It’s been 40 years since Sesame Street first started educating and entertaining children across the country.
I can think of a few things off the top of my head that I learned about with my eyes glued to the television and my hand in a box of Cheerios as a child: Counting, counting in Spanish, bottle caps, and a mastery of the ABC’s are a few examples.
But here’s one thing I learned about on Sesame Street that you might not think of right away: death.
When Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, died of a heart attack in 1982, instead of covering it up on the show or saying Mr. Hooper moved away or went on vacation, the show decided to tell children the truth: “Mr. Hooper died.” They told Big Bird this in the episode “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” broadcast on Thanksgiving 1983. Later in the episode, Big Bird wants to give all the cast members drawings that he made of each of them. When Big Bird asks where Mr. Hooper is, they remind him that Mr. Hooper is dead, to which Big Bird replies that he’ll just wait for him to come back, so he can give him the drawing. The adults pause and tell Big Bird that when someone dies, they never come back.
It was real. It was powerful in a way that insulating modern television may never be again. It was one of TV’s most important moments, and it would affect me just as much when I saw it for the first time in the late 80s. (I wasn’t born when it originally aired)
But most of my Sesame Street memories aren’t nearly as sad!
It this doesn’t completely floor you, nothing will: (see more here)
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Sesame Street has had its detractors too. Like, shortly after the show first began, a state commission in Mississippi voted to ban the show in May 1970. A member of the racist commission leaked the vote to the New York Times, saying that “Mississippi was not yet ready” for the show’s integrated cast.
Ethic Soup blog has a good post that includes Sesame Street’s detractors not only because of the show’s integration, but because of the strong, single women on the show and the belief that the show’s fast pacing caused epilepsy in its preschool audience. It was just seven years ago that Congressional members threatened the funding of Public Broadcasting System (PBS), warning them to not allow the new Muppet character — a little girl who was HIV-positive. This Ethic Soup post is at:
I think the biggest thing I learned from sesame street is that you are ok no matter what. my son loves elmo now and he learns so much. its fun to relive it all with him again…