I hate puppets, but like the Muppets. It’s something of a predicament, for the Muppets are puppets.

I’m OK with Kermit and the animalian muppets. But the muppets that are supposed to be human (like Bunsen and Beaker) inspire loathing and horror. I want to mercy-kill them. The way their mouths naturally hang open makes it look like they’re screaming, as if a witch imprisoned the souls of people inside itchy piles of suffering cloth.

Oddly enough, that’s nearly the plot of this movie. The story comes from the Der Froschkönig (lit. “The Frog King”) by the Brothers Grimm: a witch transforms a heroic knight into a frog, true love’s kiss is the only way the spell can reverse, details details details. In effect, it’s another of Henson studio’s “famous story, but with muppets cracking jokes” adaptations.

Henson was a master. Despite this being a cheap TV movie from 1971, he goes balls-to-the-wall, tackling tricky shot after tricky shot. Puppets move around scenes, entering and leaving each other’s space. They interact believably with human actors. We see their feet. We see frog puppets leap and swim, and even a puppet bird flying. King Rupert II’s mouth is perfectly synced up with his words, and his hands gesticulate at the correct moments (I assume there were multiple performers controlling him).

The budget precludes nutso stuff like “Kermit riding a bike” or “Jennifer Connelly exploring an MC Escher castle”, but Henson seems hell-bent on making puppets do things they shouldn’t. Why not? It’s not as if they can unionize and demand overtime and a dental plan.

The star of the dish is Henson’s inspired directing, and the writing is merely adequate. As with Sesame Street, it’s for little kids, with occasional jokes aimed at adults. King Rupert II makes a royal announcement from a castle balcony, and then starts doing hacky stand-up, with a royal advisor reminding the crowd to laugh—that sort of thing. Princess Melora has been cursed by a witch (the same one that transformed Robin) so that she spoonerizes all her words (she says “you’re a wearable titch!” instead of “you’re a terrible witch!”—that sort of thing). Sometimes it’s funny, but they draw from that comedic well a little too much.

The music is fairly weak, and so is the acting. Princess Melora is the movie’s only actress (she would later play a groupie on Pink Floyd’s The Wall—this fact is more interesting than anything she says or does in The Frog Prince). Jim Henson’s Kermit and Jerry Nelson’s Robin are fine, but director Jerry Juhl voices the witch Taminella with an annoying NOOO YAWK accent.

None of the “classic” Muppets appear, aside from Kermit, Robin, and Sweetums. Speaking of the latter, I highly enjoyed the scene where Sweetums goes crazy and smashes a dungeon. It’s hard to go wrong with a good room-wrecking scene, whether it’s Citizen Kane or the muppets. The ending of the film strikes the right sentimental note, and it ends in a cute song.

The strength of the Muppets as a franchise is their adaptability. They could be in anything, and connect with anything. You can have them host a PBS children’s program. You can have them talk to Orson Welles. They had no limits as a franchise, and with a competent director and someone who knew, they could be a reliable money-spinner that stayed relevant for decades and decades.

Weird and disturbing through they could be, the Muppets outlived the man who created them. I wonder how long it took before Jim Henson realized that this would be his legacy—he’d be remembered as the man who shoved a hand up Kermit the Frog’s metaphorical rectum, and little else. How did that make him feel? Defeated, or proud? Or both?

He certainly got to indulge most of his artistic impulses. The Muppets filmography is broad and diverse. Pretty much the only thing they never did was raunchy R-rated comedy (his son Brian directed The Happy Time Murders, which made me tap out 10 minutes in, so maybe Henson Senior’s judgment was correct.)

I’m uncertain as to how well the Muppets hold up for adults.

The Muppet Show and several of the Muppet movies still hold up. The overwhelming, cloying sentiment probably locks The Frog Prince into “kids only”. Although there’s a point where kitsch crosses over and becomes a sort of art in itself.

Here’s Umberto Eco in “Casablanca”: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage:

“When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two cliches make us laugh, but a hundred cliches move us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves and celebrating a reunion. Just as extreme pain meets sensual pleasure, and extreme perversion borders on mystical energy, so does extreme banality allow us to catch a glimpse of the Sublime. Nobody would have been able to achieve such a cosmic result intentionally. Nature has spoken here in place of men. If nothing else, this is a phenomenon worthy of veneration.”

He wasn’t speaking about the Muppets. He was speaking about the Muppets. I don’t believe Jim Henson ever had any connection to Walter Elias Disney, but they seem like similar artists. They both had an extreme connection to magic, and the ideals of the past. Sometimes this manifested as retrogression, but sometimes it makes the past feel preserving. He was never cynical or mean.

But puppets are creepy – I can’t get over that point. They just hit all the “not right, shouldn’t exist” buttons in my brain. Are people seriously able to watch stuff like this without having their skin shudder completely off their skeleton and roadtrip to Kickapoo, Indiana on a journey of radical self-discovery?

But hey, the fact that the Muppets is the most glowing recommendation I can make.


(Because I practice what I preach, I am publishing this four months after it was in any way relevant.)

In January, Lex Fridman – world leader in inspiring people to Google “who is Lex Fridman?” – revealed his 2023 reading list.

It triggered a loud – and largely negative – reaction. Why?

Are the books on the list bad? No. They’re good books.

“I read those books when I was twelve!” Good job, you read smarter books than Lex Fridman. Here’s your medal.

Yes, his “book a week” schedule seems both arbitary and divorced from certain realities about books (for example, that they differ in length). He’s assigning the same amount of time to The Little Prince (a 16,000 word children’s book) as he is to The Brothers Karazmazov (a 356,000 word Russian realist epic). But that’s his funeral.

And yes, it’s depressing to see a humble everyday pleasure like reading books get smeared in Silicon Valley thinkfluencer slime. “My videos will deliver key takeaways with itemized action points! Follow along as I synergize my mindspace and growth-hack my quantified self with the ultimate disruptive tech…books!”

…but none of those criticisms really connect with the larger issue.

This is a terrible way to read books.

Unweaving the Rainbow

When I was a teenager, I listened primarily to metal bands. Upon turning twenty, I decided I needed to educate myself in classic rock.

But I wanted to do it fast. The Rolling Stones have twenty-nine albums? Bugger off, I’m not listening to all that. Can’t I just pick a highlight or two? I wanted to speedrun classic rock!

I dutifully acquired/downloaded a dozen classic “ok, boomer” albums, as ranked by lists like Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums, including:

  • Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon
  • The Clash, London Calling
  • Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
  • Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
  • The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

Across one week, I listened to them all.

I got nothing out of it.

When an album finished, I could not recall a single note. These were classic, career-best albums, made by great artists (only some of whom are now suspected to have molested children)…yet they just bounced off my skull. I didn’t even dislike what I heard; I just instantly forgot about it. It was as though I’d created a dozen little black holes in my life, or induced a dozen bouts of waking amnesia.

I was obviously missing something very important. But what?

Eventually I realized that I hadn’t given myself any context to understand the music. I was basically trying to read an advanced foreign-language textbook, without taking the time to learn the language.

An album is not an album. It’s a record of the world the artist lived in. You can try to understand it on its own…but what if you took the time to understand the artist, and the things they were reacting to or pushing back against? You’re denying yourself part of the experience if you don’t.

If you stare at a painting long enough, you’ll eventually see the entire world bleeding through behind it.

The blue robes in Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato’s Madonna and Child would have produced awed shock once. Blue pigment – or ultramarine – was the rarest of colors, worth more than its weight in gold. It was derived from the precious gemstone lapis lazuli, which could only be found in a single mine in remote Afghanistan. Cleopatra used powdered lapis for eyeshadow. Tutankhamun’s mask was made from it. During the Renaissance, merchants would haul it overland (a journey that took sevearl months) before shipping it to Venice. Its piercing color and immense price made it both highly sought after and freighted with mystic significance. Vermeer bankrupted his family buying it. Some artists cheated by using cheap azurite, and then applying a single thin layer lapis lazuli. To a Renaissance painter, ultramarine was the equivalent of bringing out the big guns. “Playtime’s over, fuckers. We’re using blue.

…all of that context vanishes when you try to speedrun your way to a cultural appreciation. You see a woman. You see a baby. You vaguely suspect it’s Jesus or something. Next.

Critical theorist Julia Kristeva said “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another”[1]Kristeva, Julia. (1986). Word, dialogue, and the novel. She was talking specifically about intertextuality, but I think this is true of any meaning we take from art. They’re fragments of the world, refracted through the prism of an artist’s eyes and then into ours. They are not self-contained monadic artifacts, and it makes little sense to treat them as such.

We Could All Be Pierrots

When I listened to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as part of my exercise, it produced no emotional response.

But I didn’t know who he was: I didn’t know about the kid growing up in post-War Britain. First a mod, then a hippie, then a gay man. Spinning through wardrobes and identities, learning that “authenticity” is a mug’s game, that you can make a career out of being a well-heeled fake.

I didn’t know what came next. Glam rock. Success. Moving to America. Cocaine. Paranoia. Creating Station to Station, and nearly dying in the process. Moving to Berlin. Making three of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 70s. Reinventing himself again in the 80s, experiencing massive commercial success, along with an incredible collapse in artistic quality. Decades spent in the wilderness, before finally managing an inspiring comeback (Blackstar) before he died.

The narrative I’ve told you is heavily bullshit: partly a media confabulation by Bowie himself, and partly my own imagination. It ignores significant parts of Bowie’s discography (where does Diamond Dogs fit in the picture? What about Outside?), and distorts others (two of the fabled “Berlin” albums were actually recorded in other cities). But I finally had a Rosetta Stone. I could finally speak the language.

David Bowie is now my favorite musician. It didn’t happen because I listened to his best music. It happened because I listened to his worst.

Lex and Violence

I worry that Lex Fridman is falling into the exact same trap I did at twenty.

He’s shoving 52 unrelated books into his brain as fast as he can, like an RPG player grinding their third alt to level 55 in time to raid Molten Core. He’s getting none of the context in which they were written. None of the writer’s personal history. He treats books as a fungible commodity. 1 book = 1 learnin’. 52 books = 52 learnin’s.

I truly don’t believe you can speed-run a cultural education in this way.

Imagine Donald Trump decides, in his infinite wisdom, to climb every famous mountain the world. Everest. Kilimanjaro. Annapurna. But he doesn’t want to go through all the trouble of climbing mountains, so he just uses a helicopter to fly him to the peak. Then he steps out, takes some photos for TruthGabSocialGettr or wherever he’s on, and then has his pilot fly him to the next mountain.

We’d consider that a poor substitute for mountain-climbing. In fact, we wouldn’t consider that mountain-climbing at all.

You can’t just experience a thing just by standing at the peak. There’s also a landscape to explore. If you want to climb a mountain, you have to actually climb.

To be fair to Lex, I don’t know in what spirit he’s reading these books. He claims he’s taking notes. He says some of them (possibly the Dostoyevsky?) are re-reads of past favorites. So there’s probably some effort there. But it also feels like he’s treating reading like an RPG stat that can be minmaxed.

What should Lex do instead?

Here’s what I’d do:

I’d go for a depth-first search rather than a breadth-first. Systematically explore one world, and then exhaust it before moving on to another.

You could carve literature into different domains in all sorts of ways. Maybe do it by time. First, read ancient literature. Then the Greek classics. Then Medieval literature. Build an understanding, and then build things on top of that. Assemble a mental picture of the world one fragment at a time.

Or break the world into distinct domains. Western literature. Eastern literature. Try not to let them cross – you wouldn’t hop from Siddhartha to The Plague until you were ready.

Or you could trace the movement of literature by influences and connection points, following it from node to node. One of my favorite literary movements is decadence. It’s a fascinating genre, but a hard one to get into.

First: read some books in romanticism: the 18th century forerunner of decadence. Absorb their vibes (intense emotions, along with a stultified and didactic sense of morality), and you’d get an idea of the soil decadence came from. It has the same sensory intensity of feeling, but makes it perverted and insane and corrupt.

What next? The poetry of Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire. Joris-Karl Huysmans’ À Rebours, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Then you’d read some later exercises in sensual perversion that verge on surrealism, like Guillame Apollionaire’s erotic work, or Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden.

“But that would take a lot of time!”

Yes, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Hobbies take time. The temptation to speed-run things is always there.

But if time is your chief constraint, why read the books at all? Why not just read their Wikipedia summaries of these books, and be done in an afternoon? I don’t know. I’m not the book police. Lex’s List is an improvement on not reading books at all.

You have to decide for yourself. Is there value in reading books or not…and if there is, why not read them properly?


1 Kristeva, Julia. (1986). Word, dialogue, and the novel

Wow! What a book!

Prince Harry – whose prose can in no way be described as “turgid” and “unreadable” – takes us on a journey through the ups and ups and more ups of royal life. To get any closer to the insides of the British royal family, you’d need to be a car windshield in the Pont de l’Alma underpass.

Why it’s called Spare? Well, it references a common saying in the British royal family.

“A hair and a spare.”

You see, the House of Windsor has an old – and odd – tradition. Due to a genetic quirk, the entire family is bald – and I mean disconcertingly, freakishly hairless, like sphinx cats – except for one family member per generation, who grows hair at an accelerated rate. This excess hair is harvested, and used to make wigs, extensions, false eyelashes, and merkins for the rest of the family.

In effect, the male line contains a “hair” (who proudly displays his locks in public), and a “spare” (who grows those locks behind the scenes).

On page 32, Harry describes the day he learned the awful reason for his birth.

“Father escorted me into the geranium-scented quietness of the Balmoral Conservatory. Once we were alone, he bade me come to his knee, his expression grave.

“Harry, it’s time you knew the truth. You are a hair donor.”


Father’s voice did not waver as he explained the history of our family. We possess a mutated CD572, or “anticapillus” gene. This allele is dominant: if you have one copy of it, your body will be hairless. But if you are homozygous (meaning, if both chromosomes have the corrupt CD572), a so-called “anti-overdominance” effect kicks in. With a double dose of the mutation, your follicle glands are hyperstimulated, and instead of being stunted, hair grows at fourfold the normal rate.

I didn’t understand most of this, but I wondered if it was the reason why I required such frequent haircuts. Or why I kept clogging shower drains. Or why I looked like I was smuggling six full-grown shi tzu’s inside my underwear. Or why, in Eton productions of A Winter’s Tale, I kept getting cast as the bear that chases Antigonus off the stage.

And could this be why my brother William’s body – which I’d frequently observed when we bathed together – was muskrat-bald? I had assumed that he was merely a pussy.

I gulped. My life was about to change forever.


The odds of homozygosity for a given allele is 1 in 4, so generally, the royal family will usually have one hair donor per generation. If no homozygotic offspring are born, the couple duly continue pumping out children until they have one. And it seems it was Harry’s unlikely fate to become this donor.

Harry spares no detail on the horrifying surgery required.

“But I don’t want to give my hair to William!” I wailed as the steel forceps gleamed, capturing my tearstruck face. “He sucks!”

“Your locks will grow back,” the kindly doctor assured me, as he injected another shot of local anesthetic into my scalp. “Try to relax, Your Highness. This is less painful than it was in the pliers-and-corgi-fat days, trust me.”

The surgeon began the procedure, which involved removing hair follicles from the donor area and placing them, dripping with blood, onto an embroidered royal napkin, ready for grafting onto my brother’s scalp.

“This won’t hurt a bit,” he crooned.

He lied. It hurt a lot.

Through a crystalline storm of unbelievable agony, I heard Grandma’s kindly voice.

“Please leave enough hair for my new merkin,” she told the surgeon.  “The breeze over the royal privates is dreadfully chilly, you know.”


He discloses further dynamite, such as the fact that the Royal Line is the last, degenerate strain of an ancient capillary-obsessed cult.

On the Isle of Man (where the royal line is believed to have started), folk believe in a mythical being called “Fenodyree” – a sort of hairy elf who helps humans with their chores (“Fenodyree” is a compound of the Gaelic words fynney, or ‘hair’, and oashyree, ‘stockings’).

The Manx brownie is called the fenodyree, and he is described as a hairy and apparently clumsy fellow, who would, for instance, thrash a whole barnful of corn in a single night for the people to whom he felt well disposed; and once on a time he undertook to bring down for the farmer his wethers from Snaefell.

Celtic Folklore, John Rhys, 1901

The Fenodyree is also mentioned by Milton under the name “Lubber fiend”.

Basks at the fire his hairy strength,

And crop-full out of doors he flings,

Ere the first cock his matin rings.

L’Allegro, John Milton, 1631

This odd hairy servant appears to be a mythical refiguring of the CD572 homozygote carrier, who has clearly existed for centuries in the royal line. There’s a clear level of symbolism here. The Fenodyree doesn’t just help with any chore. It serves humans by mowing and cutting things.

The Fenoderee went to the meadow,
To lift the dew at the grey dawn,
The maiden- hair and the cattle- herb,
He was stamping under both his feet.
He was stretching out on the ground* ofthe meadow ;
He threw the grass on the left hand,
He caused us to wonder last year,
And this year he is far better.
He was stretching out on the ground of the meadow,
Cutting the herbs in bloom,
The bog- bean in the rushy curragh,
As he went it was all shaking.
The scythe he had was cutting everything,
Skinning the meadow to the sods,
And, if a wisp were left standing,
He stamped it with his heel.

Manx Ballads & Music, Moore, Arthur William (1896)

Again and again, hair-obsession crops up in British history. Chaucer makes ribald references to beards and pubic hair. Lady Godiva rode naked through town, shielded only by her long hair. Henry VIII introduced a “beard tax” in 1535, meaning your tax burden increased in line with the length of your beard, ensuring it would become a status symbol. Indeed, St Edward’s Crown itself is a symbolic, Freudian substitute for a brilliant mane of hair. The nation is gripped by follicular-philia.

It would embarrass the nation if the King was known to be bald. And it was Harry’s fate to ensure that this never happened.

Yikes! You can see why Harry’s relationship with the crown is strained, with that kind of skeleton in their closet! Unfortunately, the House of Windsor has many claimants for hair, and their excessive demands would leave even Harry’s robust follicular system on the verge of deforestation.

We also learn the true reason for Prince Harry’s sudden 2008 recall from active commission in Afghanistan. We were told that his identity had been leaked by an Australian women’s magazine, and the Ministry of Defense feared he would become a target for kidnap or assassination.

What we didn’t know was that his all-important hair was at risk, too. As soon as Taliban uncovered his identity, they saw a chance to eliminate the British royalty at the root (literally), and began deploying illegal anti-follicle chemical weapons.

Rockets screamed over Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand Province. We were taking heavy fire.

As parallel lines of smoke arced toward us, I assumed they were were crude fertilizer bombs. But when they slammed into the cracked dirt, there were no fiery explosions. Instead, I saw little canisters bouncing on the ground, releasing clouds of sulphur-yellow mist.

As the clouds billowed out over nearby soldiers, I saw something that chilled my marrow. Their hair was falling out! Captain Murphy’s black tresses were coming out in twists and clumps. Squadron Leader Hopkin’s handlebar mustache was streaming away from his nose like so much liquified brown snot.

Horrified understanding dawned on me. The Taliban was using hair-dissolving chemicals against us! Against me! In clear breach of the Geneva Convention!

I staggered through the carnage, dodging flying canisters. I had to get out of here. If my hair was collateral-damaged, all was lost. The family was counting on me!

I dashed toward FOB Delhi, weaving around snaking trails of smoke. At the last moment, I tripped and fell, and the wind blew smoke over my left ankle. Fortunately, it was deflected by my battle dress. And though the hair over that area is now thinner, the rest of my body is unscathed.

“Close shave,” a NCO said back at HQ.

“That is not fucking funny!”


But most disturbingly of all, he discusses macabre rumors which have long swirled about Diana’s death.

We all know what happened in that tragic night. MI6 operates whisked the Princess away, and embalmed her so hastily it nearly caused an international scandal. The rumor at the time was that they wanted to hide evidence of a pregnancy. In fact, this rumor was started by the MI6 itself.

Here’s the truth: they wanted her hair.

Upon her head, painstakingly extracted from mine, were over 100,000 individual follicles of hair, feathered and sprayed and colored straw-blonde. You think the “Princess Di” refers to her birth name? Guess again. It’s actually Princess Dye.

Her body was worthless to the Crown, but her hair was worth its weight in gold, as large numbers of bald family members were demanding my hair, and my body was about to enter septic shock from repeated rounds of surgery.

As far as I know, part of “Diana’s” hair (meaning, mine) was fashioned into the ring Father now wears on his finger, and another section was used to stuff a throw-pillow that is now in the possession of Andrew.

When I discovered this, it was the final straw. I would no longer be a hair donor for these evil, bald bastards.


Damn! Talk about spilling the tea!

Harry’s decision would have far-reaching consequences. His family members were denied fresh hair implants, and soon, the paparazzi were noting that the royal hair was taking on a thin, careworn look. It seemed to be crumbling before our eyes, like old Christmas tinsel. Several members – most notably his brother – went almost entirely bald. Britain, it seems, no longer rules the waves.

The death of the Queen in 2022 was a short-lived reprieve, as they were able to regain her hair and stave off the ravages of time. But the clock is still ticking. So far, no new double-CD572 homozygotes have been born. None of Duchess Sophie’s issue has the double-mutation, and neither do Princess Beatrice’s, Princess Eugenie’s, or Princess Alexandra’s. Windsor has to win Harry back, or they’ll disgrace Britain forever with baldness.

…unless they can somehow gain access to little Archibald Mountbatten-Windsor. Who is ironically named indeed, because the little tyke is rumored to possess a double dose of the mutation.

Megan claimed in her bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview that a “senior member” had asked her questions about her baby’s skin color. But it seems she misunderstood the line of questioning. They were trying assess if Megan has any history of CD572 in her family line.

So you’ll learn more than you’ll ever wanted to know about how the British royal family works in this biography. Get ready to have your understanding about the house of Windsor flip-turned upside down. Let’s not split hairs, Harry’s autobiography is a cut above the rest. No matter where you stand on the royalty and their place in contemporary life, you’ll find this book to be a breath of fresh hair.