Tuned In

Sesame Street's Parodies, Still Rousing Grouches After 40 Years

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I was going to post about the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street next week, since the seminal kids’ show debuted on Nov. 10, 1969. But yesterday I noticed a surge of traffic to the blog to some old posts on Sesame Street. As far as I can tell, they were driven by Google’s illustrating its homepage with Big Bird (now Cookie Monster) to lead up to the anniversary, leading people to believe the anniversary was yesterday. Google homepage 1, actual history 0.

Google’s not the only one getting a jump on the anniversary. Conservative blogger “Stage Right” at entertainment-news site Big Hollywood took the occasion to rant about a two-year-old episode of Sesame Street that included a reference to the fictional news network “Pox News.” (h/t Mediaite.)

Despite the fact that the episode also included a fictional “GNN”, the “Grouchy News Network,” this clearly meant that his tax dollars were being spent to inculcate children with a liberal agenda. (Why is mocking Fox “liberal,” by the way, when the network is fair and balanced? Topic for another post, I guess.) Which led to the invocation of Saul Alinsky, William Ayers, “left-infested ‘volunteer’ web sites”…

It just goes to show: these days, it’s hard to tell the actual knee-jerk criticism from the parody.

To the post’s credit, it acknowledges that all this may sound a little ridiculous to you. Because you have been brainwashed. “This is always a slippery argument for us to make from the right,” Stage Right says, “because we run the risk of being caricatured in the way the late Jerry Falwell was in the infamous ‘Tinky-Winky’ incident.”

That’s one thought: Tinky-Winky and Oscar the Grouch could indeed be the useful idiots put forward by their Bolshevik masters, all to provoke conservatives to fall into the tarpit of public ridicule and discredit their ideology. Or, you know, it’s possible that whining about an organization being called a funny name by a kids’ show with puppets that has been making parodies with funny names for the past 40 years is 100% freaking nuts. Your call.

The thing of it is, it’s not nuts to read popular culture—even pop culture for kids—for political messages. I do it all the time. And there may even be a convincing argument to be made, from a close reading, that Sesame Street includes casual liberal assumptions in its writing—I’m not saying it does, but on the other hand, I don’t exactly know public broadcasting to be a hotbed of conservatives.

But it would take a deeper analysis than, “The puppet called me a name!” Which only goes to prove the old rule: Be careful about getting in an argument with a Muppet. People will laugh at both of you, and the Muppet will enjoy it.

Update: Stage Right does have one ally—PBS, or at least its ombudsman, who agrees with him, or at least argues that producers should have skipped making a joke on a potentially offensive issue. Why poking fun at Fox is any more offensive than calling CNN the Grouch News Network is beyond me, and even the ombudsman notes that, though the episode has aired several times in two years, only now has he gotten any complaints about it. But whether or not PBS is going to live up to its stereotype as liberal, the ombud seems determined to live up to PBS’s stereotype as humorless.