Friday, February 24, 2012
Why I'm Mad at Sesame Street
I was born in late 1970. Like many of my friends, in the mid to late 70's I loved me some Sesame Street. I was a sucker for their simple yet catchy songs, puppets of all sizes, and educational, yet still amusing story lines. But there was one aspect of the show that I didn't like, about a certain wooly mammoth named Snuffleupagus.
"Snuffy" was a good friend of Big Bird's, and together they had various fun adventures. But there was just one problem. Only Big Bird actually met Snuffy--through a series of plot contrivances no other characters saw him. Big Bird was constantly accused of making up an imaginary friend by the others (including the human adults), especially when he appeared to be blaming mistakes on the missing mammoth. Being a small child, I didn't realize that this was the character's trademark, that it was supposed to be funny and his "thing." And it really bothered me. Every episode I was frustrated again, and I would exclaim something like, "Snuffy went around the corner just before everyone else showed up to see him. I can't believe it happened again!"
Well, I grew up, of course, and graduated to other shows, such as "Three's Company." (I realize that Three's Company was actually less sophisticated than Sesame Street, but in my defense 1) 12-14 year olds have proven, time and again, that they have crappy taste in television shows, music, movies, etc. and 2) This was long before the Internet, and we didn't have cable TV. Pubescent boys had to make do with whatever they could get for even PG type jiggling.)
Flash forward to 1992 or so. I'm in college, and, on a whim, feeling nostalgic, I sat down and watched an episode of Sesame Street for the first time in well over a decade. I noticed that they included some nods to the parents watching along with their kids, such as a how-to-cross-the-street safety sketch modeled after "The Twilight Zone," called, obviously, "The Crossing Zone." And then what happens? I learn that EVERYONE SEES SNUFFLEUPAGUS NOW. It's completely mundane, and not a big deal at all. So I got pretty pissed--"Screw you, Sesame Street!" I yelled. "Where were you back when I needed you, back when I was a five year old almost giving himself an ulcer?!" I resolved never to watch again.
Now we do have the Internet, as I've mentioned, so I did a little checking up on ol' Snuffy. I learned (or relearned? Can't recall) some facts about him. First off, his full name is actually Aloysius Snuffleupagus, and he's very close in age to me--first shown in Nov., 1971 (Like many TV characters he doesn't seem to age, evidenty, as he still attends "Snufflegarten."). He also has a younger sister named Alice.
Then I got to a discussion of what infuriated me so, when everyone on the show started seeing him, which happened in 1985. His performer at the time, Martin P. Robinson, during an interview gave a disturbing yet valid reason for changing the usual plot. At that time, there had been several high-profile pedophile cases. Sesame Street was concerned that if adults were shown never believing Big Bird about Snuffy, even though he was telling the truth, that kids might think that adults wouldn't believe them if they revealed that they'd been molested, that they would accuse them of making things up. Clearly, I'm not about to mock this, this seems like sound reasoning. Once again Sesame Street used their delightfully absurd puppets to help teach kids important lessons.
But shit, Sesame Street, for one kid's stress and frustration levels, you were a little too late!