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Capitalism generally refers to an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned, and capital is invested in the production, distribution and/or other trade of goods and services for profit. It has been a key means of industrialization across the globe, and during both the Industrial Revolution and the Cold War, underwent much scrutiny in terms of the private ownership of capital and the role of the worker, leading to the rise of Communism. Capitalism is generally considered the main economic system of the "free world," and in the United States of America, its power is displayed daily through consumerism and its ally, advertising.
Within the Muppet universe, the treatment of capitalism is often contradictory. Capitalism and industrialization at the expense of the working class and the individual is a frequent motivation for antagonists in Muppet movies. Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie is a key example. His desire to expand his chain by coercion and advertising overshadows and indeed ignores the fact that the means of production goes through frogs' limbs. Rachel Bitterman and her ruthless attempts to destroy the Muppet Theater in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie express the same concept, with the alternate-universe Bitterman Plaza even housing a Doc Hopper's French Fried Frog Legs. An earlier example can be found in the late 19th Century of The Muppet Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge, though not an industrial capitalist himself, exploited the attendant developments and particularly the rise of mercantilism to seize assets and land, becoming a tenement landlord, and abusing his pre-unionization staff and clerk.
In contrast, there is the utopian vision of Sesame Street, where economic reality is seldom addressed and where despite the presence of several thriving businesses, residents seem to rely more heavily on a general barter system, trading rubber duckies and bottlecap collections for goods. Years earlier, however, Jim Henson critiqued the lot of the worker in a capitalist system in Time Piece, sharply satirizing the hectic pace and mindless labor involved in the American workplace as well as the role of consumerism in affecting the family unit.
Still other productions openly celebrate capitalism. Apart from the commercials, the Muppet Meeting Films, tailored to the needs of industry and big business, are the most blatant of such paeans. Leo in particular is the spokesman for modern capitalism and earning "an honest buck," in contrast to the cynical Grump who may well have closet Bolshevik sympathies. The meeting film "Sell! Sell! Sell!" through its very title sums up the philosophy underlying these works.
- In a Wilkins Coffee commercial, Wilkins, in Soviet Russia, asks for Party Line Coffee. Wontkins suggests Wilkins Coffee, and is upbraided as a traitor for selling "capitalist coffee." Wilkins then surreptitiously orders two pounds of Wilkins, to be sent through the back door. This commercial, itself an enticement to consumerism, thus suggests that the triumph of market capitalism over regulated communism is inevitable.
- When introducing the audio commentary on the Muppet Treasure Island DVD, Gonzo remarks, "I can't believe these people paid extra for this." Rizzo replies, "Yeah. Don't you just love capitalism?"