The following article was written by Tough Pigs’ own Scott Hanson. It’s part one of a two-part article series on this week’s Katy-Perry-on-Sesame-Street brouhaha. Click here for part two by Ryan Roe.
It’s a sad day for Sesame Workshop. As the company who owns Sesame Street prepares the debut of its 41st season, their marketing department has been hammering away at the social networking sites getting parents and (to a lesser extent) the adult fan base excited for a new season of learning and silliness.
It goes without saying that the series has come a long way from showing films of kids playing in a dump and shocking rural audiences with an interracial cast. This season’s curriculum promises to focus on looking at the natural world and making observations about how things work. In a country torn by media and politics that often fail to place value on facts, it’s refreshing that there are forces enabling the next generation to look at a situation and come to a conclusion based on evidence.
So it’s a little surprising today to see the hypocrisy in their decision not to air a music video with pop sensation Katy Perry and Sesame’s top celebrity Elmo. In a spoof of Perry’s song “Hot n Cold” released last week on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel, the unlikely pair chase each other around a digital environment in a fun display of opposites. The problem? No, not Perry’s acting (off-putting for adults perhaps, but irrelevant to kids). Actually, it’s her breasts. Only three days after its release, the blogosphere has erupted in a fervor over Ms Perry’s mammary glands, perhaps the largest exposed percentage of boob yet seen in the show’s 41 years.
It doesn’t surprise me that the vocal minority would chastise a woman for having lady parts. I mean, how dare she? And with the children watching, dear lord-in-heaven, something’s got to be done to protect them! Surely these people have never taken their child outside of their homes. Perhaps to a park, or a mall, or driven past an advertising billboard. Surely they’d have discovered that lady parts are everywhere!
What does surprise me, is Sesame Workshop’s decision today not to air the segment on the show as planned. You can imagine the weeks of protest and petitions that must have come to pass in order to achieve such a feat. Nope, just three days of boobaphobes blogging about what a woman wears in a music video for kids. Not since Chris Brown beat up his girlfriend a couple years ago, has a segment been pulled from airing on the show so quickly. Is Sesame Workshop suggesting that the mere presence of a woman’s body is on par with domestic abuse?
It doesn’t help that another segment for the new season just made its debut online today as well, this time on The Hollywood Reporter’s YouTube channel. It’s a parody of HBO’s True Blood with a cast of Anything Muppets set in a restaurant. A character enters the room and immediately elicits a strong reaction from the patrons. All eyes fixate on him as he orders some “true mud” from the waitress. Overhearing his order, the Muppets at the next table are shocked and assume straight away that he “must be one o’ them grouches!” The skit goes on like this, the only voice of reason being the main character who, when asked skittishly if he really is a grouch, replies, “What’s it to ya?” It’s implied fairly heavily throughout the piece that everyone else is assuming something about this character based on his looks and preferences, that the differences between him and them are kind of a big deal, in an outwardly shocking way.
I don’t think I need to spell out what this looks like, but I think you’ll agree this isn’t a healthy attitude to have toward someone who’s different from you, and certainly not one we should be sharing with children. It’s especially jarring considering that Sesame Street has always been a champion of celebrating diversity and not judging people by what they look like, or what their choices are.
Perhaps I’m overreacting to the True Mud piece. And maybe it’s in direct response to the news about Katy Perry. Sesame Street has been very clever in the past about presenting a theme in a particular way, just to spin it around by the end for the purpose of illustrating an educational point. But I’ve watched this clip a handful of times through, and I’m just not seeing the turning point, or the educational value beyond a few clever rhymes. (In full disclosure, the video posted by THR may not be the full sketch. In which case I would question the motives behind releasing it in its current form. Might Sesame’s infamous educational twist be contained within the full version? Either way, it was irresponsible of them to release it as is. And no guarantee that the finished product has redeemable value, by the way. We’ll just have to wait and see.)
Sesame Workshop has certainly been a force for immeasurable good over the years. (Actually, that’s not true. Their researchers have gone to great lengths to measure exactly what amount of good they do.) And every once in a while, they slip up. Examples include adults on the show not believing Big Bird about his often absent best friend, or Betty Lou singing about submission to a monster. Both cases of which were identified and addressed by the show’s writers and producers. So it’s shame to see a gynophobic response to Katy Perry win out, while a segment eliciting fear of different people is left untouched. I would hope that Sesame Workshop might stick to its mission of moving forward on a social level instead of caving to the vocal minority, and decides to air the segment as planned.
by Scott Hanson