Column this week
I recently realised that YouTube has almost every classic skit that ever appeared on Sesame Street. From the Alligator King to the opera singing orange, you name it and dig around long enough, you’ll find it. I’m aware that most people probably already know this, and it seems safe to bet at least one reader is shaking his head and going, “But who didn’t know that? Steups.” So seeing that I have four four thousand word assignments due next week (a nice, healthy total of 16,000 words) I’ve naturally spent endless hours pulverising time by watching Kermit the Frog’s news flashes and Ernie tormenting Bert. And I’ve realised that, even though I didn’t know it when I was a child growing up, Sesame Street has taught me some invaluable lessons, which I will share with you.
Lesson One: An overactive imagination is a very cool thing. Think about it. You had aliens from outer space trying to chat up telephones; a huge, hairy, mastodon like creature that only one person could see; talking fruit; the tap dancing invisible man and the disco frog. Every day for years Sesame Street showed children that all they needed was their imagination and the whole world could become their playground. And they did all this with little or no special effects, unlike so many of the shows of today that utilise so many special effects that they’re no longer special. I wonder what Jim would have to say to that?
Lesson Two: Eating enough fruits and vegetables is really important. Who could forget Captain Vegetable (with his carrot and his celery)? He looked like a slightly shady character and acted like he had too much caffeine in his system, but his enthusiasm was infectious and the message good. They never showed kids pigging out on sweets on the show – unless you count bubble gum, but that was part of a lesson that taught you that B is better than any letter for bu – bble – gum. If they tried to shoot that skit now they’d probably have Bubblicious sponsoring the segment and the children would all have blindly white caps and nose jobs.
Lesson Three: The world is full of all sorts of people and you just have to learn to get along with them. Let’s see, we had sprangers (would you like to buy an O?); neurotics (Telly Monster); impatient middle class perfectionists (Prairie Dawn); people with strange, hippie sounding names (Prairie Dawn); people that on the surface were mean but that’s because you didn’t know them (Oscar) and people that were obviously different but that was ok (the Two Headed monster). Then you had the people that were cool (John John), the people that were not so cool (Bert) and the people who obviously liked each other but could never seem to hook up (David and Maria). Then of course you had a wide representation of different races, cultures and experiences and know what? We learned that it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside but rather, what’s on the inside (forgive me for sounding a bit Hallmark cardish there). And we didn’t even realise we were being taught so cool a lesson. Some world leaders obviously didn’t have TV when growing up.
Lesson Four: Music rocks. Olivia’s “Who am I?” Ernie’s, “I would like to visit the moon.” Harry Belafonte and Kermit singing “Caribbean Amphibian.” Yo Yo Ma and the Honkers, Kermit’s African Alphabet (amazing, beautiful creatures dancing). Hmmm, what else? Herbie Hancock and Tatyana Ali, Forgetful Jones singing Eeklahoma and the Count singing about his bats. The list is almost endless as were the topics they sang about. Of course, all this was before the days of Gina and before Elmo came alone and overshadowed everyone with his annoying third person self referencing. And it didn’t matter if you couldn’t sing or dance, case in point, Bert singing “Doin’ the Pigeon. What mattered was that you had fun while doing it and most times people joined in with you, kind of like the scene in every Indian movie when the boy and girl start singing the words for a song that remarkably everyone around them knows – and the dance too!
Lesson Five: All good things come to an end. Yeah, yeah, I know this one is a bit depressing but that’s life. And it’s an important lesson. Eventually you have to go to primary then secondary school, you start missing Sesame Street and on the odd days when you’re sick and you stay home and you get to watch it you scratch your head and wonder, huh? Where’s the talking typewriter? Where’s Grover? Who’s this blonde chick that’s talking down to everyone, acting like she’s too good to be seen with Muppets? Where’d Bob go? And eventually you realise that the good old glory days are gone and you’re better off doing some Maths or taking your cold medicine and going to bed. And then life gets in the way and then you’re working, day in, day out, bored out of your skull until you say ok, it’s time to immigrate and go to school and you have four four thousand word papers to produce in a week’s time and while procrastinating you come across the classic Sesame Street that you thought you’d lost forever. And you realise, wow, they still have the power to captivate you like nothing else and the same lessons are there, waiting for you to rediscover them.