Old School Sesame Street

by Stacey

Ahh, Sesame Street.  Remember this? “The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.” Why am I not surprised to learn that according to this article in the NY Times, our preschool age kids can’t handle it?

Recently released DVD’s of the old versions of the show come with a warning: “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Good grief. “The old ‘Sesame Street’ is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper ‘Elmo’s World’ started,” the article says. “Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original ‘Sesame Street’ might hurt your feelings.”

[The writer] asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

“Which brought Parente to a feature of ‘Sesame Street’ that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

I haven’t watched Sesame Street lately, but apparently Cookie Monster eats a more diverse diet than just fistfuls of cookies. Too bad. Why can’t our kids take delight in the idea of a blue furry monster who gets to eat as many cookies as he wants? I didn’t think I was going to be allowed to do that, but I thought it was funny that he could.

I think the old Sesame Street was pretty damn great, actually. Here’s what the article says: “People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.” I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want our kids to learn that.

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Filed under family, kids, media, parenting, television

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