Disney +, the streaming platform the company launched in Europe by last spring, is issuing so-called trigger warnings for some of its older shows. The latest to receive one features a cast of rambunctious and opinionated puppets headed by a chartreuse-coloured amphibian called Kermit.
What’s a trigger warning?
It’s a method used to warn readers, listeners or, in this case, viewers of children’s shows once thought anodyne in the extreme, that what they are about to see could cause them distress.
Like when Jerry sets Tom on fire?
Sort of. But then again not quite. Archive favourites which have recently received trigger warnings include Dumbo (the crows in it “pay homage to racist minstrel shows”), Peter Pan (“portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner” and “repeatedly refers to them as ‘redskins’, an offensive term”), The Aristocrats (a cat is depicted as “a racist caricature of East Asian peoples”) and The Swiss Family Robinson (the pirates are portrayed as “a stereotypical foreign menace”).
And now The Muppets have one?
Yes. On February 19, Disney + began streaming episodes of Jim Henson’s much-loved creation, which ran on television between 1976 and 1981. The shows now bear a trigger warning which sits on screen for 12 seconds and reads: “This program [sic]includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”
Is it on all of them?
No. There are five seasons’ worth and only 18 have been branded in this way. Among the episodes affected is one in which Johnny Cash performs Riders In The Sky and Orange Blossom Special in front of a Confederate flag. Predictably there is Reddit thread devoted to analysing the 18 shows and identifying what is likely to have generated the trigger warnings. For a show featuring Spike Milligan the answer is most of it – hardly a surprise – but in the others it’s specific items, such as a subplot in which Arab Muppets drill for oil in Kenny Rogers’s dressing room, or Joan Baez lapsing into an Indian accent while talking about Mahatma Ghandi.
Who’s making the decisions?
Disney have hired external advisors to look over its content as part of its Stories Matter initiative which states: “As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are in the process of reviewing our library and adding advisories to content that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures.” Quite how a Muppets episode fronted by Debbie Harry wound up carrying a trigger warning has defeated the Reddit sleuth. “Honestly, can’t even guess why this one has the disclaimer.”
Maybe Disney don’t like Blondie?
Impossible. There isn’t anybody who doesn’t like Blondie.