Friday, September 24, 2010

The SESAME STREET Controversy or How Elmo Destroyed SESAME STREET

Sesame Street is in the midst of a controversy right now. Some footage of singer Katy Perry singing a cleaned-up version of her song "Hot N Cold" with Elmo was released before the episode aired. A lot of parents saw the footage and complained, basically, that there was too much of Perry's cleavage showing. Sesame Street has now decided to pull the segment altogether. This has raised some controversy because in recent years the show has parodied such adult cable shows as True Blood and Mad Men and people didn't really complain about that. I don't think there were as many complaints about those shows for two reasons.

The first is that many parents of younger children don't really know what True Blood or Mad Men are. Those shows are cable shows and a lot of people with children don't have much time to devote to tv, especially shows that appear on premium cable networks (you have to pay more money each month to get AMC and even more for HBO). I know that those shows are available on DVD and members of those shows have graced numerous magazine covers, appeared on countless talk shows, and have multitudes of websites devoted to their characters. Still, unless you're an entertainment junkie or work in the industry, if you're a parent you really don't have much time for such drivel. You're too busy going to work, raising your kids, and taking care of your home. The shows you watch are probably mostly animated cartoons and educational shows. The magazines you read, if any, are more likely to be Good Parenting instead of Entertainment Weekly. The websites you visit are probably have lots of info about child-rearing and basic medical advice, not fan websites. You just don't have time so when you see a segment on Sesame Street called "True Mud" that's about a grouch who wants mud for a mud bath, you probably think, "That's kind of lame. I don't remember Oscar ever taking a mud bath. That wasn't a very good segment." You then never think anything of it. Now, if you happened to be an entertainment junkie or worked in the business, then when you see such a segment you would probably think it was clever, but risque for Sesame Street. Except, if you're a woman who watches one of those shows.

Which brings me to point two. The audiences of shows like True Blood and Mad Men are mostly women
(around 70%). People get very attached to their tv shows. I can remember as a kid my Mom was addicted for awhile to Days of Our Lives. Heck, even my grandma had a soap opera she used to watch all of the time until she forced herself to break that addiction. I've never missed an episode of Survivor. I get it. When you become attached to a particular show, you become protective of it. The majority of the people who watch True Blood are women so if you happen to have a child and are watching Sesame Street when a segment called "True Mud" airs, you're probably going to think, "Oh, how cute. They're parodying True Blood. How clever of Sesame Street." Since you're a fan of the True Blood, you know it's not a show that kids have any business watching and that even a parody of it shouldn't be airing on Sesame Street, but since you're a fan of the show you call it cute and clever.

Katy Perry is a pop singer who appears all over the place. She's doesn't appear for just a few weeks on a premium cable show. She's all on the talk shows, both morning and late night, of all the major networks. Her videos are some of the few that still play on MTV. She's seen on VH-1 and sang a song at the Kid's Choice Awards on Nickleodeon. Her face has been on all kinds of magazines. But, Katy Perry is female and for whatever reason, a lot of females seem threatened by her. So when Katy Perry appears on Sesame Street wearing a dress that female ice-skaters wear, people complain.

Personally, I think it's all a crock. Sesame Street shouldn't be doing parodies of "True Blood" or "Mad Men" and even if she is a pop-singer sensation, Katy Perry shouldn't ever appear on the show. I grew up with the Muppets. Some of my favorite shows of all time were The Muppet Show, Jim Henson's The Storyteller, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. The stuff that appears on Sesame Street now would never have even aired on a children's show. It might have gotten some play on The Muppet Show, but definitely not Sesame Street. Sesame Street was a safe place. Guest stars were actually rare on the show. The cast of characters was relatively small, just a few humans and a handful or two regular Muppets. Oh, and Cookie Monster ate cookies, not fruits and vegetables.

I think that changed whenever Elmo came on the scene. He's extremely annoying and somewhat obnoxious. He's the Barney Fife of the Sesame Street universe. Elmo didn't exist when I watched Sesame Street and I'm convinced the nature of the show changed when he came onto the scene. Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar, Grover, Cookie Monster, and the Count all had to step into the background and let Elmo take the spotlight. And take it he did, Elmo is all over Sesame Street now. Quite frankly, I think Elmo is representative of a great deal that's wrong with education and child-rearing in America. Elmo is allowed to run rampant all over the place. Sure, he's good-natured, polite, and tries to do the right thing, but he keeps popping up in places he shouldn't be. Elmo shouldn't be the center of attention. He shouldn't have his own segment and appear in the majority of the regular Sesame Street segments. He should be contained, disciplined so to speak. Instead, he's pretty much been given free reign, just like a lot of the kids in America today.

Anyway, last year while watching the three-year old son of a good friend of mine, I watched the first episode of Sesame Street that I had seen in over a decade. I was flabbergasted. The show had several regular features, including "Elmo's World", that were basically like mini- episodes. There was very little original animation and there were way too many guest stars (not including the "Elmo's World" actors there were 3 guest stars on the show that day). The quaint, simplistic, educational show of my childhood was gone. It remained in name only. The soul had been sucked away, replaced by a vapid void of hyperactivity and listlessness. And that is why Sesame Street now parodies a show like True Blood.

1 comment:

Emily Rose said...

It makes me sad to see how much that show has changed over the years. i grew up on The Street too and remember how I actually learned things from the show. I learned how to count in spanish and sign language. I guess our best thing to do is let our kids watch the old dvds if they even exist.