I confess that I have never been a Sesame Street fan. My mother was a woman who did not rely upon outside sources to teach her infant about words, shapes and numbers. I was utilizing fully structured sentences by eighteen months of age (as in “Yes, more milk” instead of the proverbial “baaaaaaaa” that some babies and toddlers scream in order to procure a sip of liquid.) By the time I was two, I could not only differentiate between the “yellow ball” and the “purple triangle” but could spell those words.
Perhaps it is due to my mother actually using the phrase, “Honey, can you differentiate between…” or perhaps it was because she always spoke to me in a mature fashion?
Suffice to say, I never watched Sesame Street in my own home. I found it dull. I could not comprehend why the characters on the idiot box (I called it a “tell vision” because I continually told it the answers but it kept asking the same stupid questions) did not grasp the very basics that I had already mastered.
My Sesame Street experience stemmed from those odd times when my mother had an important errand to run. I was left with our next-door neighbor and her children. Dall and I were both four, while his sister Allison was much younger. The very memory brings to mind sweetened apple juice bottled up in those damned Tupperware primary blue- and red-coloured sippy cups. (I had been using a regular glass since being weaned.)
“One of these things is not like the other” as the song goes. A screen split into four quarters, three quarters containing a similar theme. The odd corner was glaringly opposite. The child (or perhaps infantile adult) was expected to guess which “thing” was not the same. I can recall a sound spanking in punishment simply because I called Dall a “dummy” for totally overlooking the fact that three quarters were filled with bathing suit clad people whilst one quarter had a guy in a ski suit.
The Count was cool although I never understood why he was so proud of himself for reaching the predetermined number of the day. Even Big Bird could count that high if pressed. The Cookie monster was obnoxious. There was an animated typewriter that rolled across the screen (“Nu ne nu ne nu”) that would capture my attention at times. Kermit’s “Muppet News Flash” was always something to watch, as I loved the character (I later joined my father in becoming a devout “Muppets” fan.) I don’t recall cracking much of a smile over Oscar, Bert and Ernie (and for the record, I thought those “room mates” were like that nice couple of gentlemen down the street, with their white rugs and furniture and kissing on the lips.)
If I have one gleaming thing to say about Sesame Street it is this: the show taught millions of American kids during a time when the average parent was too busy to teach their child anything. It helped them better their reading and reasoning skills. It entertained even as it educated. It presented everything from the alphabet to Mr. Hooper’s death in a way that did not patronize or insult children (unless of course they were children raised by my mother.)
In the 1980’s, Sesame Street jumped the shark with its introduction of the character “Elmo.” (For those who do not understand this term, it is a metaphor that denotes the tipping point where a show has surpassed its peak with viewers, or else a point where new plot twists are illogical when compared to everything prior to their insertion. The term originated with “Happy Days”; Fonzie was made to literally jump a shark whilst wearing water skis.)
I hate Elmo.
I loathe him as the ambassador of modern parenting. I loathe the high-pitched, unintelligent, singsong, third person, DUH! baby talk. I despise him as the bastard icon for the PC reason-with-your-child movement (“Now Johnny, you don’t weally want to stab mommy with that big sharpy sharp knifey, do you? Johnny, how do you think that wiwl make mommy feel? *Parent: please adopt melodramatic sad face to show child how unhappy you feel.”*)
Is it any wonder that the average child entering kindergarten can not read?
Kevin Clash has provided Elmo’s voice since he first appeared on Sesame Street. Clash is a rather handsome man with a pleasant expression and perpetual smile. It is hard for me to imagine him as a person whilst I watch a red demon spawned Tickle Me doll contort in a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure on the floor as the children clap their hands in glee. (I also wonder if his wife asks him to “do the Elmo voice” in bed.)
In its 33rd season (2002), Sesame Street underwent an obvious, dramatic makeover, apparently intended to address many of the current trends in children's programming, like more rituals and repetition, brighter, more cartoon-colorful real-life characters and sets, and more exaggerated, simplistic mannerisms in addressing the screen and seeking viewer interaction. Regular segments like Journey to Ernie are almost identical from one episode to the next, with only the fine details changing, and the Number of the Day always being presented initially by Count von Count playing up an organ keyboard until he finds it, sequentially. (He is still proud of that feat, even after three decades.)
This all seems an attempt to emulate the huge success of Elmo's World, an extremely ritualized segment presenting exactly the same routine every week.
To put it simply, after jumping the shark, Satan lifted his hind leg and produced a 15-25 minute segment of Elmo in a CG universe, and he saw that it was puerile, and he named it “Elmo’s World” and the peasants and slack-jawed children rejoiced. This time is taken away from the total Sesame Street episode length.
Elmo’s World occupies a large amount of “education time” yet follows the same basic patterns each week. I shudder to think of how Elmo’s fans behave when they reach school age and find out that not all things are structured and doled out in whimsical baby-chatter.
Why do our children require more repetition, more exaggerated and simplistic mannerisms, and why do they need more cartoon-colorful real-life characters and sets?
A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that each hour infants and toddlers (age 0 – 3) spend in front of a TV increases a child’s chance of developing Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) by 10%. A child who watches three hours of television a day is 30% more likely to have this disorder. The rapid image changes affect their brain development. The AAP recommends that children under the age of two years should not watch television at all. Children older than two should only watch one hour a day, unless it is educational programming. Even with that, they should not watch more than two hours of television a day. Where does that leave Sesame Street? There is a lot of competition for that two-hour slot.
Couple bad television habits with the refined sugars found in most marketed children’s snacks and you have a recipe for disaster.
Snuffleupagus (or simply Snuffy), Big Bird’s imaginary friend, was finally proven to be real simply because the PC crowd felt that molested children would somehow assume adults would not believe them if they brought up being touched inappropriately by an adult. (Huh?)
On the positive side, the show did help children understand the devastation caused by hurricanes and 9/11. I can not mock it for that noble endeavor.
Instead I shall engage in a little insult in Elmo’s (dis)honor. They really should begin preparation for the growing stages of his fans. Perhaps a series of short stories and a line of toys is in order? Elmo can then chatter away in his childish voice as he explores the adult world that he is maturing into (have I mentioned that the character had been perpetually three years of age since his inception? Have I also mentioned that I was speaking with better syntax and self-awareness since the age of two?)
There are precious few children’s characters that irk me as much as Elmo does. Barney the Purple monstrosity comes close, as do the Teletubbies and those Veggietale beasties.
I did not pine away when Elmo was captured by insurgents,
Nor did I breathe a sigh of relief upon his return as he appeared before the press with a dazed look upon his face.
His short-lived mainstream “comeback” career was one stop short of the toilet. So too were his aspirations to star in the porn industry once his costar was identified as being an underage Muppet.
But I am sad to say that the scars of his time as a hostage, coupled with the downward spiral of his fame, lead to a decreased ability to function as a healthy and rational Muppet. He took his own life on April 1st, 2007. No suicide note was found.