Explaining Muppet Theory: Are You An Ernie Or A Bert?

Jun 16, 2012
Originally published on June 16, 2012 12:22 pm

Most of the time, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick covers the Supreme Court. She's been doing that for the last 13 years. But recently, you may have seen her name floating around in connection with the piece she recently wrote that she discusses with Scott Simon on Saturday's Weekend Edition.

In short, Lithwick posited that the world can be separated into what she calls Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets. Ernie versus Bert. Cookie Monster versus Kermit. Gonzo versus Sam the Eagle. As she said at Slate, it's the difference between those who are "a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs" and those who are "neurotic" and "sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders."

As she explains, she believes that this theory explains how to create successful workplaces, marriages and — yes — appellate courts. It even explains the behavior of world leaders. You have to get the right balance between Chaos and Order to make everything work, and the Muppets — er, people — have to be in the right roles.

Otherwise, things get entirely too chaotic. Or is it too orderly? At any rate, listening to her discuss Muppets with Scott Simon is just right.

So we ask you, as we must: What kind of Muppet are you?

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It's only human nature to look for ways to explain ourselves to ourselves. Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate magazine, has introduced a new one - Muppet Theory: a Unified Theory of Muppet Types.

Dahlia Lithwick joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: And please tell us what Muppet theory is.

LITHWICK: Well, it has been long known in my marriage that the key to a good marriage is quickly identifying which of you is the order Muppet, in the manner of Bert...

ERIC JACOBSON: (As Bert) Oh hi, Ernie.

LITHWICK: ...or Kermit...

STEVE WHITMORE: (As Kermit) Hi, all.

LITHWICK: ...or Beaker.

WHITMORE: (As Beaker) Me, me, me, ma ma ma.

LITHWICK: And which of you is the chaos Muppet. That's the one who looks like Cookie Monster or Ernie. He's generally found in a cloud of cookie crumbs and little, flaming things.

DAVID RUDMAN: (as Cookie Monster) Cookies.

LITHWICK: And then once you know which of you is the chaos Muppet, and which of you is the order Muppet, it all sorts from there. You'll never argue again.

SIMON: Yeah. You've covered U.S. Supreme Court for many years and insist that this Muppet Theory, you know, has helped you see the court in a whole new way.

LITHWICK: It's true. Many years ago, I wrote an article saying that Justice Stephen Breyer was a lot like Grover, and that Justice Antonin Scalia was a lot like Oscar the Grouch; and that once you understood that, the whole - sort of dialectic between them is resolved. It's not about strict construction or textualism or activism. It's just about which Muppet you are.

SIMON: Can we get you to extend your Muppet vision to something like the European debt crisis?

LITHWICK: I can. Once you start thinking in terms of Muppet typology - really, everything is explained readily. For instance, earlier this week when there was an enormous public dustup about David Cameron inadvertently leaving his small child in a pub for some time, everybody else was trying to determine whether if that was right or wrong, and what it all meant. Now, I just thought to myself, chaos Muppet. That explains everything.

You can sort of see Merkel, for instance, in Germany as a classic order Muppet. And so you can really start to see all of Europe as an array of chaos Muppets doing battle with order Muppets, for control of the Muppet world.

Someone asked me today - again, it's important to realize I've covered the court for 13 years, and nobody has ever asked me anything interesting. But someone asked me today about biblical characters, and whether you could sort biblical characters into chaos and order Muppets. So that might be my follow-up piece.

SIMON: Dahlia Lithwick - senior Muppet correspondent for Slate magazine, who also covers the Supreme Court. Thanks so much for being with us.

LITHWICK: Thank you very much for having me.

SIMON: You certainly have made us see the world differently.

LITHWICK: I fear that that is true. I just - mahna mahna.



SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.