Dark Crystal Skeksis

July 1, 2007 — It was only a matter of time before a Muppet would make its presence felt on O.T.I.S. I try to fit Muppets regularly into my personal life.  Discussions about God, meetings with my tax guy, first dates, funerals.  Don’t give me too much credit, though.  It’s not too hard.  Muppets are always relevant.

In this case, our topic at hand is one ugly Muppet, a phrase I totally need to slip into the common vernacular.  I’d finally then have something to say when one of my friends who are annoyingly further on in life show me pictures of their newborns.  So witness skekAyuk, the Skeksis Gourmand from Jim Henson’s film The Dark Crystal…glowering on the first floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  I know that’s a lot of information to take at once.  Let me break it down.

The Dark Crystal is a 1982 fantasy film populated completely by Jim Henson Muppet creations.  And not the darling furry type that sit on brick walls and teach kids the beauty of sharing.  I’m talking horrible creatures that hunker in the closets of those same kids and that would, without hesitation, shove their claws up the nether-orifices of the terrified tots for their own puppet show.

Plot synopses are overrated, so I’ll skip that, but the Skeksis are the villains of the Dark Crystal world.  Overall, although the film certainly has its flaws, where it completely succeeds, besides in the creature creation in which Jim Henson’s Creature Shop almost always succeeds, is in its inescapable and palpable eeriness.  The film exudes a perturbing alienness that grabs you by the hackles and forces you into its world head-first.  It’s an uncomfortable enough movie to watch at times because of its sheer strangeness that you almost have to watch it alone to avoid that queasy I-have-to-share-this-uncomfortable-memory-with-another-human-being-the-rest-of-my-life revelation.

 Personally, I remember watching it as a kid with my folks around.  The look of horror on my father’s face as the Skeksis ripped the accoutrements off one of their own like they were flaying it alive was all I needed to see to appreciate the movie.  I’ve been searching for that reaction from people ever since then.

All right.  So how did this otherworldly animatronic monster of a Muppet end up displayed in one of the country’s most hallowed of archival institutions?  Simple.  Jim Henson’s work is a cultural treasure.  As much so as any of the other important artifacts of American culture that are housed in the museum: Lincoln’s top hat, the original Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry, the Edison light bulb.  Last year, the Smithsonian hosted a temporary exhibition of some of Henson’s Muppet creations called Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson’s Legacy.

These included some of the original Sam and Friends, Kermit, the Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth, Rowlf the Dog, others.  It wasn’t a large exhibit, but it was an exhibit of Muppets. That is the important point. Most of the Muppets were displayed in a little alcove on the third floor; however, the Gourmand Skeksis (or skekAyuk, as later supplemental literature revealed his name to be…I’m sticking to Gourmand, though, because how often will I get to type that word in my life?) was prominently displayed on the first floor near the entrance to the museum along with an incomplete Mystic, another creature from the world of The Dark Crystal.

But the Gourmand Skeksis deserves that position in the museum because, well, it’s just that cool. To prove my point, Emmet from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was also on the first floor. Just that cool. Of course, they both share in common the fact that they needed break-through animatronic technologies to be fully realized (as opposed to mere fist-in-orifice techniques like the third-floor Muppets), but still, these were the first Muppets the museum wanted visitors to see. For some reason I really like the phrase, "third-floor Muppets."

Now, I admit, the Gourmand Skeksis is not the most menacing of the Skeksis in the movie.  In fact, I’d say it comes in dead last on, well, pretty much any type of scale.  But it still got into the Smithsonian.  That’s worth some kind of respect in my book.  I’ve also now personally met it, and am as a result a bit partial to it.  And, anyway, it’s still a Skeksi…I mean, Skekses…I mean, Skeksis.  I had to do more research for this article to figure out the proper usage of a completely fabricated term than I had to do for my actual Master’s thesis.  Just kidding.  Wikipedia all the way.  You can’t trust it for accuracy in important matters, but for random pop cultural ephemera?  It’s God’s finger on stone tablets.

So I went downtown and posed with a Skeksis.  And I kinda want the world to know.

Oh, and for the proverbial record, Microsoft Word’s spell-check feature believes you need to capitalize Muppet.  So do I.