The M is for Monster


If you grew up in the seventies as I did, you’ll know that Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show is truly a thing of wonder. As a nursery schooler, I laughed along uncomprehendingly with the lovelorn antics of a bottle-blond sow. I sighed with only vague boredom as the world’s friendliest frog sang his little heart out. And then, without warning, night after night after night, I was locked in a laboratory with the single most wretched monstrosity ever created, a cylindrical-headed horror screaming desperately, unendingly, a solitary nonsensical word: meep.

This is Dr. Honeydew’s lab. This is the nightmare of Beaker.

Beaker is terrifying, and mixing him in unassumingly with his sweet, whimsical, non-terrifying co-workers is, frankly, unfair. I would actually have to hide my face when Beaker came on the television, it was the only reflex quick enough to bat him out of my line of sight. And this was as little as two months ago. A quiet evening of snuggling with my fiancé in front of the TV took a wildly disturbing turn as a Best of The Muppet Show commercial came on. My entire body went tense, dreading a glimpse of those dead eyes, that flailing mouth. Why didn’t we just switch the channel? “The Muppets were great!” explains fiancé. And, I’m almost thirty.

Also unfair, I am one of only two known people who recognize this aberration for what it is. Luckily, my twin sister happens to be the other. In childhood, no words could convey the terror in our stomachs. In adulthood, we try to explain why Beaker needs to be eradicated. Listeners only shrug, humor us, or unbelievably, call him “cute”. Once, we walked into a local eatery, and suspended above the front counter was a miniature plush Beaker. How this was to promote food digestion I sincerely failed to grasp, but patrons went about their day. As if we were the only ones who could even see it, like two hapless Haley Joel Osments.

Perhaps you, too, do not understand. You think, sure, he’s a Muppet, aren’t they all sort of fucked up? No. Beaker is different.

The Muppets were as loved and popular as they were because of one special ingredient. Essentially, Henson took some lifeless materials, gave them a recognizable form, and then added what few marionette/puppets had – humanity.   Kermit admits he’s a little lonely, Statler and Waldorf argue but love one another, Animal has Adult ADD, and so on. But we were never meant to identify with Beaker as we were with the others. We were never meant to love him.

Beaker was created for one purpose only: to be Honeydew’s guinea pig in his physically torturous and mentally devastating experiments. For this reason, Beaker was given nothing more than the bare bones of human resemblance. His head is a toilet paper tube wrapped in felt, a test-tube in which to mix bad chemicals. It is the reaction of these chemicals that force his obscenely large, unblinking eyes to bulge to the brink of explosion. His mouth is a cruel slit in perpetual frown, flapping uncontrollably in terrified, unarticulated frustration. His shock of red hair is unkempt, suggesting self-hatred.   And his meeping; his meeping seems to say, “I could kill you with my bare, unsettlingly large hands, and not even comprehend what I’ve done because I am an offense to God, a Frankenstein’s monster who has no soul.”

Most insidious of all, this beast is dressed in a lab coat. A lab coat. Pol Pot in a tutu is still Pol Pot.

There are two truly horrifying moments in the Beaker mythology, and both are a direct result of Honeydew’s malicious experimentations. In the Muppet Movie, which my dad took us to see when it first came out, Beaker is made into a giant Beaker. There’s not much I can tell you after that. Another time, Beaker is cloned, and then there are a hundred Beakers running around, screaming, flailing, begging for a swift and painless death. This happened either in the TV show or in a nightmare. I, of course, refuse to do any research whatsoever to confirm.

For my own sanity, I have done my best to fill in the blanks of Beaker’s existence; I have tried to humanize him. For example, instead of believing Honeydew keeps him in a straw-lined cage to nestle in his own droppings, I try to imagine he has a real home life. He could… live alone in a filthy, windowless bachelor apartment. Instead of being unworthy of love, he could have a girlfriend — locked in a trunk and drawing flies. He could chug cough syrup and never change his underwear, or screech at neighbors through the key hole as he shovels down rancid Chinese food pulled from a dumpster. If I ever had the chance to meet Beaker, look him in the eye, shake his hand, I imagine I would run away as fast as possible, and that he would run after, sprinting at an inhuman speed, catching up then running along side me, screaming screaming screaming at me with his vulgar, upside-down smile, his swollen, glaring eyes…

And yet, despite all my efforts to think of him as “human”, Beaker’s image still makes my guts turn inside out. I guess there’s nothing I can do. Beaker needs to be eradicated. Thank you for your time.

(Published  originally in Puppet Terror Magazine, 1 June 2003; reprinted in the LA Alternative Press, 10 October 2003)



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