Amidst the whole celebration around the wall falling twenty years ago, people can be forgiven for missing Sesame Street’s fortieth anniversary. I am fully of the Sesame Street generation. In one of my earliest memories, I distinctly remember my father coming home, at what was “my” first house on Seebergsteig. He declared excitedly that a friend had told him about a great show on television, and that it was on RIGHT NOW! We bustled over to the TV, and there it was on AFN, a local channel in Berlin catering to the military that was stationed in Germany. My dad had to throw a little toggle switch on the back of the unit to receive the NTSC signal on our PAL/SECAM unit, but we were able to watch it! I don’t remember what specifically was on, but I do remember feeling like I had won some kind of great prize – Television! And the grown-ups thought it was good for me!
It seems like I knew all the characters instantly, and that they stayed with me forever. I have three sons now, and tried to kindle in them the same love for the show, but somehow it didn’t take root. There are too many other programs on, there is no real story to follow on Sesame Street, and only the youngest are fascinated by the mundane stuff that is shown – let’s go buy shoes, let’s walk to school, let’s go to the dentist. Elmo, a newer character invented for the very young long after my time, definitely grabbed Isaac by the virtual lapels, but that passed quickly.
The show’s had a number of great celebrity guests on, including Michelle Obama. No coincidence, as her husband is considered the first President “from Sesame Street.” But slowly the show is losing its urban edge, as political correctness creeps into a program that was created by people completely outside of the system. The Southern Baptists suspect Ernie & Bert of having a gay agenda, some of the puppets have been taken out of circulation for being racially stereotypical or simply too scary, and the animated segments celebrating certain numbers or letters are considerably less psychedelic. Cookie Monster, the original addict and physical embodiment of pure unbridled desire, has been forced to pass up cookies in favor of healthier fare such as fruits and vegetables.
Oh well, it remains a great show, and I still love watching it. As Theo begins his inevitable relationship with TV, I will sit with him. I don’t like the German version, it was a castrated show from the beginning, designed by German “Pedagogen” who have raised a generation of soulless, humorless Love Parade attendees… No, it will be the US version, preferably some of the older shows.
I also have the full Electric Company on DVD, but the kids liked that even less. But for those of you who remember the original Sesame Street, let me make one recommendation: go see Avenue Q. The characters have been changed just enough to protect the innocent, but to an experienced viewer they are clearly recognizable. Imagine our favorite characters growing up, retaining their sense of humor and ability to sing, and combine that with drugs, internet porn, and Broadway soft-shoe. Brilliant!