11 April 2005

where the street leads

"What person, living or dead, do you most want to have lunch with?"

For years my rote response to this question (frequently posed in those "all about YOU!" e-mail surveys) has been Jim Henson. I barely need to explain why; the man oozed creativity, and his artistic, educational endeavors shaped my youth.

Years back I dreamt of working at Henson Productions or on Sesame Street in some capacity. Now, I'm not so sure I would want to fufill that dream. Like many of my peers, I've become gradually disenchanted with Sesame Street.

It's normal to feel a sense of loss as the program updated. The nostalgic tug we adults get from seeing the '70s and '80s kids in their striped turtlenecks and bell bottoms isn't justification enough to subject today's tykes to our Sesame. They got to get with the times. OK. We can wax nostalgic about our favorite Sesame moments.

But it makes it difficult to let go when the current Sesame just seems so lame. As one writer at flakmag.com notes, most people blame that furry, red spawn of Satan—Elmo—for the gradual decline. But he is just a vehicle, albeit oh-so annoyingly rendered.

In early 2000, that street we grew up on began to change even more drastically. Producers and educators decided that Sesame's format of myriad segments wasn't working anymore. New shows, like Blue's Clues and Arthur, undercut a basic premise of Sesame—that kids couldn't sit still for a long narrative form. Research buttressed these shows' approaches and gave reason for Sesame to change along the same lines. The current research that children can comprehend more lengthy stories seems to give kids more credit.

However, the content of such shows ostensibly negates that recognition. Have you tuned in to Sesame in the last few years? The clever skewing of pop culture that was its hallmark--barely present. Instead, we get ten or fifteen minutes of Elmo's World, in which a childish muppet yammers on through this inane segment. Are they suggesting that Sesame can't be both smart and fun anymore? It sure as hell worked for 30 years.

Stupid Sesame seems to work, though. At least according to a 2002 study, which noted a 31% increase in ratings from 2001. Did I realize as a child that Monsterpiece Theater was a parody of Masterpiece Theater? Or that mustachioed, bowler hat-adorned Maria was playing Chaplin? No, such spoofs were meant to entertain our parents. That parents watched Sesame with their kids was another founding principle of the show. Whether that actually happened or not, now they're realizing kids are watching alone. No need to cater to adults, too.

What programs can adults watch with their kids then—or rather want to watch? Sesame had always been an oasis in the children's programming wasteland of TeleTubbies and Barney. If I have kids, where will I turn when they become Elmo groupies? The bottle—that's where I'll turn, I tell ya.

I hate to think that I am just clinging to a past ideal, as I've often been guilty. But Sesame Street seems into lead to some bland subdivision.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I don't know... while I'm not a huge fan of Elmo (who is over the age of 5) I am still often entertained by the adult bones they throw into the show, i.e. The Count counting feet under a table... "Six Feet Under" and "Grouch Eye for the Nice Guy" where Oscar and all his friends give Bob a dirt makeover... They're still teaching kids to count and speak in Spanish and recite/recognize ABCs plus put an emphasis on world cultures (Grover's visits to countries around the world) and nutrition. For an hour, every day of the week. And the girlies here can definitely stay tuned for that whole time. Don't write it off yet : )