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We All Are Big Bird

sesame street

I am a child of Sesame Street.  My afternoons in daycare began with “Sunny days. Sweepin’ the clouds away. On my way to where the air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” I had my favorite characters.  Oscar the Grouch made me giggle as he told everyone to “scram!”  Grover’s silly antics brought smiles to my face on the gloomiest days and I always counted along with the Count.  I cannot say I was ever a huge fan of Bert and Ernie, but I did like it when Ernie got on Bert’s last nerve.  I was a fan when Mr. Hooper and Kermit the Frog were regulars, and I became a fan again, when Elmo’s cuteness made my kids’ eyes light up. But there was one character who was always a favorite and that was Big Bird.  His gigantic proportions never overshadowed his kindness  So, when Mitt Romney said during the first debate, “I’m sorry Jim. I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m gonna stop other things,…I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too,” I instantly thought I had heard it wrong, but then I quickly realized that Romney did indeed say Big Bird was on menu for Thanksgiving.  Romney’s comments are incredibly sad because Big Bird, and everything he stands for, such as kindness, honesty, toleration, sharing, generosity, hope, and curiosity, are all the qualities that we, as Americans, supposedly value.  So, in many ways, we all are Big Bird because he represents the best of America and by making him a political target, Romney essentially places the bull’s-eye on the backs of most Americans.

Openness, Toleration, and Kindness

We all are Big Bird because when Sesame Street began in 1969, it represented a changing America, one on the precipice of accepting its diversity.  It was not a street you found in the middle of suburban American, but an urban landscape where children, adults, and Muppets interacted, regardless of race, gender, creed, disability, size, and shape.  The show’s creators believed that to engage urban children, they had to create a world to which these children could identify.  However, Sesame Street never alienated suburban children who found as much enjoyment in this one show as did their urban counterparts.  Every child was welcomed to watch Grover fly through the air, to laugh as Cookie Monster stuffed a gazillion cookies in his mouth, and to sing or goof around with one of the many special guests who visited 123 Sesame Street.

Curiosity

We all are Big Bird because when the creators painstakingly developed the show’s curriculum and outcomes, it was geared toward the millions of children unable to go to preschool, while at the same time reinforced the lessons learned by the children who did attend.  Sesame Street’s main goal was to educate future generations, but to do so in an intelligent, fun manner that respected and fostered children’s curiosity.  The incorporation of Jim Henson’s Muppets engaged children by bridging fantasy with reality.  Its popularity for over 40 years, as well as its global reach, reflected the show’s ability to shape children’s perspectives and insights. Children may have been learning their ABCs and 123s, but little did they know that they also learned the meaning of friendship and compassion, even from the very cranky, but lovable Oscar the Grouch.

Honesty

We all are Big Bird because when Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) passed away and Maria (Sonia Manzano) married and became pregnant, producers took each event to expand the show’s storyline.  Real life presented an opportunity to teach children about about death, love, and family.  By incorporating and addressing real life circumstances, Sesame Street expressed a willingness to deal with issues that were not always “child-friendly.” Like with all of their other educational content, they took an age-appropriate, honest approach that ended up teaching millions of children about the realities of life.

Sharing, Generosity, and Trust

We all are Big Bird because on Sesame Street, sharing is what friends, neighbors, and good people do.  Throughout the past 40+ years, numerous characters learned the lessons of sharing and generosity. But at the same time, human and Muppet characters shared their feelings and learned that honesty was the best policy and that also trust was just as important. Jim Henson’s Muppets were able to garner a child’s trust and they taught children that they could trust their feelings and be honest about them.  So when they introduced Mr. Snuffleupagus (Snuffy), Big Bird instantly wanted to share his best friend with everyone on Sesame Street. The problem was of course, he was invisible, and adults did not believe he existed, particularly when something went wrong.  I’ll be honest, I loved the episodes with Snuffy because I had imaginary friends.  Snuffy and Big Bird’s friendship was endearing to a young girl like myself, but by the 1980s, his invisibility and the adults’ disbelief in his existence raised some concerns.  During this time, the rise in awareness of sexual abuse (and all child abuse) influenced the show’s producers to admit that children might be learning the wrong lesson with Snuffy’s invisibility.  Big Bird’s frustration over the adults disbelief regarding Snuffy’s existence mirrored many children’s exasperations when adults do not believe them, especially when it is about something like abuse, which does not always leave visible marks.  It was not a message that they wanted to send, because Sesame Street always encouraged (and still does) children to speak out and to silence the littlest of voices was unacceptable.

Hope

We all are Big Bird because Sesame Street has always implied hope as a message. Hope in our children, our community, and in our world.  I learned from Sesame Street that all children, regardless of their situations, were very much like me.  They were curious, playful, kind, tolerant, and liked to share.  It is probably why I packed my bags one night and announced to my mother that I was running away to Sesame Street because I wanted to live in a place of hope, tolerance, sharing, honesty, and openness. (I was crushed when I learned it was not real.  I mean really crushed).  Sesame Street gave (and gives) millions of children hope that the world could be a better place if they lived like the characters on 123 Sesame Street.

Romney’s plans to cut off PBS is very much like his “those people” remark.  It demonstrates greed, selfishness, arrogance, pride, and ignorance – values that are the antithesis of what Sesame Street espouses.  If Romney wins and Big Bird is indeed silenced, then who else is silenced?

Romney’s contempt for the 47% (and really for most Americans) is why I choose to stand for Big Bird, because I am Big Bird.

___________________________________

For more on the history of Sesame Street: Michael Davis, Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (New York: Viking Press, 2008)

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on DoubleyooTeeEff and commented:
    I am SO glad happened to find this blog – I could have written pretty much every word of it, because I have had the same experiences, reactions and thoughts as this author, Cherl Lemus, and I agree with these ideas 100%. We ARE all Big Bird. And we are ALL against the idea that Big Bird should lose his funding. Don’t make the bird angry, Mitt!

    October 5, 2012
    • Thanks Chris! I appreciate your support!

      October 5, 2012
      • My pleasure, and thanks to you for explaining exactly why Romney’s threats against PBS funding are far more significant in human terms than they are in economic terms. Plus, I am a HUGE Muppet/Jim Henson geek, and any friend of Big Bird is a friend of mine. :)

        October 6, 2012
  2. Cheryl, this is a wonderful piece (as usual). I wanted to add that all of these things that have made Sesame Street so wonderful over the years – teaching difficult subjects, highlighting multicultural issues, the death of a friend, child abuse – all of these things were made possible by the platform and structure of Public Broadcasting. I would really hate to see what Sesame Street would look like in the hands of Clear Channel, Fox, or even Nickelodeon.

    October 5, 2012
    • You are right as usual Jackie! Thanks for the comments. :)

      October 5, 2012
  3. Reblogged this on The Rogue Scholar's Journal.

    October 5, 2012
  4. Emily Gilkey #

    Also, how wonderful is it to have children’s programming NOT constantly interrupted by a barrage of images and advertisements that you can’t control or anticipate? You can watch sesame street without having forty commercials about the toy or unhealthy snack you absolutely HAVE to have. I used to watch Sesame Street when I came home from college classes. I struggled with depression and just being able to turn on Elmo made me feel a bit better and a bit happier. Sesame Street is for everyone.

    October 5, 2012
  5. Look people everyone loves Big Bird – but aren’t you overdoing the hoopla because Romney said “the country might not be able to afford it any longer” –We are in bad shape. People need JOBS, If you are so passionate about PBS- DONATE. Don’t expect the government to give everyone everything they want. If we have to cut, I’d rather cut PBS than jobs, education, etc. Let’s get real here. Try taking your kids to a park or a library group – or a nursery school where they can learn probably more than they will in front of a TV.

    October 5, 2012
    • Hi Kate,
      Thanks for contributing to our discussion here at Nursing Clio! I agree that we should ALL donate to PBS and NPR – they are great programs that are worthy of our support. I would like to point out that I think ideally all people would love to spend their days taking their children to the park, library, and local nursery schools. The problem is that there are many embedded notions of class privilege in the suggestions you make. Not every working family can take their kids to the library, especially when they are closing down at astonishing rates. Not everyone has a safe park to take their kids to and not everyone can afford nursery school. Sesame Street was created to reach out to children who may not have the advantages that middle and upper-class children enjoy. Luckily, the show is produced so well, that all children, regardless of class, race, or gender, can enjoy the show while learning social and academic skills.

      October 5, 2012
    • marggie #

      PBS, which also includes NPR, costs less than $2,00 a YEAR per person in the USA, I think that Mitt has the Koch brothers and their multi million dollar investments (in most of the media providers worldwide) in for profit TV to thank for this plan.

      October 5, 2012
    • If there was no where else to cut, perhaps there would be a reason to cut funding- but with 6 Trillion dollars for military spending, and 92 Billion in corporate subsidies, I have a bit of difficulty seeing the small amount we spend on public broadcasting as the logical place to cut. When you look at what we get for our money, PBS is a valuable investment in the future of our country- ideas and education without the advertising and marketing hoopla- PBS produces spectacular programming designed to enrich the population without deference to economic status.

      Thanks for the beautifully written piece.

      October 7, 2012
    • There’s much that I disagree with in your attitude and opinion. But I will sum it up by saying this: the people that need PBS and Sesame Street the most are the people that can’t afford to donate to it…or anything else, for that matter.

      October 7, 2012
  6. thank you for this.

    My own opinion can be found at

    http://joesar.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/nurses-know-bullying-when-they-see-it

    October 6, 2012
  7. Nancy McKay #

    As a fan of Henson and all his characters and as A mental health therapist, I know the value of bringing morals and values and purity and especially hope to children . Go ahead take away PBS funding , take away hope, honesty, generosity, kindness…go ahead Mr Rommey or should we start calling you the Grinch. Sesame Street reaches out to those who have limited exposures, just ask the man who created nimmo, where he developed his gentle manner.. He grew up in a housing project, poor with limited resources,however the household television brought the wonderful world of Jim Henson to his house, giving him hope another worldview, and a career that brings joy to millions.
    My oldest son watched Sesame Street 3 times daily,same episode, and by the way it was the only television he was allowed to watch. He grew up to be a compassionate caring person, in part to the wonderful exposure to Sesame Street. Today he is involved with the Henson company, continuing through various venues to bring laughter,values ,
    honesty, to children from poor neighborhoods ,and let me not forget the most important thing, hope.

    October 6, 2012
  8. Reblogged this on Paul Salahuddin Armstrong.

    October 6, 2012
  9. I’ve reblogged your lovely article on my website. I totally agree, I grew up on Sesame Street myself, it used to be almost as big here in the United Kingdom. Indeed I’m immensely disappointed it’s not still being broadcast here. Sesame Street is a wonderful programme and one of the United States best exports, representing the very best of America. I do so hope it doesn’t completely disappear. PBS is an excellent channel too, I’ve benefitted immensely from it. Only an idiot would regard these educational shows as a poor investment!

    http://www.paulsarmstrong.com

    October 6, 2012
    • Thank you so much Paul for your support! Unfortunately, we seem to have a lot of people with very small minds in government today and it really is hurting our country. I’m surprised the UK does not run Sesame Street any longer, given its global popularity.

      October 6, 2012
      • Keith #

        Cheryl, I do not think it is small minded of someone to realize that we as a nation cannot sustain the current government spending and some areas will need to be cut. If the choice is to cut Big Bird or to cut a program that will feed a hungry child in THIS country then as sad as it would be Big Bird should be off the air unless people donate to keep him on. Maybe a portion of the profits from all of the sales of Sesame Street and Muppet characters could be used to offset the potential cuts to the programs and keep them.
        the air

        October 7, 2012
  10. My children were allowed to go to Sesame Street without me…except I liked to go, too. So I stayed in the background. (Same with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood). And I have learned that the economic fallout is well beneath .0001% of the budget, somewhere around a very tiny math error. It can be fact-checked, and since Romney didn’t do it, I guess it doesn’t matter to him.

    But to children whose parents can’t afford a trip to the local museum, a station like PBS is a big deal. Yes, Mitt, there are families like that. I took mine to resale shops with old stuff, stuff I remembered from my childhood–our “museum”. And we watched PBS, all of us, often. It’s fine that the well-off or even the better off can go to museums, or see/buy movies that tell the stories of history. I’m happy they can see wonderful places, nature at its best, things that children–and adults–should see.

    The Romneys have access to all thhis as do their uber-wealthy friends as well, and more so, as they have the rich history and glorious beauty and art of the world at their fingertips. They would be remiss not to take advantage of it. What the Republican candidates should not be doing is taking away from those who cannot take advantage of these things their opportunities, such as they are, from this fine organization, which has done so much for children and their parents over the years.

    October 7, 2012
  11. I too have many memories of Sesame Street. I was born in 1964, so although I loved Sesame Street, I thought it was for kids younger than me. But I remember the songs! Like Little Jerry & The Monotones singing “Mad!”. And The Count! Classic stuff! The emphasis on multi-culturalism alone makes Sesame Street worth it. Nothing short of a national treasure. When I hear people that want to cut funding for PBS, it makes me mad!

    October 7, 2012
  12. Norma Gurney Pfeuffer #

    My kids were born when Sesame St. started. All four of them were in love with different characters.I love the old Sesame St. the best but watched the newer ones with grandchildren who are 20 and 22 now and now great grandkids. We have original Big Bird, Raulf and Earnie and Bert puppets that show much wear from love. Now have so many Barney, Big Bird etc added and as a child out grows them they go back in Nana’s magic attic to wait for another child to play with them. As a lifelong Pre K teacher I can’t imagine show n tell without Thomas the Train . I read books of PBS friends. This is a crazy way to balance the budget or close the deficit.The values taught on PBS kid shows and especially Sesame St. are priceless.

    October 8, 2012

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