Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yes, it's not our Sesame Street anymore

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! The pioneering children's show recently turned the big 4-0. I honestly don't remember watching a lot of the show -- my babysitters growing up were more into watching the soaps on CBS than Sesame Street -- but I do remember a lot of the old episodes.

I know I've talked about Sesame Street before and that I like it, but I thought a recent article by the New York Times was interesting:

The pedagogy hasn’t changed, but the look and tone of “Sesame Street” has evolved. Forty years on, this is your mother’s “Sesame Street,” only better dressed and gentrified: Sesame Street by way of Park Slope. The opening is no longer a realistic rendition of an urban skyline but an animated, candy-colored chalk drawing of a preschool Arcadia, with flowers and butterflies and stars. The famous set, brownstones and garbage bins, has lost the messy graffiti and gritty smudges of city life over the years. Now there are green spaces, tofu and yoga.
I totally understand what they're talking about, and I think that for a lot of us who grew up with the old version of Sesame Street (not "your mother's Sesame Street" but MY Sesame Street -- cripes. Am I that old?) it is a bit like when Times Square in NYC changed to something...more wholesome.

But to me, this version of Sesame Street reflects some of the changes that we see in our society. Gentrification of what was previously considered the "bad part of town" is more and more common. When people become parents, they aren't fleeing to the suburbs -- they're staying in the city. As a result of these things, the city changes and becomes something different. It's not he home we remembered as a child.

I find it funny that the New York Times -- which to me sometimes screams of upper middle class white privilege -- is so critical of the change. I wonder if it's because a lot of us are looking at this and not finding the same things we had growing up on Sesame Street. Perhaps nostalgia is tinting our world viewpoint with a "Things aren't as cool as when we were kids," view.

I know the article's charting the change of the show, but there's something kind of sneering in the way the writer describes the characters. Like Abby Cadabby: "(A) pink and sparkly fairy with a button nose and long eyelashes was taken as yet another sign of the ascent of third wave feminism — or a concession to the commercial appeal of Disney-style princess."

I like Abby Cadabby. And I know most girls go through a very girly phase where it's all about pink and lavender, fairy wings and other such things. Looking back, when I think about how all the monsters on Sesame Street were mostly guys when I was growing up (I just remember Prairie Dawn being a regular, but not anyone else), I'm glad to see Zoe, Abby Cadabby and Rosita. There are girl monsters and Muppets too!

But you know something? I don't mind the change. As a show that's been going strong for 40 years, Sesame Street has to evolve and change to reflect our history and our times. Otherwise kids won't find it relevant to their world viewpoint. While nostalgia is nice and all, we (as adults) have to remember, we're not the target demographic anymore. Kids are. And to keep an effective show going, you have to reflect the changes in the audience.

Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if 30 years from now, my kid is complaining about how Sesame Street isn't as good as when she was a kid. "WE HAD ABBY CADABBY! SHE WAS AWESOME! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SHIT? KIDS TODAY!"

No comments: