11/11/09 Sesame Junk

Are Bert & Ernie a gay couple? Is Cookie Monster’s diet a bad influence on children? These are just some examples of what has been questioned about Sesame Street over the years.  In its 40 years of existence (November 10, 1969), Sesame Street has received love and appreciation, but has also been questioned on whether some of the lessons that the show is teaching were appropriate for its young viewers - in the opinion of their parents. Here are some of these events.

The beginning years (1969-1974)

The show featured some grown up content that upset parents. Such examples include Grover being taught civil disobedience by a hippie and Cookie Monster smoking a pipe. In May 1970, a state commission in Mississippi voted to ban Sesame Street. A member of the commission leaked the vote to the New York Times, stating that "Mississippi was not yet ready" for the show's integrated cast. The vote was reversed.

However in general the show received critical acclaim from the start. TIME put Big Bird on the cover and declared it one of the best shows for children and parents in TV history, and it won a Peabody Award and three Emmys in 1970 alone.

Stereotypes (1970-present)

Hispanics felt under-represented. African Americans mis-represented. And women's organizations feared the show was too male-oriented. Members of the National Organization for Women e.g. complained about the portrayal of Susan as a "a subservient, powerless dispenser of milk and cookies". The show's producers tried to satisfy these critics by making Susan a nurse and by hiring female writers.

Elmo’s grammar problem (1979-present)

Elmo’s bad habit of referring to himself in third person makes parents question if it is teaching children improper grammar. 

The death of Mr. Hooper (1983)

When actor Will Lee (portraying shopkeeper Mr. Hooper) passed away in 83, an episode was aired that specifically focused on dealing with death. In this clip, Big Bird learns that life eventually ends by hearing the news from his friends that Mr. Hooper passed away. When Jim Henson died in 1990, rumors swirled that Ernie would "die" as well from a disease or in a vehicle accident. The producers of the show had to issue a statement "Ernie is not dying of AIDS; Ernie is not dying of leukemia. Ernie is a puppet."

Are Bert and Ernie gay? (1980-present)

Since these two guys shared a room together, the question raised if they were a gay couple. Critics have believed this to be true, but Sesame Street producers assured that they are not expressing a gay relationship between the two characters. 

Does Oscar the Grouch have a bipolar disorder? (1969-present)

Parents were also concerned that the Grouch’s mood swings were a bad influence on children’s behavior. Here is a clip of the Grouch being cheerfully grouchy singing "I Love Trash."

Does Sesame Street give children ADHD (2004)?

Critics have blamed Sesame Street for increasing the chance of ADHD and even epilepsy in children, since the format of the show is 40 unrelated short scenes and often some pretty random images as in this clip explaining the letter D.

Sesame Street on HIV/AIDS (2003)

Striking back at stereotypes of AIDS and in response to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa, Kami, an HIV-positive character was introduced into the South African version of the show, speaking with former president Bill Clinton in this clip. A tough topic for pre-schoolers that was especially criticized in the US. According to co-producer Naila Farouky, "The reaction we got in the US blew me away. I didn't expect people to be so horrible... and hateful and mean". However people like then-UN general secretary Kofi Annan praised their efforts.

Cookie Monster changes his diet plan (2005)

Since child obesity has increased, parents felt that Cookie Monster was a bad role model for children. In 2005, Cookie Monster begins eating healthier foods such as vegetables and fruits, which lead to the rumor that he would be called "Veggie Monster."

Bert and Ernie launch a gangsta rap career (2007)

Okay that wasn't a controversy, but the "Ante Up" remix clip is too funny. Some language.


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