Is Big Bird an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet?

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 9 2012 4:48 PM

Is Big Bird an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet?

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Big Bird busts out of Sesame Street in this photo. Is he an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet?

Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

For most of the last 43 years, Big Bird has lived a quiet existence on Sesame Street.  He’s taught several generations of children their ABCs and counting, and even helped kids learn how to cope with death.  And then last week,  Mitt Romney said during the presidential debate that while he likes Big Bird, he would cut PBS funding anyhow; the 8-foot tall flightless silkie has been wreaking havoc ever since.  Liberals are dressing up like chickens and conservatives are pointing out that Big Bird (er, um, the Children’s Television Workshop) may be wealthier than Romney himself.

All of which brought to mind Dahlia Lithwick’s Unified Theory of Muppet Types, which states that all Muppets—and, by extension people—are either Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets.  Cookie Monster and Animal and Grover are your classic Chaos Muppets. Bert and Kermit and Scooter are clearly Order Muppets. Which is Big Bird? Lithwick’s taxonomy, surprisingly, leaves this question unanswered. And he does seem to be causing a lot of chaos lately.

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But a closer reading of Lithwick’s theory sheds more light on what’s going on. Of Order Muppets, Lithwick writes: “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.” Consider Big Bird’s actions since Romney first dragged him into the spotlight. First, he deflected the attention he’s getting by cracking nonpartisan political jokes on Weekend Update. (“Who likes debates? … De fishes.”)  And after the Obama campaign released an ad featuring Big Bird and making fun of Mitt Romney, the Children’s Television workshop issued a statement reminding everyone that it’s a nonpartisan nonprofit and asking the campaign to remove the ad.

Clearly, Big Bird is a kind, gentle, world-changing mastermind, leaving no doubt that he is an Order Muppet. Just to be sure, though, I contacted Lithwick, currently out on assignment. “Totally an Order Muppet,” she told me. Case closed. 

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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