hags;” like Miss Piggy, they’re high-maintenance beauties with determination.
A few years ago, the Times ran a piece about the introduction of a new female character on Sesame Street. Noting the lack of girl Muppets, the writer accounted for Miss Piggy by saying, “You have to go back to Dynasty reruns to find a more jealous, vain and domineering female role model on television.” So, fine. She’s not the best “female role model.” But I’d argue that Miss Piggy is the ideal gay role model. Her exaggerated femininity, undermined by a zaftig figure and a tendency toward aggression, has more in common with the best drag queens than with Dora the Explorer. (And let’s not forget that she’s voiced by a man.)
Diva worship is a hallmark of gay culture, and Piggy deserves a place in the pantheon. According to the Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson, she originated as “Miss Piggy Lee”—an homage to Peggy Lee. As her popularity grew, she blossomed into a hyper-glam parody of a Hollywood star, which is what she inevitably became. She worked with the greats—think of her rivalry with Raquel Welch on The Muppet Show, or her demented makeup party with Joan Rivers in The Muppets Take Manhattan (“A powder puff for you, and a powder puff for me!”). My favorite Miss Piggy moment comes from The Great Muppet Caper, when, on her way to stop a jewel heist, she gets stranded on the side of the road. A truck whizzes by, and, as if by magic, out pops an unoccupied motorcycle. Piggy turns the camera and squeals, “What an unbelievable coincidence!” This is after she poses as a fashion designer and breaks into John Cleese’s house and gets framed by Charles Grodin and escapes from jail.
Despite her excesses, Piggy maintained an abiding loyalty to Kermit. Their interspecies romance is conspicuously unconventional—perhaps a little deviant—but it’s always true. Like Lucy Ricardo, her pursuit of fame is trumped only by her devotion to her frog—and damned if she won’t end up with both. I’m not saying that Kermit is gay (my money’s on Fozzie), but they do seem to have the same dynamic as Georges and Albin from La Cage aux Folles.
After Henson’s death in 1990, the Muppets suffered more than two decades of neglect. This fall, they are finally making a comeback, in a new movie written by and starring Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Miss Piggy, sporting an Anna Wintour bob, plays an editor at French Vogue. Since the movie was announced, I’ve been beside myself with excitement. It’ll be nice to revisit my first love, or my first role model, or whatever Miss Piggy was to me. And if there are the kids out there who meet her for the first time, I hope that they discover a kindred spirit—someone who speaks to them as she spoke to <moi.>
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