“Sesame Street” celebrates its 40th anniversary Tuesday to many cheers, but not everyone is happy about it.
The PBS children’s program, which has won 122 Emmy Awards and airs in over 140 countries, debuted on Nov. 10, 1969, as a means to help underprivileged preschoolers learn numbers and letters through Muppets and jingles. It has over 77 million American viewers.
In its long history, it faced threats on all sides: newer and flashier competing shows, alarmist parents and researchers concerned about toddler ADHD, and educators like Mary Mel O’Dowd, who worried “ghetto kids,” as she put it, couldn’t understand the content.
But some new “Sesame Street” critics are wholly misguided.
In 2007, “Sesame Street” had a segment featuring Oscar the Grouch as a news reporter for the fictional Grouch News Network (GNN). An angry Muppet called in to complain Oscar was not grouchy enough and said she is switching from GNN to POX News, which she said is a “trashy news show.”
When it reran last year, most critics did not mind because it was obviously just another pun in an episode featuring many media characters like “Dan Rather-Not,” “Walter Cranky,” and Anderson Cooper in a trash can.
However, when it aired Oct. 29 after a summer of teabagging histrionics, the segment became something new to criticize.
“The message is clear: I can’t even sit my kids in front of ‘Sesame Street’ without having to worry about the Left attempting to undermine my authority,” said Andrew Breitbart on his right-wing blog, which ignited the conflict.
People feel threatened by puppets? That is ludicrous. CNN was also parodied, so the claims of partisan indoctrination are false, yet repeated, in the FOX echo chamber.
“Say it ain’t so. ‘Sesame Street’ trashing FOX News! We may have to ambush Oscar,” said FOX conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly on his program Thursday.
In the ’90s, this spirit drove right-wingers to claim that Muppet friends Bert and Ernie were a homosexual couple, which they complained children should not see.
Critics’ mistreatment of innocent “Sesame Street” programs shows a ruthless affinity for perverting the truth. As Big Bird becomes Big Government and Cookie Monster becomes Karl Marx, the right wing’s caricatures defame a good show.
The show’s educational approach sometimes involves real-world problems like death, divorce and the recession. Exposing children to media malpractice is appropriate because when they ask their parents, they should hear it is always wrong to deceive people and treat opinions as news.
“Sesame Street” critics need to get a grip instead of worrying about a crew of friendly puppets created to rid the world of ignorance, intolerance and illiteracy. The show has been around for 40 years to help kids. It should not be a target on anyone’s ideological hit list.
Neil Manimala is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences.