Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Growing Up on Sesame Street

If you have been following the changing Google characters this past week you know that something has been coming. Big Bird. Elmo. The Cookie Monster. Oscar the Grouch. Bert and Ernie. And then this morning, the entire cast of Sesame Street. Because 40 years ago today, the Children's Television Workshop aired the very first episode of Sesame Street. And people of my generation, a little bit older and a little bit younger, grew up on Sesame Street. Actually, that's inaccurate; almost everyone younger has grown up on Sesame Street. If you are over 45 you probably missed the phenomenon of watching it in the mornings (and am I incorrect in thinking it may have come on in the afternoons when I was a kid), counting along with the Count, watching Oscar the Grouch be crabby and the Cookie monster be ravenous. And, of course, all those people who thought that Big Bird was delusional for making up this imaginary elephant, Mr. Snuffulpugus (and when was it, exactly, that the producers decided that everyone could actually SEE him? There was a certain magic to knowing that the adults were wrong--that Big Bird was NOT inventing him--that he was real. It was reassuring, to me, because I also had conversations with people no one else could see as a child, and I was sure they were real and that adults just lacked the imagination to see).

Anyway, Happy 40th Birthday Sesame Street! I was also going to write about how this was a really breakthrough show on PBS and in the world of Children's TV programming because of its urban center (NYC), because of its diverse cast of character (Luis, Maria (I think they eventually marry on the show), Gordon, Mr. Hooper), because of the way it embraces difference and change. But I think I'll just let you all see for yourself with this clip celebrating the 40th season, especially since none other than First Lady Michelle Obama starred in the season premiere this morning:


Marissa said...

The producers decided to make Mr. S. visible to everyone when child psychologists became concerned about the implications for abused children. Big Bird's constant attempts to tell the adults around him about Snuffy, and their continued disbelief, was thought to be a bad model for children who might want to tell trusted adults about abuse they had suffered, because those kids might get the idea that the adults would simply not believe them . . . just like no one believed Big Bird. It's a shame Bird had to lose his imaginary friend, but it was for a good cause.

Genepool said...

I was 2 years old when Sesame Street premiered, the perfect age to absorb the content they were offering. I learned to count to 20 in two languages, a good portion of the alphabet and that if you carried too many cream pies of ANY sort, you were going to drop them on yourself. I can't imagine my childhood without the characters Jim Henson and company created those early years.

I even remember being sad years later when I learned that Mr. Hooper had passed away.

Thanks to Marissa for clarifying the whole Snuffy mystery for me. I'd always wondered at what point and why everyone could see him all of a sudden.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! May you have many more.

Jennifer said...

I echo Genepool's thanks for explaining the change with Snuffulpugus--makes total sense. And Genepool, I was also really sad when I learned that Mr. Hooper died--I think they did a piece about grief (I think it was Big Bird who was really having a hard time accepting his death) which is both heavy material but also necessary material for kids to process.

Yay for Sesame Street!