Monday, April 07, 2003

The Muppets Go Global: How PC is Too PC?

Brought to you by the letters P and C

Welcome to the new mass media millenium. Mr. Rogers has passed on to the great neighborhood in the sky. South Park will air its one 100th show this Wednesday night; Kenny's back; it promises to be a doozy. Al-Jazeera gets more hits than CNN, despite its anti-american slant. And, on the eve of its 34th season, Sesame Street goes global village. Salon explains:

The 34th season of "Sesame Street" premieres Monday on PBS, offering more chances to peer into the souls of a whole new bevy of guests, from Sheryl Crow to first lady Laura Bush. The show has also added new features, aimed at increasing children's awareness of other cultures. In "Global Grover," the shoulderless blue one appears in costumes from around the world and narrates short documentaries about children from different countries.

Documentaries? For children? What I used to love about Sesame Street -- what worked -- was the locality of it all. Sesame Street may be imaginary, but in its original form, it was less of a world than a street itself, multicultural but seemingly right down the road apiece. We grew up, dear reader, in an era where the community was small and tight-knit, where Bob and Maria might stop in at any moment, where Oscar's can never did get picked up and tossed. The diversity was in those who had found the street, and those who stopped by; the street was small and finite, but it connected to the universe of ideas and cultures just fine, thanks.

What Sesame Street means by this new move, though, isn't to bring the world into the street, as was once the approach. It's to broaden the street until it becomes the world, by sending Grover in silly costume out to see the universe on a daily basis: kites in Malaysia, goat milking in Egypt, Russian dancers, Freedom Fries.

I posit that such a street is entirely unimaginable, uncontainable by the developing mind, too vast to "get."

The global village is a concept we take for granted, but it's not true, you know: there's no such thing as a global village. Kay James has been saying so for years; here's a quote from a speech of hers (sadly, not online at this time, but originally published in an old issue of Vital Speeches I cited in my 1996 thesis work) debunking the myth of the global village:

First, children do not belong to the village or to the community or to the government. They belong to the parents, and the village exists as a resource for those families. Second, even if we did believe this to be true, the village no longer exists (James, 1996).

The village, like the Street, exists as a resource for families. But, as Kay suggests, the village was a closed street, inclusive but localized. Sesame Street was never intended to be the global village. It's supposed to be that village which, in Kay's time and in ours, was already dissipated: that village which is solely a resource for and therefore an extension of the family itself, with friends and loved ones always nearby, teaching us to love. A move to bring the global village into the family will surely fail. The family cannot fit a village; it certainly has no room for the globe.

So I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is a dire sign for the good old Street. Yes, you heard it first: Sesame Street has jumped the shark. At best, this may mark the end of childhood, a cultural construct already in severe decay. At worst, it is a signal that the family itself, like the street in all its finitude, was never there to begin with.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:01 AM |

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