Every once in a while, an idea comes along that changes the way we all look at ourselves forever. Before Descartes, nobody knew they were thinking. They all believed they were just mulling. Until Karl Marx, everyone totally hated one another but nobody knew quite why. And before Freud, nobody understood that all of humanity could be classified into one of two simple types: people who don’t yet know they want to sleep with their mothers, and people who already know they want to sleep with their mothers. These dialectics can change and shape who we are so profoundly, it’s hard to imagine life before the paradigm at all.
The same thing is true of Muppet Theory, a little-known, poorly understood philosophy that holds that every living human can be classified according to one simple metric: Every one of us is either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet.
Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer.
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Order Muppets—and I’m thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harassed by Grover at restaurants (the Order Muppet Everyman)—tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet. So is Chief Justice John Roberts. It’s not that any one type of Muppet is inherently better than the other. (Order Muppets do seem to attract the ladies, but then Chaos Muppets collect the chicken harems.) It’s simply the case that the key to a happy marriage, a well-functioning family, and a productive place of work lies in carefully calibrating the ratio of Chaos Muppets to Order Muppets within any closed system. That, and always letting the Chaos Muppets do the driving.
Think about your basic Muppet workplaces: Be it “Pigs in Space,” Oscar’s garbage can, or producing a hit Broadway show in 19 hours, it’s always crucial to get the ratio of Order-to-Chaos exactly right. One possible explanation for the blossoming dysfunctionality of the current Supreme Court is that the Order Muppets have all but taken over. With exception of Justices Breyer and Antonin Scalia, the Order Muppets are running the show completely. (The jury is still out on whether Elena Kagan may prove a Chaos Muppet.) Remember the old rule of thumb: Too many Order Muppets means no cookies for anyone.
It’s hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend. It’s not enough to judge by career choice or pastimes. For instance: Order Muppets are musical. So are Chaos Muppets. Some initial clues can be garnered by scrutinizing your CD storage system and spice racks. Chaos Muppets may well be able to recite the alphabet, but they don’t alphabetize anything willingly and usually only do so in exchange for cookies. If your house catches on fire, as you practice a death-defying leap through a flaming hoop while reciting Hamlet, you’re most probably a Chaos Muppet anyhow. But if your house catches on fire and you know precisely how to rescue your Schumann CDs in under 15 seconds, you’re an Order Muppet.
Perhaps the best determinant of your Muppet Classification however, is your partner: Order Muppets tend to pick Chaos Muppets for their life partners, cookies notwithstanding. Thus, if you’re in a long-term relationship with a Chaos Muppet, there’s a pretty good chance you’re Bert. If you’re married to an Order Muppet, you may well be the Swedish Chef. And by all that is holy, don’t marry your same type if you can help it. That’s where Baby Elmos come from.
Here’s the part where some of you will pen earnest missives explaining how all this maps perfectly onto all the new brain science about the inherent neurological differences between Republicans and Democrats. Please don’t. This is really just me having fun. Also I am (basically) a Chaos Muppet and will probably lose your mail anyhow.
There’s just one other thing you should know before you start describing yourself and others exclusively according to the Muppet System. There’s an enormous amount of false consciousness at work here (Thanks Karl Marx!!!) and many of us are prone to profound misdiagnoses. My 7-year-old told me last night that he is most definitely a Chaos Muppet. He’s not. To tell the truth he and I are both Faux Chaos Muppets—Chaos on the outside, but with hard, rigid, inflexible caramel centers. Like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, we sow chaos throughout the land. But like the good doctor, we do so in an effort to better organize the world.
I leave you now to make your own determinations, about your personal Muppet typology and whether your marriage is on firm ground. I leave you as well with this one brief parting observation: Mahna Mahna.
This column was brought to you by the letter M, the number 2, and all the generous people on Mark McKenna and Amy Woolard’s facebook pages.