Frank Oz & Eric Jacobson: Feminist Icons

Frank and Eric

Jarrod Fairclough – Feminism is something that I’m probably not qualified to write on, but I’m going to give it a try.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it – my biggest qualm with the world is the inequality that people get for being different, whether it be due to gender or race or sexuality.
I’m lucky to have some very strong female role models in my life.  I have a mother who has worked hard to support us, a sister who is doing an incredible job raising two gorgeous daughters, and a grandmother who in the last 2 months since the loss of my Grandad has shown an insane amount of strength and courage.
61087-misspiggyMy best friend of 22 years is a girl, and she’s one of the best people I know.  So you can trust me when I say that I love strong women – they’re all I’ve ever known!

So of course I was thrilled when I heard that the divine Miss Piggy was receiving a Sackler Center First Award from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.  In a life where Muppets dominate a lot of my time, it’s safe to say that Miss Piggy is a strong female character in my life.  But I feel weird saying that, because of course Miss Piggy isn’t performed by a woman, and she never has been.  Instead, two men have embodied this porcine princess, and in the wake of Miss Piggy’s award, I wanted to shine a light on the two men who play such a strong woman.

df1b2-frankpiggybwMiss Piggy had her first appearance in 1974, performed by Frank Oz.  At the time she wasn’t anything, she was just a pig puppet that they threw together to lip sync to a song, with literally no personality.  By Season 1 of The Muppet Show, she had a name and a voice that seemed to change each episode.  This was due to the switching of her performer from Frank to Richard Hunt.  Finally Frank took her on full time, and she became the power house that she is.  Frank originally described Miss Piggy as a ‘trucker who wants to be a woman’, but over the years she has become so much more.
Frank decided early in the shows run that Miss Piggy could be more than just the lovelorn chorus girl, and instead she could become one of the shows only 3-dimensional characters.  With that decision Frank turned a one-bit character in to one of the most complex and deep characters in popular culture.

Frank PiggyMiss Piggy is not a woman to be messed with.  She loves ‘whole hog’, she knows what she wants and she’s willing to go for it no matter what.  She doesn’t mind being curvy, and she doesn’t mind stepping on those who get in her way.
What Frank bought to that character wasn’t a small feat.  There is a reason that Frank has been called the greatest Muppeteer there ever was, and Miss Piggy is a big reason for that.  Frank could play Miss Piggy has sweet and demure, but he could also play her as a butt kicking hero, giving her range that not a lot of female characters got back then, or even get now.  Yes, Piggy loves her frog, but she isn’t defined by a man, which is a refreshing take on her, and something that Frank played perfectly for almost 30 years.

Since 2001, Miss Piggy has been played by the incomparable Eric Jacobson.  While a lesser performer could have picked up Miss Piggy and made her a Flanderized version of her former self, Eric managed to pick up right where Frank left off.  On his arm, Miss Piggy has continued to display a depth and range that is lacking in other areas of entertainment. Eric has perfectly embodied the ‘no matter what’ spirit that Miss Piggy has, while maintaining that delightful sweetness that she pretends to have.
Instead of making her a joke or a punchline, Eric makes her in to a complex woman, who is strong and sassy and vulnerable and shy and brazen and scared and proud.

These are two men who deserve to be recognized as feminist icons.  Frank Oz and Eric Jacobson are two men who understand strong women, and support them by performing a character with so much complexity and dimension that sometimes it can be hard to forget that there’s a man 2 inches under the frame.  Thank you, fellas, for giving me and the rest of the world another strong female role model in our lives.

You can read Miss Piggy’s essay on her award here.

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One thought on “Frank Oz & Eric Jacobson: Feminist Icons

  1. Pingback: 2015 – A Look Back (Part 1) | The Muppet Mindset

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