children, children and media, children's programming, jim henson, old school sesame street, preschoolers, sesame street, toddlers, tv
Now that Owl is two we occasionally allow ourselves the luxury of putting Owl in front of the TV for some quality programming.
Over Christmas we had fun showing him The Grinch (which he loved) and Muppet Family Christmas (which he liked) and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (which he had no interest in).
Sometimes we let him watch some Sesame Street.
I really notice a difference between letting him watch Sesame Street on Netflix versus the Old School Sesame Street DVD that we picked up years and years ago.
Sesame Street has really changed over the years, and it’s more than just the loss of Jim Henson.
The early Sesame Street looks… grittier. The opening segment shows inner city kids running around alleys and grim city playgrounds. Almost all of the kids are non-Caucasian – either Black, or Hispanic, or Asian.
Sesame Street itself is a little dirty, a little down-and-out. You can hear traffic in the background. Acid rain and smog have tarnished the old brownstone of 123 Sesame.
The general message of the Old Sesame Street is about integration – respecting how people do things in other cultures, learning other people’s languages, and finding common bonds in our differences.
Now, move forward to the modern Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is bright and shiny. There is no whirr of traffic. 123 Sesame may have been built yesterday, the stones are so clean and unworn by time. The ABC graffiti is gone, as is the building you saw it on. Instead there is a garden, complete with butterflies.
The story lines have changed too. Now the emphasis is on healthy eating and physical activity.
The stories have gotten more complex, too, and I find that there is less emphasis on the alphabet.
In the Old Sesame Street, practically every segment is about a letter or a number. The ones that aren’t are education segments about, say, a family in the Philippines or how milk comes out of cows.
In the new version, there are entire segments that have nothing to do with anything – fifteen minutes about Abby Cadabby’s day at school, a fifteen minute imaginary segment in which Baby Bear tells an elaborate story about bears in space.
The Elmo segment takes place in a world made entirely of crayon, and is not about letters or numbers, but instead about daily life – construction, weather, getting dressed.
I’m trying not to draw any judgement.
After all, the kids that Old Sesame Street was aimed at were disadvantage youth who should have been in pre-school, but weren’t.
Today’s Sesame Street is watched by a much broader range of children. Racism is no longer the topic du jour. Instead, we worry about the obesity epidemic.
Nor is gentrification BAD. The neighbourhood has simply been cleaned up through the years, and the characters themselves are responsible for much of it (like the garden, which was the focus of an episode).
In fact, my favourite TV gay couple (and yes, I know, Sesame Street insists that they aren’t gay, but COME ON), Bert and Ernie, are probably partially responsible. Everyone knows that a gay population gentrifies an area. Sesame Street may simply be imitating Park Slope.
I prefer the old episodes. I find them more tongue in cheek, more quirky, more fun, and honestly, more educational for Owl than the new episodes. He understands “look, this is a 3!” but he doesn’t understand why the bears’ porridge is floating in space, or why a cowgirl just rode onto a spaceship.
That being said, I don’t think he gets much out of either kind of Sesame Street. He already knows the alphabet, and I don’t think he’s really absorbing the point of listing a bunch of words that start with “buh”.
Furthermore, he is whiny and clingy for a good hour after watching any kind of children’s programming, so most weeks he doesn’t see anything at all.
So really, the point is moot.
Even so, I’m a little sad when I notice the changes that happened to Sesame Street over the years. Nothing stays the same forever, but I wish the shows of our childhoods could.
Yeah, I hear ya. It amazes me some of the things they’ve changed in children’s television. Makes me feel old to be like “In my day, we didn’t have computer animation” and all we had was PBS and CBC at certain times until Coronation Street came on. And then we went and played outside…. yeah, we’re old.
My kids love classic Sesame Street and have no interest in the new version. I don’t disagree with them. I really think the beginning of the end came when the focus shifted to Elmo. The show has never been the same since Kevin Clash started talking down to kids in a third-person baby voice.
Did you see the documentary about Kevin Clash? It gave me a lot more respect for him, but I still find Elmo annoying as f***
I did (before recent events came to light, mind you: now Kevin Clash will forever be a creeper in my mind) – anyway, I got what he was trying to do, but I just honestly felt he was going about it all wrong. I’m a huge believer in treating children as future adults when possible, and I just never got that sense from him.
I think Elmo represents unconditional love and models good behavior for kids, and I like that. Studies had shown that a lot of children’s educational shows actually make kids more violent because the characters model naughty behaviors. The ultimate lesson of “siblings can learn to get along” or whatever isn’t as lasting as the memories of all the fighting before the resolution.
Elmo is polite and sweet and loving and accepting of everyone and I appreciate that. I think he is a good influence overall. But he holds no interest for me as an adult because he lacks the tongue in cheek savour that most muppets use in their dialogue.
My mom swears that I learned to read from watching Sesame Street. (Also, listing words that start with a certain sound is a really important pre-reading skill — Owl will probably get it in a year or two; it’s really an activity for older kiddos).
I love watching the older segments on YouTube. They are much stranger and less sanitized. My favorite is the psychedelic “I’m Lost”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqPcQeMEnFc
There was a fascinating documentary on PBS a few years ago about how Sesame Street moves into new countries. They don’t just dub over American episodes. They have a team that determines the most important issues in that culture and they create characters that are relevant. It seemed really responsible. But I think the American version is just annoying. I can’t stand Elmo. I think he wrecked Sesame Street.
Oh, I totally get the educational value of the letter words combinations. We do it orally with Owl multiple times a day and he will point at a letter and say “B! B… Ball! B… Bouncy!” I just don’t think he has hit the developmental stage where he can learn from tv yet. Most kids hit it between 20 and 30 months. Owl just… Hasn’t.
I agree that the American Sesame Street seems vapid these days. I wish they had a Canadian one. It would take place in Toronto and everyone would say “sorry” when people bumped into them.
Grace Goldragon said:
They *did* have a Canadian one. It was called Sesame Park and featured such characters as Basil the Bear, Louis the otter, and Katie the girl in the wheelchair. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sesame_Park
Grace Goldragon said:
Oh yeah, and Dodi, the bush pilot.
Yes, and they did clips in French instead of Spanish. They also had regular Sesame Street for a while that was geared more for Canadians I think…. but I can’t be sure.
Grace Goldragon said:
@Jeannie: You are correct. The Sesame Street that was shown on CBC when we were growing up was pretty much American Sesame street with a few in between clips tailored for Canadian children.
Yeah, I remember that!
Reminds me of a phrase from “Father Ted”, when someone was referring to TV as “chewing gum for the eyes”. Once upon a time, shows were educational, now they seem to mainly focus on … nothing.
“Horrible Histories” is an exception, but it’s British and not American. History (education) + comedy sketch show (entertainment) = all kinds of awesome, for kids and adults alike. Have a look around on YouTube, there should be plenty of clips and songs. The one about all the kings and queens of England is my favourite!
He may have to be older for that. He doesb’t understand story lines or even a lot of English yet!
Yeah, it’s not exactly toddler-appropriate. More for the older kids, say 8-12 or so. Still, you and PH might get a kick out of it until then! 😀