Saturday, October 03, 2015

As order longs for chaos

We're a bit obsessed, in my household, with Dahlia Lithwick's "Muppet Theory": her tongue-in-cheek (but totally convincing!) assertion that the world can be divided into two kinds of people: Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets. Here's Lithwick's initial distinction:

Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and--paradigmatically--Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer.

Order Muppets--and I'm thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harrassed by Grover at restaurants...--tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. 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. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet. So is Chief Justice John Roberts. It's not that any one type of Muppet is inherently better than the other. . . . It's simply the case that the key to a happy marriage, a well-functioning family, and a productive place of work lies in carefully calibrating the ratio of Chaos Muppets to Order Muppets within any closed system.

(But really, if you haven't read the whole essay, you should do it now.)

There's no doubt that I'm an Order Muppet and Cosimo is a Chaos Muppet, but upon first reading Lithwick's article I did feel a bit of a pang when I realized that Miss Piggy--whom I adored so much as a child that I dressed up as her for two Halloweens in a row--was a Chaos Muppet and thus Not My Type At All. But since part of Lithwick's theory is that Order Muppets tend to pair off with Chaos Muppets, I rationalized my enthusiasm as just an early sign of my life-long attraction to Chaos Muppets.

Recently, though, we bought a few DVDs of the original Muppet Show. After watching some episodes and finding my love for Piggy undiminished, I came up with a new theory: just as Tolstoy, according to Isaiah Berlin, was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog, so am I a Kermit who longs to be a Piggy.

So glad I could clear that up.


Susan said...

Well, in some parts of my life I'm an Order Muppet -- I try to alphebetize books and cds -- but in others, it's total Chaos.

But it does explain my shock when an administrator who is *definitely* an Order Muppet behaved like a Chaos Muppet the other day.

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

Yeah. I'm both a chaos Muppet and an order Muppet depending on the context.

Jeff S. said...

As a kid, I admired Kermit and always assumed I was an Order Muppet, but now that I'm older and live with a schoolteacher who spends all day keeping 150 teenagers in line, I find myself playing the necessary role, sometimes, of Chaos Muppet. It's a mystery to me how that happened, but I suppose Muppet types are relative rather than absolute. (One of the great unheeded lessons of Norse mythology seems to be: brace yourself, because there's always gonna be a Loki.)

Flavia said...

Yes (all)--I do think that these tendencies, like the four classifications in the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, can be relational. I haven't thought of this as much with my Muppet type, but I definitely see it with the MBTI. I've always thought that I react somewhat *against* the types I'm dealing with (or, to put it more positively, I act to be more complementary). Around introverts I can play the extrovert, and around people who are more rigid I can be more laid back.

Withywindle said...

I am an A-Flat Muppet on a Muppophone. I was told so in college.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

How I love that. Can an order muppet sometimes be possessed by the spirit of a chaos muppet? Just temporarily, for ten seconds or two hours? If so, that's me.

Doctor Cleveland said...

And sometimes, I am told, a Chaos Muppet is pressed into emergency Order Muppetry. Sometimes that's a disaster for everybody because the Chaos Muppet can't do it. Sometimes the Chaos Muppet can manage it, which is only a disaster for the Chaos Muppet.

Richard Russo's Straight Man is the tragedy of a Chaos Muppet who becomes department chair.

Renaissance Girl said...

Ah, Doctor Cleveland, I am that Chaos Muppet who must, perforce, put on the Order Muppet at work. I try to compensate by upping the Chaos in my nonwork life. And I read Straight Man once a year to keep my bearings.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Truth be told, RG, Flavia gave me a copy of Straight Man as a gift after I got tenure.

I'm not an Order Muppet. But I can play that role.

Veralinda said...

Order Muppet = Myers-Briggs J. Chaos Muppet = Myers-Briggs P. Is there more to it than that (I'll go read the essay now, of course).

Here's a wrench. I never liked Miss Piggy. I had a serious childhood crush on Kermit. But I am surely primarily an Order Muppet (granted, with a strong chaos streak). Now that I think of it, though, I married a Chaos Muppet who wears his order streak with great aplomb. Do I have it/us right?

Flavia said...


We were just discussing this, not five minutes ago!

There's some overlap with J/P, but it's not perfect. And most Ss, I suspect, are Order Muppets, whereas Ns could go either way.

But yes, I think you're more Order than Chaos; can't say for certain about your spouse.