When I wrote “Stuffing” for an online con organized by the late great PG Holyfield (RIP, we miss you), it was supposed to be a ridiculously unapologetic parody driven by my anger over certain comments from Mitt Romney regarding PBS and Sesame Street. The asshole didn’t even have his facts straight about funding. But I digress.
While writing it, I realized I was touching on something regarding economics and the state of America’s ghettos. I know, I shouldn’t get all political, but it’s the truth. What happens when a business that employs nearly everyone in the community goes out of business? No one has a job. And after their funds run out because there are no new jobs to have in the community, crime runs rampant. People do what they have to do to survive. And I guess Oscar’s world was a mirror of that.
Regardless, “Stuffing” was completely outrageous and I had a blast writing it. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted them to be horrified. I wanted to tweak the noses of my childhood heroes and wallow in the absurdity of celebrity vs “reality.” “Stuffing” was an awesome vehicle for that. What I didn’t expect was its popularity.
After so many Fiendlings wrote to me how they wanted another story, I decided to create another as a Fiendmas present. My second foray into Oscar’s world resulted in “Deep Fried,” a caustic yarn that not only took on Sesame Street and The Muppets, but also focused on Fraggles. In other words, I went all out. I wanted to bring in everything that Jim Henson made me love, all the beautiful things I learned as a child while watching his creations interact, tell stories, and sing. Why would I want to do that?
Because for middle class America, and especially more wealthy Americans, Sesame Street was blase. It had been replaced by the fucking Veggie Tales, Blues Clues, and all the other shit shows out there. Sorry if you like those, but this is my opinion. Bite me.
Sesame Street was the ghetto. I know HBO is in the process of gentrifying it (don’t get me started on that) and all that will change over time just as the inner cities of today rarely match the inner cities of the 90s. Progress moves us forward, and those that don’t like the new direction wallow in nostalgia and even false memories.
I think I loved Sesame Street as a child because it was the ghetto, although I wasn’t old enough to understand that at the time. The inhabitants of Sesame Street didn’t live for their flashy cars, their large houses, or what they could buy. They just were. They had problems and they solved them.
When I lived in Canada, I watched it religiously. It was the only place I saw non-white people. Sesame Street, whether it meant to or not, provided me with a larger view of the world. And for a kid who was reviled for being American in the wake of the Vietnam Conflict, it was something I clung to.
I know these feelings and memories are experienced through the fog of nostalgia, but that doesn’t make them less important to me. I’m not the old man on the lawn screaming at the kids that their new stuff sucks, but I wanted to imagine a world where the soul of Henson’s creations, and his intentions, were forgotten and replaced by greed, the need for narcissistic distraction, and the hopelessness that comes with addiction.
So while The Street started out as something non-political, it became very much so for me. I did my best to include social commentary that didn’t preach. I used Oscar and his somewhat faulty brain to view the world. Oscar would make the occasional ironic observation, but for the most part, I let the characters speak for themselves as they wandered the rubble that had become their home.
The Street was a gift to the Fiendlings as well as to myself. I could make horror funny. I could make you wince at what had become of the puppet world. I could also stab the heart of ridiculous celebrity and the filth it often hides. I could comment on gentrification, the manipulation of religion for material gain, gang warfare, and every other little tidbit I could cram in there. It was fun. I visited all the neurosis of modern America upon bits of felt and stuffing.
After writing the third installment, “Chicken Feet,” I asked the Fiendling community “If I make this a book, will you buy it?” I received so many “shut up and take my money!” responses that I said “okay. Let’s do it.”
From the monies collected for the trade paperback and audiobook, I donated $2.00 to the Sesame Workshop. The final total? After I kicked in some additional funds and as the results of some auctions, the submitted donation was $500.00. Not too shabby.
Keep in mind, The Street cost me money to create, not to mention time, a good portion of my vocal cords, and the constant worry that someone named Disney would come knocking on my door. But I had a defense: parody.
And yes, parody is a defense against claims you’ve stolen someone’s idea, universe, etc, and modified it to corrupt the original intent. Sure, that works. But the problem is this: I violated someone’s copyright in the process.
Unbeknownst to me, characters can be claimed via copyright, which makes sense if you’re not a complete idiot like me. Guess what? I’m an author. Copyright is the only thing protecting my work. So what gives me the right to trample on someone else’s creation if I don’t want others to do the same to my own? We are all hypocrites in some fashion; I’ve never met a person who isn’t. But when I find myself committing hypocrisy, I consider it to be something I need to change. Either my logic is faulty or I didn’t understand the big picture. In the case of The Street, both were in play.
So I’m here to mea culpa to the public at large. I don’t fear being sued for monetary damages. While loved by many, The Street never made me rich or even enough money to pay for more than editing/artwork for my other indie titles. Suing me would be a big mistake for the biggies. But that doesn’t mean I should wag my tongue at them.
Because I didn’t understand I was violating copyright, because I didn’t understand what that meant, and because I’m not going to knowingly be a hypocrite to the very laws that protect my own work, I must say farewell to Oscar’s world with a tear and pangs of regret.
There are ways I could change The Street to make it less lawless. I could modify the names of the characters, throw away all the references to Henson, and completely gut a lot of the things that could be claimed as violation. But here’s the thing: I’ve no interest in doing so. None. Not a goddamned jot.
I’m a full-time author now. I have to focus on works that actually pay my bills, and The Street was never going to be one of those. To be honest, part of the fun of writing the series of stories was the joyful destruction of my own childhood idols. Changing the names, throwing away references, inside jokes, and the like, are anathema. The very idea depresses me and I deal with enough of that on a daily basis as it is.
So we’re done. That’s it. No more. Those of you that found me or supported my work because of The Street, I thank you for doing so. I’ll understand if this decision rankles some of you and you choose to quit supporting me on Patreon or refuse to purchase my books. That’s fine. I loved the rabid fandom for these tales and y’all made it fun for me to write them. I’m glad you enjoyed them. I hope you laughed as much as you cringed.
Somewhere out there on the internet, I’m sure someone will keep a copy or two of the entire audiobook or the ebooks or both. Their distribution is beyond my control now, and that’s okay too. Like I said, I doubt I’ll ever get in trouble for creating Oscar’s world and I have no money to make lawsuits worth the expense.
I imagine some confused potential patron will visit my site looking for the podcasts and the links to purchase the series. They’re gone, folks. I’ve taken them down. And they’re not coming back. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.
I’ll miss Oscar. Perhaps in the future, an Oscar-like character will appear in his own universe of MY making and I’ll damned well do what I want with him. Hopefully that will happen once I get my financial footing stabilized. Hopefully.
For those of you that loved The Street, I thank you. I’ve always and will always respect the works of Jim Henson, the Sesame Workshop, and even the damned-blasted Muppets (fuck you, Disney) as well as all the spinoffs from those creations. And I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the grouch in the trashcan, maybe because that’s me drinking Tuaca while watching the world around me descend into inexplicable madness.