Monday, November 19, 2007

‘Old School’ Sesame Street Too Much for Today’s Kids?

I was a “Sesame Street” kid. Absolutely loved the show. Loved the grouchiness of Oscar, the insatiably nutty appetite of Cookie Monster, the silliness of Grover and everything about Kermit. (I wasn’t keen on Big Bird though, wasn’t a huge fan of the "invisible" Snuffleupagus either.) So when I heard that the first two seasons of the ground-breaking children’s television show was coming to DVD, I wondered how my memories of the program would jive with reality.
That was my initial question, until I read two reviews of the recently released DVD set which say that the set includes -- get this -- a warning that the DVDs “are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Are they kidding?

A Washington Post reviewer snarkily remarked: “Since the [DVD] booklet encourages parents and tots to watch together, it's unclear why this disclaimer is necessary. Could the Sesame Workshop leaders be concerned that today's kids might realize Cookie Monster wasn't always the healthy eater he's now become?”

But the real examination as to why the old “Sesame Street” episodes wouldn’t “suit the needs of today’s preschool child,” came from a New York Times’ TV reviewer who asked the show’s executive producer what was up with the warning. Given that today’s preschool child lives in a world where sexualized advertisements are everywhere, where people swear profusely in public -- and in front of children -- and where we’re constantly told that children learn about adult subjects at much younger ages than they used to when we were kids, I was very curious as to what the producer would say.

When the Times’ Virginia Heffernan posed the question, she said: “[Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente] 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, then we dropped the parody altogether.’”

Parents also added that, “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now.”

The best part of Heffernan’s sarcastic essay was her description of the early “Sesame Street” episodes:

“What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on the fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.”

Heffernan observed, “The old ‘Sesame Street’ is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper ‘Elmo’s World’ started.”

Not for the faint of heart. And not, apparently, for today’s kids who too often exist in a bubble-wrapped, safety-crazed world in which some folks actually think they need to be shielded from, of all things, “Sesame Street.” Lest the children acquire an unhealthy pipe smoking habit.


bmxmom said...

Wow! That is insane! I would let my son watch the old Sesame Street with no problem :)

marie79 said...

That was really crazy that tv show was the best and still is and i'm sure my boy and my girl would love it 100%, they are just smoking pot or something!!!! =)

LuvMyBoyz said...

Wow! That is just crazy!

Stephany said...

Heffernan's essay is funny but a bit disingenuous, I think. I'd like to read a serious interview with the producers of Sesame Street about that warning -- I think it's more a matter of the material being kind of boring for kids today.

amy said...

i think what we have now is a paranoid society, where everything is to be feared, except for the reality that is happening around us. I am from the Philippines, and I learned my English through Sesame Street. Sure I thought Oscar was cross, Cookie Monster was a glutton, and Grover was simply dumb...but hey, they are monsters! They are not right to be with people in the first place, so who would expect them to do the right thing??? What they taught me, was what not to child psychology in reverse. Not to mimic them, coz i would be like them, a monster. Hmmm...very big thoughts for someone who were just learning my alphabet and numbers. But that's what i learned. When I wasn't observing my table manners...I think of Cookie Monster, and I decided not to be like him, so I would eat properly. When I am grouchy or when I didn't pick after I play, I remember Oscar. I try to be nicer, tidier so people would like me and would love to have me around. When I would say something silly and would be slow in my lessons, I would think that I wouldn't want to be like Grover, who can't seem to get anything right. I would love to be like Maria, who everyone loves and try to be friends with. Or like bob who sings well, and plays the piano (I started lessons but the talent was elusive) or like Susan who was a nurse. I never wanted to be like the monsters in SEsame Street. And I didn't grow up like them. I just wonder if Hefferman, got the message. Or, didn't she? Hahaha