Sesame Street Controversies or the things we were supposed to learn

If you are my age (45) or so then you were lucky enough to watch Sesame Street the early years. I have fond memories of Kermit and the gang teaching me about letters, words and relationships. Now 40 years later it seems the early years of the show are being viewed as evil propaganda, promoting smoking, over eating and civil disobedience. The early years are now available on DVD with a label that says “for adults only”. Are they serious? What is going on?

Last Thursday National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation aired a segment about Sesame Street’s anniversary by bringing in columnist Dale Hrabi of The Week to talk about his article Top 10 Sesame Street Controversies. I don’t know about you but the only controversy I ever heard connected to Sesame Street was the ugly stupid rumor that Bert and Ernie are gay. As a child who grew up watching a lot of television I made the connection between Bert and Ernie and Felix and Oscar from the Odd Couple. Both shows depicted two polar opposites as best friends living together. I never thought it weird that two male puppets would live together. What I saw was that it was okay to be friends with people who thought and acted different from me. I do make a connection between when the idea was first mentioned and the decade it came from. In the early 80’s Aids brought homosexuality out of the closet and into our news cycle. As more and more uptight people were forced to confront their worst fears (there are gays in America!) the more outrages their accusations became. Sesame Street took a hit as Bert and Ernie’s “lifestyle” was questioned by those who wanted to push homosexual issues back in the closet. 20 some years later there are still hints by critics that these two friends are subversely teaching our children it is okay to be gay.

Remember back in grade school when we had to line up for everything? Going into class, going to recess, going back to class from recess and going to and from the cafeteria. The first three years of school seemed to be an endless line to somewhere. There was always that one person who hated to be the last in line; that person was constantly racing to be first, trying to shove his way into the middle of the line and whining when he failed. Sesame Street tackled this subject when Grover learned from a hippie how to stand in line and not complain about being last. Did you know actually this was a way for the producers of Sesame Street to teach pre-schoolers the art of civil disobedience? Neither did I! I wish I did, because as we all know there is no powerful a voice than 6 year olds when they line up and start protesting! My friends and I could have protests the awful cafeteria food or the fact that we had to stand in line all the time. What wasted years!

Cookie Monster’s pipe was taken away in the 80’s as it seems he was not only over eating but also smoking! Yes that bubble blowing fiend was teaching us that smoking was cool; I tend to think it was all the adults including doctors who taught us that. When I was a child I knew Cookie Monster was imitating Alistair Cooke, the host of Masterpiece Theater, how did I know this? Because Cookie Monster hosted Monsterpiece Theater! I never thought Cookie was smoking; even as a child I understood the difference between smoke and bubbles. What Cookie monster did teach me was that Masterpiece Theater was a great program (okay I learned that later, but I did know about the show from Cookie).

I do not understand why adults have to find fault in children’s programming. Sesame Street is not the only show to have controversy attached to it. Barney had a lot of angry parents lash out at his show and the merchandising that went along with it. The Teletubbies were outed by Jerry Farwell who thought Tinky Winky was homosexual (what is it with these people and gay puppets?) because he carried a purse. I bet the children who watched this show never batted an eye at Tinky’s choice of bling.

I could bemoan the fact that my favorite childhood show is mired in controversy but I am not. I am going to purchase a copy of the early Sesame Street years, get out some cookies and a bubble blower and watch the show as it was meant to be watched; with child like glee and wonderment. I hope, dear reader you do the same.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

3 thoughts on “Sesame Street Controversies or the things we were supposed to learn”

  1. I never realised I grew up watching such a dangerous and subversive program. Fascinating post. Here in Australia we used to have a children's program called Fat Cat, someone in a giant moggy suit, it was much beloved by children and even adults, (me), but it was taken off the air in the early 90s because Fat Cat was fat and therefore a bad role model for children. It never occurred to me as an adult and a fairly critical adult at that, that Fat cat was advocating weight gain as a lifestyle, in fact it seemed to be rather the opposite as I remember him prancing around playgrounds, always moving and active. Seems to me that what people object to is the widespread acceptance of differnce, and how sad is that. Have fun with that subversive Sesame Street.


  2. Taken off the air for being fat? Wow, talk about making something out of nothing. I would think watching a "fat" cat play outside would encourage over weight children to do the same. It is sad that no matter what country one iives in, there are those who see subliminal messages in innocence. I am going to see if I can find Fat Cat on YouTube.


  3. Well said. People spend too much time projecting their fears and insecurities onto their children. The Bert and Ernie thing is ridiculous. I bet if it had been Roberta and Erin, nobody would have ever had a problem with it! Also, I think that civil disobedience thing is bunk. Clearly, the message was to accept where you are in life and not wish for things to be different than what they are, like a good Buddhist! 😉 I received the early years DVD set for Christmas a couple years ago. I haven't watched all of them, but it is fun to see some of the celebrities that show up unexpectedly with their 60's and 70's hair and clothes!


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