Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Growing up on the Mean Streets of Sesame

“Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away…” for many of you reading this those six words conjures up fond memories of childhood friends like Grover, Bigbird, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Bert and Ernie to name a few. It was a time of sweet innocence right? Not so, if you grew up watching the show between the years of 1969 and 1979. According to ratings guide the first ten years of the show recently released on DVD, carry a warning “Not suitable for children”. Who knew when our parents dropped us in front of the TV to watch The Count count that they were warping our young and impressionable minds.

What was wrong with Sesame Street, you might ask. Well here are a few of the reasons for the rating:
• The Cookie Monster didn’t eat a healthy diet and when he did Monsterpiece theatre he smoked a pipe!
• Bert and Ernie lived in a run down apartment.
• Oscar had an untreated mood disorder which caused him to be… wait for it… grumpy.
• People teased Bigbird because he was the only one to see Snuffleupagus
• Gordon took a little girl that he didn’t know back to his apartment (it was only to introduce the girl to his wife)
• And the set, it was a dirty and dingy inner city street.

Okay, I will grant that showing children going off with strangers is probably not the best behaviour to model but as for the rest of it… Give a break! The show was aimed at inner city children. The original concept was to show children that their lives could be made better and more enjoyable by learning. The setting and the human cast deliberately emulated an inner city environment so that the target audience could identify and possibly imagine themselves there. It also gave children in privileged surroundings a chance to see a place that was different from where the lived. Sesame taught tolerance and acceptance without the candy coating. It was fantasy with a touch of reality thrown in for good measure and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

The modern day Sesame Street looks nothing like the original. Like everything, the show has evolved and changed with the times. The set is bright and cheery. Everybody is happy all the time (even Oscar) and nobody teases Bigbird. Having grown-up myself in the latter half of the dark ages, having survived the mean streets of Sesame, I can’t help but wonder if today’s viewers are actually better off believing such an idealized environment really exists. If they are being set-up for a lifetime of disappointment that things will never be like they saw on T.V.

Reference: Sweeping the Clouds Away

Sesame Street: Old School, Vol. 1 - 1969-1974
Sesame Street: Old School, Vol. 2 - 1975-1979


  1. I really worry about kids today because they're being isolated from reality far too much and I can't see how it's good. What will they do when adversity strikes (and it will)? I wonder.

  2. People are always looking for some excuse to call something offencsive. In my opinion these people need to get a life and concern themselves with more important things like their own kids and what they are doing or if they really want to improve the world work on stopping war and famine.

    If we contiune to paint this sugar coated perfect world for our kids they are in for a rude awakening when mom and dad aren't there to shelter and protect them from the vicious world we live in. I intend to buy the old school sesame street dvd set and watch it WITH my daughter. If parents took the time to watch tv with their kids, kids would be able to ask questions and have them answered properly. If TV wasn't used as a babysitter so often parents would be aware of what their kids are being exposed to and we wouldn't have to make everything kids watch so unrealistic and mindless crack-adict-like, like teletubbies and BooBahs

  3. Wow, ironic, I was just looking for your contact info to send a muppet video on Stephen Harper - it's cartoon day!

    Thought you might like this Harper youtube video I did on the eve of the Bali climate conference.



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