Do you know what’s missing from the world?
We constantly find ourselves separated by gender, sexuality, race, religion (or lack of), nationality….pretty much anything and everything. Instead of celebrating our differences, we use them as a means to justify tearing each other from our identity downwards until there’s nothing left but confusion, sadness and lack of a unique personality. The world is so full of spite and jealously, prejudice and ignorance, that despite all the technology we have at our finger tips, we, as the most intelligent species on earth, have never been more disconnected from each other.
When I stare at the television, or my phone or laptop, I dread learning about what monstrosity humanity has committed within the past 24 hours. After a while, it gets to be a bit much and before I know it, I’m heading towards one of two places:
The Muppet Theatre or Fraggle Rock.
Taking inspiration from Jarrod Fairclough’s fantastic Be Like Grover post on The Muppet Mindset (and taking a break from my recent Muppet Crusade), I’m heading back through the nearest Fraggle Hole in search of my all-time favourite character from any Henson universe- Wembley Fraggle.
Wembley, to me, is one of those characters I simply clicked with from the get-go (okay, maybe Steve Whitmire being his puppeteer had something to do with it too, but this post isn’t about Steve-shocking, right?) and it’s interesting to watch him develop from the baby of the Fraggle Five to the young and confident Fraggle he always had the potential to be. Gobo may have been the central Fraggle, and deservedly so, but Wembley’s character arc was just as interesting to follow.
By the end of the series, Wembley became a tolerant, kind, empathetic, forgiving, self-motivated and mature Fraggle that was ready and willing to take on the world…or at least take after Gobo. Why don’t I bring up a few relevant issues relating to the state of the world right now and discuss how Wembley dealt with them during the run of the show?
Everyone is eager to define who they are and how they fit into this crazy world and apparently the same goes for Fraggles. In The Secret of Convincing John, after endangering Gobo due to his indecisiveness, Wembley goes to Convincing John to change almost everything about himself-including his name!
Wembley walks into John’s cavern as an indecisive mess and walks out as Wilfred Fraggle: assertive, confident, strong….but also arrogant, opinionated and just plain stupid! Wilfred berates his friends and decides that going into Outer Space is a bright idea, knocking himself out in the process. Gobo and the others have to drag him snapping and snarling back to Convincing John to have the effects of his convincing reversed.
As it turns out, Convincing John himself is a wembler! Who knew? As it turns out, you never can tell what someone is hiding behind their persona. Witnessing this, Wilfred tries to attack John (for whatever reason, I find Steve’s character doing this towards one of Jim Henson’s hilarious) and after a reversal ‘definite challenge’, Wilfred is back to wonderful Wembley again.
The lesson to take away from this is that you can’t force yourself to change. It isn’t as simple as hypnosis or some crash course that comes from a self-help book, this kind of thing takes time. Wembley goes back to his old self at the end of the episode, but he certainly doesn’t stay that way. As the series progresses, Wembley does in fact become more decisive and confident, never losing who he is in the process. That’s the healthy way to do self-improvement-with time.
Bullying and Trolls
No matter who you are, we all face a bully at some point in our lives, even if we don’t realise who they are at the time. In Wembley and the Mean Genie, Wembley is blindsided by the Genie whose bottle he had found and accidentally rubbed open. As he is dragged through horrible pranks on the rest of the Fraggle Five, Wembley finds himself being perceived as a bully himself, when his actual problem is that he has no idea how to say ‘no’ and plays straight into Genie’s manipulations.
Unfortunately, it’s not until Genie has enslaved Fraggle-kind that Wembley snaps out of his confusion and takes control of the situation he created. He takes advantage of the three wishes he should have been granted in the first place, freeing the Fraggles, fixing all the damage to Fraggle Rock and setting the Genie straight by wishing, “I wish I could make you understand the difference between standing up for yourself and just doing what ever you want to do.”
Now of course, in reality we can’t simply wish that our nemesis would understand concepts like that, but we can certainly learn to stand-up for ourselves like Wembley did. As a chubby, ginger-haired, bespectacled bookworm, I constantly faced teasing and nasty comments from other kids. By the time I had reached high school, I was so fed up with bring bothered and reduced to tears by the comments, I started to simply let them roll off me and land down at my feet. There I could stomp on them and reduce them the nothingness they actually were.
In The Gorg Who Would Be King, Wembley shows off the very best of his attributes by choosing to brush off past encounters to help out Junior when the poor sod finds himself reduced to Fraggle-size and confused about the workings of the universe. By accepting Junior into Fraggle Rock and preventing counter-bullying from his fellow Fraggles, Wembley demonstrates compassion and empathy towards Junior’s situation. Does Junior deserve teasing for trying to thump and capture Fraggles? Probably, but that’s not who Wembley is.
What I love the most about Wembley’s involvement in this episode is that we get to see him after his character arc has been completed. No longer the naive and completely ignorant little Fraggle he started out as, Wembley is now acting as a mentor towards another character who faced the same issues. That is an excellent example for both kids and adults to follow along with. Just because you have a bad history with someone, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to show some compassion when their down. You never know what an act of kindness can do-you may even make a new friend out of it!
While the entire series featured the difference species of Fraggle Rock stigmatising each other, we saw the gradual breaking down of this disconnection as the show progressed. Just like when it came to accepting and helping Junior Gorg despite his past, Wembley extends the same courtesy to Cotterpin Doozer for the Duet-a-phon in A Tune for Two. Wembley is tolerant enough to brush off any Doozer prejudice once he realises what he and Cotterpin have in common- an ability not shared with his fellow Fraggles (outside of the Fraggle Five anyway).
The biggest indicator of Doozer prejudice is the decision not to let Cotterpin sing in the Duet-a-phon because she is not the same species, a choice spearheaded by Gillis Fraggle, the director of the event. The other Fraggles take their cue from his voice of authority and unfortunately, despite his annoyance, Wembley feels like he has no choice but to listen and stick to the status quo.
However, once he breaks the news to Cotterpin and she reacts with anger, Wembley realises that it shouldn’t matter what Cotterpin is. All that matters is who she is- the empathetic Doozer that just wanted to help him when he was down. With that in mind, Wembley heads straight back to the Great Hall, calls everyone together and makes it clear that it’s unfair to leave anyone out who wants to participate. When Gillis tries to reaffirm the traditions of the Duet-a-phon, Wembley counters with one of my most favourite lines from the entire series.
Gillis: “You’re not talking about someone, you foolish fellow, you’re talking about a Doozer.”
Wembley: “So what? Cotterpin is as good as you or me, maybe even better because she helped me when no one else would!”
Gillis: “That doesn’t matter! The Duet-a-phon has always been for Fraggles! That’s the way it’s always been!”
Wembley: ‘Well, I got news for ya! Just because something’s always been, doesn’t make it right! Does it? No! And if my friend Cotterpin can’t be in the Duet-a-phon, I don’t want anything to do with it! ”
Just because something’s always been, doesn’t make it right!
To me, this is Wembley’s defining moment as a character and reaffirms everything he has done and will do. If there is anything the world needs right now, it’s an army of Wembley Fraggles who will stand up for those who are constantly denied a voice. When the chips are down, you can rely on Wembley to stick to his guns and have a face-off with prejudice and stigma at it’s worst. Luckily for him, his fellow Fraggles are easily persuaded to see his point of view and they accept Cotterpin and the other Doozers through song, but I know that if faced with a tougher crowd, Wembley would be able to stick to his convictions and see it through.
While this isn’t exactly overly-relevant to today’s problems, I still wanted to quickly throw this one in here. Wembley and the Gorgs was the first episode to focus on Wembley and boy, did he have a lot to learn! After being captured by the Gorgs, Wembley is tricked into believing they want to befriend him after he plays into their delusion of being royalty. The Gorgs feed him and seemingly treat him well, but once the rest of the Fraggle Five show up for a rescue mission, the Gorgs’ true colours are soon revealed.
This episode is an allegory for why it’s unwise to be blindly accommodating and agreeable because the people who can take advantage of you most likely will and it can have severe consequences- like having your four best friends thumped into oblivion!
Once he realised where he went wrong, Wembley tries to work his way out of the situation by making it clear to the Gorgs that his friends are individuals, not just a mindless collective by describing and humanizing (Fragglizing?) them. Only after this civil act was attempted and then denied by the Gorgs does Wembley resort to violence by biting Pa Gorg’s nose.
One of Fraggle Rock’s best and unexpected quotes comes from Wembley at the end of the episode, ‘I guess sometimes slavery feels like freedom’. With that important lesson in mind, both Wembley and the audience take away from the experience that it’s best to go into any situation with some caution and very open eyes.
I’ve discussed the relationship between Fraggles and Death in a previous post, including the example I’m about to use for Wembley. In Gone, but Not Forgotten, what I consider to be Wembley’s coming-of-age episode, he comes face-to-face with the most confronting aspects of life when he witnesses the death of Mudwell the Mudbunny. It already says a lot about Wembley’s character that the death of someone he had only made friends within the space of a night affects him so deeply.
If you click on the link above and read the article, I talk about Wembley going through the individual stages of grief and how the episode concentrates on how one processes such a personal loss. Despite all the character growth Wembley had accumulated over the past 3 and a half seasons, he was still very much the most innocent of the Fraggle Five. Witnessing such a tragedy, as natural as it is, sets Wembley down on a path of acceptance he really doesn’t want to bear. I can relate to this, as I’m sure many others can too. While I’m fortunate enough to live in Australia, a country mostly safe from devastating events, I see the footage, hear the witness accounts and read about the devastation thrust upon the world each and every day. It’s never-ending and that is hard to accept.
I suppose I brought this episode up due to the lesson Wembley learns at the very end. Death, no matter what form it comes in, will come and perhaps the best way to deal with it is to form some healthy method of remembrance so that you may move on through life, hence the title ‘Gone, but Not Forgotten’. It’s not an easy lesson for the young Fraggle, but Wembley takes in stride as we all must. The problem with this one is that I can’t simply say, “Well, here’s what Wembley did in this situation, you do it too!” because everyone deals with death in their own way, but at least the lesson is right here if you need it.
To Finish Off
So there you have it! Five topics covering what a fantastic character like Wembley can teach the world about how to deal with what we as individuals face everyday. Learn to accept that self-image changes over time, have the courage to stand up for yourself and to extend kindness in the face of nastiness, learn to appreciate others for their differences and that while death is unavoidable, we can learn to deal with it through memories.
I have a feeling that if the world were full of Wembley Fraggles, we would be in a much better position than we are now.