Monday, August 29, 2011

Best friends, not bed partners

I have to admit, I have never been a fan of Sesame Street.

Not as a child; not for my kids; not at all.

Why, you ask?

I simply couldn't relate.

Inner city life, apartment buildings, a store on the corner where people met and chatted wasn't the world I grew up in. I lived out on Long Island. I had a duck farm less than a mile from my house.

The strip mall with the drug store, grocery and department store was about 1/4 mile away. No one gathered there to chat. Kids hung out there to get in trouble; I was never allowed!

Sesame Street wasn't a show meant for me. It was a show meant for inner city kids whose parents worked full-time, or couldn't speak English because they were immigrants. It had an even more narrow focus at its inception; it was a show meant for inner city New Yorkers, specifically.

It wasn't a bad show. It just wasn't a universally appealing show, although the puppets and their human counterparts were very likable.

But, that quickly changed once someone realized the show's potential social scope. It became a vehicle, similar to what has happened in public school arena, ripe to be hijacked by an agenda. The tenor of the show changed in the1980's from ABC's, and Bob talking about being neighbors, to social issues and commentary mixed in with some flashy letters, numbers and street savvy puppets. It even took on the quality of a soap opera, when it married off two of it's favorite characters, Luis and Maria, in 1988. The episode addresses wedding jitters, and Luis even sings a song about running away from the wedding. It depicts a roof top ceremony with a man in a Roman collar reciting vows (no specific religion is mentioned); a ceremony where the woman is in love and the man has commitment phobia. How exactly does the alphabet and counting numbers fit into this social scenario?

Celebrity became the factor in achieving and maintaining its audience, as well. The show allowed for outspoken celebrities with illicit values to be featured in its episodes. Tolerance became the battle cry for a show that was founded to help kids learn the rudiments of education. It pushed the social envelope, a barrier that, as the years passed, would become thin as balsa wood to crack.

And what was once an innocent idea with noble intent, lead by a board of directors whose head was a Harvard PhD with the goal to provide children a level of early intervention in education, has morphed into the playground for the morally corrupt.

Why shouldn't Bert and Ernie by gay? Why shouldn't they get married? After all, so many of us know children whose parents are gay married couples, don't we? Wouldn't an enormous number of children benefit from having their life situation portrayed as being typical?

Not really. Only 3.5% of the nations population is gay according to a recent UCLA study. Again, we go back to the issue of universal appeal. This particular topic would be foreign to nearly all of the children in the target demographic, ages 2-4 yrs.

Chuck Colson, at breaks down exactly why Bert & Ernie should not get married; why it is just too large a concept for the developmental age of the audience; and why it is a total misconception of friendship. He, and those he quotes, make excellent arguments. And, while Colson's story does suggest that the powers that be at Sesame Street have decided to leave Bert & Ernie's characters as they are -- just best friends -- stating as their reason that as puppets they don't have a sexual orientation, that's where they stop.

Sesame Street doesn't take the opportunity to unequivocally discount the idea of a gay married couple ever being portrayed in their cast. It wouldn't be any great surprise if somewhere in the future human characters develop to reflect this politically charged social agenda. It just isn't going to be cleverly introduced and made manifest through the most obvious choice of puppet characters who have a presumed sexual history together as roommates.

Can you believe that this discussion is emanating from children's educational programming!

Ultimately, after all these years, nothing has changed. Sesame Street wasn't a show I could identify with as a kid, and I certainly don't identify with it now.

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