Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Sesame Street for the Cyber Generation

 

Sesame_Street_sign.svgSo, I read in the New York Post about HBO’s launch of the new, improved Sesame Street. (Yes, I am a proud Post reader. Where else would I get my celebrity gossip cheesy Anthony Weiner headlines news?)

I was never fond of Sesame Street, even as a kid. Always a fan of snark, I preferred Statler and Waldorf hurling insults on The Muppet Show to Bert and Ernie’s griping. Cookie Monster was grammar-challenged and his cookie-scarfing schtick grew old, fast. Snuffleupagus was a downer. But the worst was Big Bird: whiny, ungainly, and with those disturbing bug-eyes that screamed “undiagnosed anxiety disorder.”

But as an adult with children of my own, I decided to give Sesame Street a second shot. It was a no-go. My kids were no fonder of the program than I was, and I failed to see how featuring a “Letter of the Day” or having The Count count to ten in Spanish qualified as “educational.” We opted, instead, for Sponge Bob: no more “educational” than Sesame Street, but wicked funny and blessedly free of Sonia Sotomayor going full-Voldemort on the dreams of four-year-old girls by telling them they can’t be princesses.

Still, even though Sesame Street never caught on in our house, I could appreciate the show’s slower pace and simple, charming sketches. In comparison, a lot of children’s programming today is so frenetic it seems designed to bring on an epileptic fit. If we never cottoned to Sesame Street’s characters, it was laudable for its lack of CGI, quick edits, and non-stop sound effects. A kid had to have at least a modicum of attention to watch it.

So I was disappointed to hear the HBO Sesame Street episodes have not only been reduced from 60 to 30 minutes, but that it’s faster-paced and contains CGI. In other words, it’s more like a video game. From the Washington Post:

… even moving beyond the physicality of puppets, the episodes make generous use of digital imagery in a seamless abstract integration.

Bottom line: The easygoing pace in the neighborhood of old seems to have fallen prey to a newly revved-up virtual world. A dazzling new opening is set (for the first time) on Sesame Street itself, but in the action that follows, this precious urban retreat is more a state of mind than on-screen real estate.

Other changes in the program are afoot. Since it is now appears on HBO, Sesame Street now features graphic puppet orgies. Kidding! But seriously: Oscar the Grouch now emerges from a recycling bin instead of a trash can. I suppose that’s to be expected, since years back cookies became a “sometimes food” for the monster whose very name and selfhood is predicated on eating cookies. Talk about an identity crisis!

Another change:

Where recent series focused on STEM skills and childhood obesity — most notably, with Michelle Obama joining Big Bird in the White House kitchen in 2013 — new shows will focus on lofty goals like teaching kids “self-regulation” and “executive function”; in other words, handling challenges without having a meltdown.

“Executive function”? Yeah, that’s a new buzzword in childhood development. When my son was in preschool, his teachers told me he had issues with “executive function” because he got upset when he had to leave the Lego table. In fact, the teachers pegged nearly all the boys in his class as having “executive function” issues, pretty much because they had a hard time sitting still and keeping quiet.

Teaching “self-regulation” and “executive function” to kids who are new to wearing underpants? I’m not sure I like where this is going, Sesame Street. I can see it now: “Today’s letters of the day are A-D-D! Elmo looooooves you . . . and his Ritalin!” And isn’t it a tad, well, ironic for Sesame Street to work the little tykes up with “revved-up” pacing and action while pushing “self-regulation”?

Maybe Romney was right. Maybe it is time to kill Big Bird. Snuffleupagus can shed a tear for me.

There are 24 comments.

  1. LC Member
    LC

    Paula Lynn Johnson:

    Where recent series focused on STEM skills and childhood obesity — most notably, with Michelle Obama joining Big Bird in the White House kitchen in 2013 — new shows will focus on lofty goals like teaching kids “self-regulation” and “executive function”; in other words, handling challenges without having a meltdown.

    I suppose teaching kids self-regulation and executive function is one reason why we have public meltdown everyday of the week all over our universities.

    • #1
    • January 14, 2016, at 8:02 PM PST
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  2. MarciN Member

    It is so hard to read these stories from the land of America’s children. It was bad when my kids were in school, and it seems to be a thousand times worse today.

    Lucky are the kids who are home-schooled.

    • #2
    • January 14, 2016, at 8:12 PM PST
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  3. Mate De Coolidge

    I was raised on Sesame Street between that and Mr Rodgers was the only time my mom could sleep after working the night shift at the hospital. But this was early 80’s sesame street, and children’s programming or programming in general was, garbage. But like you my daughter watched Sesame Street a few years back and I thought it was awful. There is so much better stuff out there for kids then this.

    Would like to see what they do to Sesame Street on HBO but I can’t imagine it will be good. Look at what NBC has done to The Muppets. Jim Hensen must be rolling in his grave. My kids only watch Jim Hensen muppets and Sesame Street since that is when it was good (except the Muppets Christmas Carole which was excellent) anything after was awful.

    • #3
    • January 14, 2016, at 8:42 PM PST
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  4. Hammer, The Member

    Sesame Street died long ago. New episodes are unbearably preachy and ham fisted. All with a liberal’s sense of values.

    Jim Henson was funny. Genuinely funny. It’s too bad… we should just let it die.

    • #4
    • January 14, 2016, at 11:22 PM PST
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  5. Miffed White Male Member

    My kids are 9 and 6 and have never seen a single episode of Sesame Street in their lives.

    Give me Backyardigans any day. Even <shudder> Wonder Pets (when the kids were about 3).

    I’m quite partial to Phineas and Ferb myself. Even watch it without the kids.

    • #5
    • January 15, 2016, at 5:04 AM PST
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  6. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Paula Lynn Johnson: “Executive function”? Yeah, that’s a new buzzword in childhood development. When my son was in preschool, his teachers told me he had issues with “executive function” because he got upset when he had to leave the Lego table. In fact, the teachers pegged nearly all the boys in his class as having “executive function” issues, pretty much because they had a hard time sitting still and keeping quiet.

    Yeah, but buzz-aside, it’s a good concept. Isn’t teaching kids to give their noodle a veto over their emotions Parenting 101?

    That said, all kids have trouble with executive function (all adults, too)! What’s ugly is that we’ve become hypersensitive to what happens when boys don’t engage their executive function (aggression, etc.) while turning a blind eye to what happens when girls don’t engage theirs (emotional manipulation, etc.)

    • #6
    • January 15, 2016, at 7:53 AM PST
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  7. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Isn’t teaching kids to give their noodle a veto over their emotions Parenting 101?

    I look forward to my nomination for Best Mixed Metaphor.

    • #7
    • January 15, 2016, at 7:55 AM PST
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  8. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Paula Lynn Johnson: But the worst was Big Bird: whiny, ungainly, and with those disturbing bug-eyes that screamed “undiagnosed anxiety disorder.”

    Wasn’t that kind of the point? Big Bird almost always served as a cautionary example. Big Bird illustrated unhealthy behaviour that children could relate to, and the (human) adults explained why the behaviour was sub-optimal.

    I haven’t watched the show in a long time, but I don’t think Big Bird still serves that function. I’m pretty sure he’s evolved into a “teacher character” rather than a “student character”, which feels worse to me because it means he comes across as preachy. It makes him sorta like the overbearing and pretentious older sibling of the muppet characters.

    The show used to reinforce the authority of adults. Now it seems more like the child-like muppet characters are teaching each other while the adults have been knocked down to the level of being quasi-equal peers of the muppet characters.

    My impression is that you no longer get scenes like in the old days when Mr. Hooper or Luis would correct bad behaviour.

    • #8
    • January 15, 2016, at 8:08 AM PST
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  9. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    The other point about Big Bird in the early days was that he was a child without parents. As such, he was dealing with lots of the same problems and emotions that lots and lots and lots of Sesame Street’s target audience was dealing with.

    The show wasn’t really originally designed for kids who had intentive parents who were actually involved with their children’s lives. It was designed more as a solution to the problem of kids who weren’t already getting a proper traditional education.

    Over time the show changed as it became more targeted towards middle-class and upper-class audiences who put more effort into telling Sesame Street’s producers what to do than they put into raising their own kids.

    • #9
    • January 15, 2016, at 8:22 AM PST
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  10. MBF Member
    MBF

    I think my brothers and I watched our vcr-recorded tape of Follow That Bird several thousand times growing up in the 80’s. Haven’t re watched it since though, so I have no idea if it holds up as well as other classics like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

    • #10
    • January 15, 2016, at 8:50 AM PST
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  11. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    MBF:I think my brothers and I watched our vcr-recorded tape of Follow That Bird several thousand times growing up in the 80’s. Haven’t re watched it since though, so I have no idea if it holds up as well as other classics like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

    Follow That Bird could be a good arbitrary marker for when Sesame Street jumped the shark as a tool for teaching values to small children. Big Bird is supposed to represent a 6-year-old child. He should not be hitchhiking alone across the country.

    Still an entertaining flick, tho’…

    • #11
    • January 15, 2016, at 8:54 AM PST
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  12. Brad B. Inactive

    Never liked Sesame Street as a kid. By 2 years old, I was hooked on the animated Batman show of the early 90s. I think I’m better for it. Batman grappled with human evil, violence, and suffering. It was a tragic show. I found Big Bird, Barney, and the like to be condescending and preachy.

    • #12
    • January 15, 2016, at 9:26 AM PST
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  13. Qoumidan Member

    Big bird can diaf and I still will never forgive my brother for recording sesame street over our favorite episode of Dr Who.

    I admit I did like the counting to 12 song with the little ball rolling around.

    • #13
    • January 15, 2016, at 9:37 AM PST
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  14. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Qoumidan: I admit I did like the counting to 12 song with the little ball rolling around.

    The classic Sesame Street DVDs they sell are pretty awesome. The fact that they come with a parental advisory warning seems to definitively illustrate that Sesame Street used to be way better than it is today.

    • #14
    • January 15, 2016, at 9:43 AM PST
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  15. James Lileks Contributor

    Miffed White Male: Give me Backyardigans any day

    Lovely little theme, and a nice diversion – IIRC, they mo-capped real children for the animation, which gives it a unique look among the usual CGI products.

    The only Sesame Street my toddler liked was Elmo, which was made tolerable by Mr. Noodle. (Either one.) It came on before Rolie Polie Olie, a delightful Canadian / French / American show about Art Moderne robots, based on the work of William Joyce.

    I miss those mornings.

    • #15
    • January 15, 2016, at 12:01 PM PST
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  16. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Misthiocracy: The classic Sesame Street DVDs they sell are pretty awesome. The fact that they come with a parental advisory warning seems to definitively illustrate that Sesame Street used to be way better than it is today.

    That’s sad because it’s almost certainly true.

    • #16
    • January 15, 2016, at 12:03 PM PST
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  17. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    This seems like an appropriate moment to share Lileks’… musings on Lazy Town:

    Which brings us to Lazy Town. The ads on Nick Jr were wrong, wrong, wrong. A friend of mine had a phrase for such things: it goes through me. I knew instantly what she meant; the sensation of being pierced by something that was nauseatingly unnatural in a way you couldn’t articulate, but only feel. It goes through me. Some things were so bad they went through you, orbited, and went through you again.

    Lazy Town goes through me. The ads set it up: you have Lazy Town, which is . . . a town, I guess, and it has one pink-haired girl citizen, and one buff grinny gym teacher in blue shorts and a spiked moustache. He’s “Sportacus,” and he doesn’t walk when he can jump and twirl around in the air. He’s the Pete Best of the Village People. His rival is Robbie Rotten, a cad with a prosthetic chin who plots ways to defeat Sportacus and make the children eat sugar. There is a Mayor and several children, who don’t look like the girl or Sportacus or Robbie, but instead have inert plastic heads whose limited labial mobility helps sell the product in foreign language markets. I can’t tell you how creepy it is. I figured it was British.

    • #17
    • January 15, 2016, at 12:07 PM PST
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  18. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    James Lileks:… Rolie Polie Olie, a delightful Canadian / French / American show about Art Moderne robots, based on the work of William Joyce.

    Speaking of Canadian children’s television, BRING BACK POLKA DOT DOOR!!!

    Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.

    (On second thought, the “modernizers” would just ruin it with CGI, hip music, and special appearances from Justin Trudeau.)

    • #18
    • January 15, 2016, at 1:15 PM PST
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  19. Paula Lynn Johnson Inactive
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: This seems like an appropriate moment to share Lileks’… musings on Lazy Town:

    Oh, Lazy Town was creepy as all get-out (originated as an Iceland show, and it does have that awkward-translation feel). But nothing can possibly surpass the horrific wrongness of the Doodlebops. Tell me these don’t look like the kind of clowns who would kill you in your sleep:

    doodlebops

    • #19
    • January 15, 2016, at 3:21 PM PST
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  20. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Paula Lynn Johnson:

    Oh, Lazy Town was creepy as all get-out (originated as an Iceland show, and it does have that awkward-translation feel). But nothing can possibly surpass the horrific wrongness of the Doodlebops. Tell me these don’t look like the kind of clowns who would kill you in your sleep:

    DeeDee does look like she’s right out of a David Lynch flick. The other two are merely annoying.

    The fact that they were clearly never playing real instruments was always the most aggravating aspect of their schtick.

    • #20
    • January 15, 2016, at 3:40 PM PST
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  21. Mate De Coolidge

    My daughter was into the doodle bops for a month or so and it was horrible. Although the blue dude was pretty fierce when he danced, must have thought he was on the dance floor at Studio 54 or something

    • #21
    • January 15, 2016, at 3:59 PM PST
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  22. Metalheaddoc Member

    Paula Lynn Johnson:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: This seems like an appropriate moment to share Lileks’… musings on Lazy Town:

    Oh, Lazy Town was creepy as all get-out (originated as an Iceland show, and it does have that awkward-translation feel). But nothing can possibly surpass the horrific wrongness of the Doodlebops. Tell me these don’t look like the kind of clowns who would kill you in your sleep:

    doodlebops

    The only thing more horrifying than that trio is that ridiculous keytar. Keyboardists should stay hidden in the back like they’re supposed to. Leave the the blue guy to shred.

    • #22
    • January 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM PST
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  23. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Misthiocracy: The show used to reinforce the authority of adults.

    Once the imaginary friend Snuffie became real, it was all downhill. Jim Henson, we miss you…

    • #23
    • January 16, 2016, at 2:42 AM PST
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  24. jonsouth Inactive

    My childhood memories of Sesame Street were mainly the animated segments, like those psychedelic counting songs by Grace Slick and the Pointer Sisters, and a few others I’ve re-lived as scratchy videos on YouTube. I have a four year-old son now and attempts to get him interested in the current show haven’t been so successful. The human & muppet characters are still peddling the same old multi-culti and non-traditional-family memes as they did in the 70s, and newer characters like Elmo are just irritating. The kid seems to prefer things like the Backyardigans, which at least has pleasant music, so I’m happy to let him watch that instead.

    • #24
    • January 17, 2016, at 2:25 AM PST
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