Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No wonder you're so messed up

Yep, your parents screwed you up. "Sure," you say. "But, I already knew that." Well, that may be true but the cause of it might surprise you. It was Sesame Street!

The first two volumes of the show have been released on DVD and include the warning "These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child."

Umm, what? Intended for grown-ups? But, we all watched them when we were kids and I think I turned out ok. I'm a college graduate, I'm not a sociopath, I know my letters and numbers, I share!

Let's figure out what the problem is:
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

Snuffleupagus is visible only to Big Bird; since 1985, all the characters can see him, as Big Bird’s old protestations that he was not hallucinating came to seem a little creepy, not to mention somewhat strained. As for Cookie Monster, he can be seen in the old-school episodes in his former inglorious incarnation: a blue, googly-eyed cookievore with a signature gobble (“om nom nom nom”). Originally designed by Jim Henson for use in commercials for General Foods International and Frito-Lay, Cookie Monster was never a righteous figure. His controversial conversion to a more diverse diet wouldn’t come until 2005, and in the early seasons he comes across a Child’s First Addict.

First, of all, I loved "Monsterpiece Theater." Who would have even known that Masterpiece Theater existed without that? Despite the indoctrination I have never once in my life eaten a pipe. It doesn't even sound good to me!

Have we really gotten to the point where even Sesame Street is bad for kids? How will we survive when kids can't even be exposed to the best show ever made for children because a monster loves cookies and Oscar suffers from crippling depression and anger issues? It's really sad that we have to stick them in front of the Teletubbies for nonsensical cooing instead of introducing them to such great clips as this:

This is what made Sesame Street great. Here's a kid coloring just like we did and she looks at her crayon and wonders about it just like we did so suddenly there it is shown in a way that kids can think through how it's working on their own. And the soundtrack is a song by the Who (may not actually be by the Who because I'm a lazy blogger who eschews things like checking my facts).

Have the Teletubbies ever done anything that cool? Of course not. Because it's bland television with none of the heart that people like Jim Henson put into Sesame Street.

I just worry that kids don't get any real experiences anymore. And it's not like a television show, even one as amazingly good and culturally relevant as Sesame Street, is exactly what I'm talking about but it's a pretty clear example that things just ain't the same as they used to be.



Blogger Shawn said...

Oh man, I want to see that clip so bad, but I'm forbidden from anything Sesame Street related at work, for just the same reasons as mentioned above. Is it the crayon factory thing? One of my favorites - and also made crayons look amazingly delicious to eat.

Do the descriptions of those early sesame street shows not make you want to see them even MORE? Something about mixing childhood nostalgia with adult awareness that has me simultaneously intrigued and creeped out. I think those shows would also give a very clear picture into the true creativity and motivation that was one of my childhood heroes, Jim Henson. A lot of why his creations are so beloved are thatwhen he started out, he loaded his characters with a full spectrum of truly human traits, that included sadness, confusion, loneliness, and insecurity (along with sharp, biting humor, zany hyper activity, and true affection) - it wasn't some market- tested, homogenized, child-proof fluff that appealed to the broadest audience with the least amount of unique characteristics.

I have a lot more to say about Sesame Street, our generation's childhood years, and raising kids in emotionally antiseptic environments, but there are mezzanines to be designed. Perhaps this weekend....

1:07 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I'm so glad you commented, Shawn. I definitely was thinking of you as I was writing this.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Neil Cicierega said...

Any idea what the name of the Who song in that clip is? I've been trying to track down a better copy of that song for a while now!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Yeah, so apparently I didn't do my fact checking and just took someone else's word that was written by the Who. I can't actually confirm that anywhere so take it for what it's worth. Not much.

2:23 PM  

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