Friday, December 14, 2007

Separated at Birth?

For a long time, I’ve wondered if former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Sesame Street’s Snuffleupagus were related. They have nearly identical runaway eyebrows—a homozygous recessive trait found in individuals native to extremely cold regions. Snuffleupagus was born on Wrangel Island, located in the Arctic Ocean, off the coast of the Russian Far East. (In recent years, the well-preserved remains of several snuffleupagi have been unearthed from Wrangel’s permafrost, making the remote island the richest archaeological Muppet site in the world.) Subzero temperatures are common to Wrangel Island, and the winters in Brezhnev’s native Ukraine can be harsh as well. In these hostile environments, overgrown eyebrows are vital to keeping the eyes warm and free of drifting snow. Thus, not only does the genetic propensity exist, but, taken together with the possibility that direct contact between Ukraine and the Russian Arctic occurred via a really poorly planned branch of the Silk Road, atavistic relation between Brezhnev and Snuffleupagus looms large.

Angry at Stalin’s treatment of hand-puppets and fearing a widening of anti-puppetism, Snuffleupagus escaped the Soviet Union and made his way to the United States via a Japanese fishing trawler in 1952, whereupon he requested political asylum. Though eventually granted resident status, Snuffleupagus—an aspiring actor—found himself quietly blacklisted because of the close proximity of his Wrangel mating ground to a Soviet weather station. After years of surviving on odd jobs in the Cold War '50s, he finally found work in the more liberal-minded '60s, becoming an extra on Days of our Lives. Several cigarette commercials followed. Then came Snuffleupagus’s big break: landing a cameo on an episode of Sesame Street in 1971, which, of course, grew into a recurring role. Ironically, Brezhnev assumed complete control of the communist party around this time, and most of Snuffleupagus’s early exchanges with Big Bird constituted diatribes on Soviet foreign policy, including this one, which aired March 12, 1972:

Big Bird: “Hi, Snuffleupagus!”

Snuffleupagus: “Ohhh, hello, Big Bird. Ohhh.”

Big Bird: “What’s wrong, Snuffleupagus?”

Snuffleupagus: “Ohhh, it’s those damned Soviets, Big Bird. Why don’t they get out of Czechoslovakia? Czech dissidents such as Václav Havel have clearly demonstrated a mandate for democracy. Damn that Brezhnev. Ohhh.”

Big Bird (whispering): “Stick to the script, you putz!"

Brezhnev publicly expressed contempt at Snuffleupagus’s frequent harangues, going so far as to call Snuffleupagus a “punk” during the SALT I talks in Moscow (although Pravda added that Brezhnev admired Grover). Thus, in addition to their startling physical resemblance, Snuffleupagus and Brezhnev possess the classic qualities of sibling rivalry.

Although the Kremlin still categorically refuses to release any information on Brezhnev’s DNA or medical history, and Snuffleupagus isn’t talking, I believe that the evidence is overwhelming.

(Photo of Leonid Brezhnev copyright Associated Press.)


Dave said...

I hear Stalin wasn't as rough on hand puppets as most think. It was just that he had very large, very cold hands.

Randy said...

Stalin indeed had large hands—the largest of any Soviet leader, according to my milkman—which came as quite a shock to a political system accustomed to Lenin’s tiny rat-like hands incapable of delivering a firm handshake or holding a pen to sign a treaty he never intended to honor anyway. (Lenin often had Trotsky forge his signature so as to avoid embarrassment, although he wasn’t thrilled that Trotsky would dot the i with a smiley face.)

Stalin, conversely, derived megalomaniacal confidence from his large, powerful hands, intimidating foreign dignitaries by squeezing their hand during a handshake until they caved to his demands (which is how he got most of the Balkans). Stalin intended to create a master race of large-handed Soviets that would eventually dominate the world, going so far as to order a “Hands Across the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” in 1947. Of course, coordinating enough people to hold hands across 6,000 miles was fraught with logistical problems, and the chain broke repeatedly in the Urals and Siberia when participants put their hands in their pockets to keep them warm. Stalin was—to say the least—not pleased, and had all Soviet pants recalled and the pockets sewn shut.

Pat said...

Does this mean the Soviets were imaginary?

Randy said...

No, but it does illustrate—for all their bluster—how technologically lacking were the Soviets compared to the Americans. A perfect example was Nikita Khrushchev: Remember that infamous incident when Khrushchev removed his shoe and banged it threateningly on the table? (Actually, he did that on at least two separate occasions.) Well, while the Soviets were blindly utilizing footwear at essentially the same level as that of an ape, American scientists were developing the shoe’s potential in dynamic and far-reaching ways—ultimately bringing it to fruition in Get Smart and tipping Cold War intelligence permanently in the United States’ favor.