Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame St?


This post is brought to you by the letter S and the number 40.

It's Sesame Street's 40th birthday this week, and the American media is making a big deal of it, whirling me back in time on a nostalgia-fest of 70s haircuts and flares, adults with Afros and guitars, Oscar the Grouch living in a trashcan and grimy brownstones.

I don't know how many people in the UK grew up with Sesame Street (the Doctor claims never to have watched it) but growing up in late 70s Hong Kong, it was THE children's television show. It was on every day at about 4pm, and for a few years, I was glued to it.

It was, I think, one of the first truly educational preschool TV programmes. Sesame Street taught me the ABC song (which, it only occurred to me recently, is set to the same tune as 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' - slow, aren't I?) that even now I sing to the Littleboys. 'The Count' taught me how to count to 20 with a clap of thunder and a mwa-haha. Setting numbers and letters to music is a fantastic technique to help children learn them (and one I used, later on, for learning reams of Latin poetry for my 'A' Levels. Well, the only way to remember it was to set it to tracks like UB40's Red, Red Wine...)

Even now when I hear the original theme tune (they played it on NPR radio this morning; the new one is all funked-up and modern, of course) it transports me back to those days. Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Ernie and Bert - they were such a big part of my childhood, and they are still going strong for many American kids today.

The Littleboys haven't seen much Sesame Street, apart from the odd DVD from the Library; it's on between 7 and 8am here, which is getting-up, having breakfast and running around shrieking time in our house. So I haven't had much opportunity to watch the noughties version. And I'm sort of glad, because according to what I've read and heard, it's a little different. The 'neighbourhood' has been cleaned up - less graffiti, less urban grit - the Muppets are more cutesy, less 'raw' (according to NPR); Oscar the Grouch was 'meaner' in the old days. Cookie Monster can't exclusively eat cookies any more - well, that would encourage obesity wouldn't it? - so he has to munch on fruit and vegetables too. And no doubt there are more songs about recycling than about peace, love, harmony and co-operation. All worthy, educational stuff, I'm sure, but it wouldn't be the show that I remember.

Nevertheless, Sesame Street will always resonate with me. It was as much part of my cultural childhood as Abba songs, Playschool and Miffy books. I wish it well, and I hope Big Bird is still going strong in another 40 years.

In the meantime, click here to see Oscar singing 'I love trash'.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1SiSUrvUnk

15 comments:

Mud in the City said...

Isn't that funny - Sesame St didn't feature at all in my childhood! I definitely remember Play School (through the ROUND window!) and Blue Peter, but Oscar et al are an alien world....

Iota said...

Oh gosh how different my relationship with Sesame St has been. It didn't feature in my childhood at all. When we moved here, I tried to get my daughter interested in it, because I thought it was the quintessential American preschool tv show. She just wasn't keen at all (in that period of time, her heart belonged to the Wiggles, and they reigned pretty supreme till Lazy Town and the Imagination Movers came along). I have just passed on the Sesame St movie I bought that first Christmas we were here, and no-one is going to miss it. It was Elmo in Grouchland.

And do you know what? I had never noticed that about the ABC song. Twinkle Twinkle. Obvious, really - except not to you and me. It's like seeing a friend in a different context, and being completely flummoxed as to who they are.

Expat mum said...

Yup - never had anything to do with Sesame Street, but then I don't really remember watching much kids tv as a little child - The occasional Andy Pandy, Woodentops and Mary, Mongo and Mitch. Blue Peter of course, was must-see after school viewing.

conuly said...

Sesame Street taught me the ABC song (which, it only occurred to me recently, is set to the same tune as 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' - slow, aren't I?) that even now I sing to the Littleboys.

Was at a toddler program once where the coordinator was singing the ABCs. And then she sang Twinkle, Twinkle. And then, as a request, she sang Baa Baa Black Sheep. The look on her face when she realized, midway through the second "baa" that they all have the same melody? PRICELESS.

Matt said...

I suspect Sesame Street prompted me to migrate from the Great Lakes to New York, though the unemployment rate out in flyover country may have played a role as well. Either way, I ended up not merely in *a* Sesame Streetesque nabe but in *the* original setting for the show, which it turns out was at first to be called "123 Avenue B."

About the show's decline -- it's sad. The newer characters are awful. Forget Elmo, the lisping bear, all the irritating celebrity guests -- now they're making one of those insipid princessy ones the top muppet. But they still have to cut the new crap with a lot of '70s and '80s material, so it's not so bad.

The thing that made Sesame Street pop is that it was designed (by mad hippie geniuses run amok) to give disadvantaged black and Latina NYC kids a show with a recognizable perspective. I think that's some of what's been lost in the gentrification of Sesame Street. Which is a loss for kids of every tint and tongue.

Vinogirl said...

I'm with Mud...Play School and Blue Peter (down Shep) featured largely, but also programmes such as Pogle's Wood and Tales from the Riverbank etc. I saw Sesame Street now and again, but it wasn't significant...I suspect I'm just a little bit older :)

Kit said...

Sesame St only impacted on our life when we had our first child. As a toddler he was an early waker - 5/5.30 every morning. Sesame St saved our life - we discovered it on ITV or something at 6 am every morning, so one of us would read to him till it came on and then doze on the sofa next to him until it was proper getting up time. And we've used the ABC song every since even though the next two kids never got to watch it.

nappy valley girl said...

Mud, Iota, Expat Mum and Vinogirl - you didn't know what you were missing!

Conuly - that is hysterical. I think I realised about Baa Baa Black Sheep at the same time as making the Twinkle Twinkle/ABC link. But I wonder just how many people it has never occurred to....

Matt - insipid princess Muppets sound AWFUL. That's never what SS was about. Glad to hear they still use the 70s material though. (And is seems odd that they have homogenised it more when you have shows like Dora and Diego that are all about including the Hispanic culture.)

Kit - Ah, so that's when it was on in the UK. Clearly only for insomniac toddlers!

alybean said...

Bring back Sesame Street! I've been showing my kids clips on YouTube over the last week.Me and brother watched it as kids and so did my friends.It was a world away from living on a council estate.

Aly
My Hodge Podge Life

A Modern Mother said...

Sesame Street was to me what I think Blue Peter was for Brits. I'm not going to psycho analyse it (the Seasame Street in your face, always something new, entertain me vs. Blue Peter's subdued making crafts....) Despie, I loved it as a child and I still do. Especially love all the celeb guest appearances. Happy Anniversary Seasame Street!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Canada, and in Quebec, I don't know if Sesame Street was ever on. I remember watching Chez Helene, the Gentle Giant, and Casey and Finnegan. I think when we moved to Toronto we did have Sesame Street on TV, but I was a little older. I do remember thinking it was cool.

It was so sanitized when my son started watching that he even didn't like it much. We got some old episodes and he liked them better, but Barney and Teletubbies were his toddler favourites.

Christine

Vinogirl said...

Oh, you don't have to feel sorry for me, I learned to count on my own quite well thank you...and thoroughly enjoyed the Englishness of such programmes...who wouldn't love a guinea pig in a power boat?

Fourdownmumtogo said...

I just missed Sesame Street mania, as I moved to Brussels the year that BBC 1 & 2 were beamed abroad. I am told that before then the only English language programme was Sesame Street and every expat, young and old, watched it religiously.

Metropolitan Mum said...

I grew up with the German version of Sesame Street and wanted to buy a DVD for my own little baby daughter - was put off by it's too hard trying topics like recycling, recycling, recycling and leading a healthy life. Boooring.

nappy valley girl said...

Aly - at last! A Brit who knows what I'm on about....good for you.

Susanna - did you know Michelle Obama was on it last week for the anniversary? Can't imagine Nancy Reagan would have done the same in the 80s....

Christine - yes, i think there are so many other shows for kids now that Sesame Street probably needs to do more to keep up...

Vinogirl - my children's favourite here is currently The Wonder Pets, which features a superhero guinea pig in a cape(!)

Fourdownmumtogo - sounds like it was similar to Hong Kong then, Sesame Street was really the only decent kids' TV for a while. The only other thing I remember watching was Scooby Doo....

Metropolitan Mum - yes, I don't think kids really want to be preached at all the time, do they. Or if they are, it should be in a less worthy way. (Like the 'Yo Gabba Gabba' song 'don't bite your friends', which I think is brilliant.)