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Sesame Street reaches mid-life

Sesame Street characters are known and loved across the world

“Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” Who doesn’t remember this song from your childhood, at least those of us who grew up with television? Our parents surely will since they listened to hours of the program while we were glued to the TV.
Sesame Street is celebrating their 40th anniversary this month having aired over 4,200 episodes since 1969. In honour of three generations of children’s programming, a street in New York was temporarily named for the show this month.
The show was originally created to find a way to use TV as an educational tool. When it first aired, with the creative genius of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Joe Raposo behind the scenes, it was immediately met with claims that it would shorten children’s attention spans. Forty seasons and 101 Emmy Awards later there is no evidence of the damage.
This inner city street has been home to the memorable characters: Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster and Grover. These characters all have unique perspectives and ways of communicating. They all manage to live in peace and harmony while setting an example for children. This wonderful mix of reality and fantasy has been the key to continual ratings as one of the top ten shows for kids over the years.
While not everyone agrees that TV should be used for education, I believe that the show has been stimulating young children’s minds, teaching everything from letter and word recognition, problem solving, and arithmetic to how to get along with each other. It promotes cultural understanding and often deals with real life situations such as death, divorce, and pregnancy. Joined by notable human personalities, the muppet characters delve into all of these issues with humour, music, and action designed to engage the young mind.
So why, even now as they celebrate their success, does there have to be controversy? Can’t we just leave the children alone to have fun? Over the years Sesame Street has been accused of encouraging homelessness (after all Oscar loves his garbage can), promoting witchcraft (Abby just had to transform that pumpkin), making eating disorders fun (just one more cookie…), and let’s not leave out the questionable relationship between Bert and Ernie. The latest – a blogger has claimed that public coffers (Sesame Street is produced by PBS with government assistance) should not be funding a show that promotes left-wing politics. Yes, Oscar started a news program, GNN, but another character said it wasn’t grouchy enough and she was going to watch POX. She even accused GNN of being ‘trashy’ (get it – trashy). The blogger said that this would mean children would think their parents were trashy if they watched CNN and encourages people to watch ‘left-wing’ FOX.
I’ve always enjoyed the subtle sense of humour in the show that appeals to adults which children might not understand. It gives parents a reason to join their children in their TV viewing activities. Many animated films appeal to adults for the same reasons. But I don’t seriously think that young minds are going to be manipulated or permanently damaged by the jokes. Sesame Street didn’t set my mind on gay marriage – weren’t Bert and Ernie roommates? I didn’t become obese because of Cookie Monster or move into a garbage can because of Oscar. And I certainly don’t choose my news programs based on the opinion of a muppet!
So let’s celebrate the success of children’s entertainment without politicizing it. After all not many among us can claim to forget the show when we bathe…..Rubber duckie you’re the one….