Tuesday, November 10, 2009

40 Years of Sunny Days

Happy 40th birthday, Sesame Street!

This morning, as I got ready for work, I listened to a segment on the radio all about the history of Sesame Street and they, of course, played the theme song. I hadn't realized that it's been ages since I heard that song and when I did, a wave of happy nostalgic feelings hit me.

Most of the very familiar things I grew up with (Disney, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Oprah, etc.) have soured over the years; the reality of their big, corporate, hypocritical actions have tainted my pre-conceived notions of what I thought I knew so well...but not Sesame Street. Sesame Street is still its quirky, lovable self in my mind.

I'm sure my mother was unendingly thankful for the PBS line-up back in the late 80's; I remember her ironing in the basement before she had to leave for work, while I played and was happily entertained by my favorite monsters and their human friends. What I didn't know then is that I was learning- not just about numbers, letters, colors and grouchy creatures living in garbage cans, but about diversity and acceptance. (Yes, I realize that sounds cheesy, but it's true.) I was a little white girl in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, so seeing a variety of different looking people from different backgrounds everyday on TV was a good thing.

I was talking about this with a friend of mine this morning, and we both noted what a unique show it was- the almost gritty, urban set seemed real (it has since cleaned up a bit, apparently to coincide with the "clean up" of New York) and the monsters were unlike anything else we'd seen before. It was innovative and it was ours. They spoke to kids in a language we understood, never condescending, but almost with respect; they knew how smart and capable we really were.

While searching for Sesame Street related articles, I came across How Sesame Street Changed The World, a Newsweek article from earlier this year, about (obviously) the show's influence, where it's been, where it is and its future. Here's a blurb:

It is, arguably, the most important children's program in the history of television. No show has affected the way we think about education, parenting, childhood development and cultural diversity, both in the United States and abroad, more than Big Bird and friends. You might even say that Sesame Street changed the world, one letter at a time.

When I was four, I could have cared less about the show's cultural influence (I didn't even know the what the words cultural and influence meant) and I certainly was unaware about how much I was actually learning. I just knew I loved it and that it was a very special show about a bunch of silly monsters and their friendly neighbors, inviting us to "come and play where everything's A-okay..."
I was more than happy to oblige...and chances are, you were too ;)

Here's one of my all-time favorite clips of Smokey Robinson and the letter U, putting a new spin on "You've Really Got a Hold On Me":

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