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Monday, November 19, 2007

Oscar just keeps it real, yo

As someone who has watched enough of "Barney" and "The Wiggles" to be freaked-out as an adult, this fascinating New York Times article on early "Sesame Street" episodes being too gritty for children of 2007 is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Though I grew up on a steady diet of Nickelodeon staples like "Pinwheel" and "Today's Special" (remember Jeff and his magic hat?), my two older brothers were closer to the original "Sesame Street" generation. Now with young kids, they were both understandably giddy when the first "Old School" DVD (1969-1974) was released last year. The second one (1974-1979) came out earlier this month, and while I suspect a lack of sheen won't prevent most 30-and-40-something parents from exposing their children to the early exploits of Super Grover, it's interesting to note that there's an "adults only" warning on the DVD sets.

With tongue-firmly-in-cheek, Virginia Heffernan writes, "Back then - as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 - a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but ... well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole."

Yikes. I can only imagine what the "Schoolhouse Rock" bill would say about water boarding in 2007 ...

Heffernan continues: "I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of 'Sesame Street,' how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody 'Monsterpiece Theater.' Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, 'That modeled the wrong behavior' - smoking, eating pipes - 'so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.'

Also worth noting: Oscar's depression is untreated. Big Bird's hallucinations about Snuffleupagus (he's visible to everyone now) are Sid and Marty Krofft-style creepy. Bert and Ernie are obviously in the closet. And of course, Cookie Monster is the model for child obesity thanks to his googly-eyed gluttony.

Heffernan is clearly having a little fun with the advisory label. But overzealous adults are known for literal (perhaps insane) interpretations of children's programming, lest we forget that "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Teletubbies" have also been attacked for promoting "unhealthy" agendas.

It's always alarming to me when history is re-written. Games of tag being banned from schools appeared to be the first salvo. Now "Sesame Street" keeps it too real for today's youth?

I've encountered more Oscars than Elmos in my 28 years on this planet. I've eaten too many chocolate chip cookies to count. And god knows what reprehensible thoughts would be running through my head if I hadn't blocked them out by memorizing the lyrics to "Rubber Duckie (You're the One)" instead.

But that's how we rolled in the hard-knock '70s and '80s. Our TV puppets were raw.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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4 Comments:

Just think, if Mr. Hooper had died in 2007 they would have just replaced him with CGI to spare kids the severe trauma.
-Adam

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At November 19, 2007 at 2:54 PM  

Who doesn't eat a pipe every once in a while? Gheesh, next thing you know someone is going to say HR Pufnstuf and Freddie the Magic Flute are subtle references to the psychedelic lifestyle.

By Anonymous eric, At November 20, 2007 at 12:35 PM  

I'm sad the article didn't mention that Grover might be exhibiting some seriously delusional behavior (flying? come on!).
--Malavika

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At November 20, 2007 at 1:14 PM  

I LOVED Oscar when I was a kid.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 20, 2007 at 2:28 PM  

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