Children’s TV might be more annoying than being stuck in an Austin Maxi full of howler monkeys, but it’s fairly innocuous stuff. Simple tunes, bright colours and lots of repetition – all designed to amuse the toddlers long enough for you to come to your senses and put that cap back on the bottle of sleeping pills.
Although most parents I know are on first name terms with the whole of Rastamouse’s Easy Crew, they don’t actually watch any of these shows – they just turn up the volume so the kids won’t hear them screaming into a balled up tea towel. But maybe if the creators of this multi-coloured mogadon put a little more effort into their output, parents would be happy to set aside some time for ‘watch with mother’, without it sounding like quite such a threat.
For some reason, the UK has never been able to replicate the success of Sesame Street, in terms of producing toddler-focused programming that doesn’t make grown-ups feel like they’ve been given a frontal lobotomy with a wooden spoon. Even now, Jim Henson’s brainchild manages to entertain several generations at once, as his ping-pong eyed characters riff on contemporary shows like Mad Men and True Blood.
Despite a forty-year history of teaching kids about letters, numbers and sponsorship deals, not everyone wants to go to where the air is sweet. A book by conservative writer Ben Shapiro peels back the façade to reveal a sinister liberal conspiracy lurking inside the Children’s Television Workshop. ‘Primetime Propaganda’ details the insidious way that TV producers have attempted to “shape America in their own leftist image", and it seems that Mr Hooper’s store sits at ground zero. According to Shapiro, Henson’s army of antron-fleeced comrades are attempting to brainwash pre-schoolers into accepting such pinko concepts as tolerance, healthy eating and ‘peaceful conflict resolution’. The evil fuckers.
So is there any truth to Shapiro’s claim, or is he just suffering from that quintessentially American affliction – Conspiracy Theory Syndrome? let's examine the evidence...
Bert and Ernie
Two of Sesame Street’s longest serving residents, Bert and Ernie are supposedly platonic room-mates. They may sleep in separate beds, but their interactions have always been fraught with latent sexual tension. Last year, Bert (the butch one with a unibrow) even Tweeted a reference to being a ‘mo’, which many people interpreted as a coming out declaration. With New York recently legalizing gay marriage, it won’t be too long before Bert and Ernie stop arguing about rubber duckies and misplaced bananas, and come to blows over who’s going to cater their big day.
Although he was originally created for an IBM training film, and later a series of ads for Munchos crisps, we know him best as Cookie Monster. For the last four decades he’s been battling a serious dependency problem, regularly losing all control and smashing baked goods into his mouth, despite the fact that he was tragically born without an esophagus, or the ability to swallow. It might be unsettling to watch, but children of substance abusers will no doubt recognise the telltale signs, particularly the unkempt appearance, unintelligible speech patterns and constant rolling of his eyes. Sadly, since cookies are legally available, it seems unlikely that the fuzzy blue addict will ever get the help he needs, at least until he’s ready to admit there’s a problem.
Like Edward Cullen, Bill Compton and Louis de Pointe du Lac, Count Von Count has managed to suppress his natural bloodlust and find a way to coexist peacefully alongside the living. The downside of suppressing his natural instincts, is that his habitual behaviours have manifested themselves in an extreme form of autism. Thanks to an understanding network of social workers and the occasional visit to an outpatients centre, Count hasn’t hypnotised anyone since the mid-seventies and poses no immediate threat to himself or others. However, due to his high-risk lifestyle, he’s legally prohibited from donating blood.
Oscar The Grouch
Crabby, irascible, and usually found inside a ‘trash can’ which he calls home, Oscar is most likely a Vietnam war veteran who was callously neglected by mental health services. Like many of his street-dwelling peers, Oscar has taken to compulsively hoarding useless items discarded by the rest of society, and has grown increasingly misanthropic over the years. Although he won’t admit it, Oscar occasionally sets pride aside and allows some of the Sesame Street residents to hose him down and cut the dried feces out of his matted fur.
Aside from street’s fuzzy-skinned denizens, the liberal bias of the show could also be detected in some of the interstitial films that regularly broke up the searing social insight.
For instance, the communist principle of collectivism was evidenced time and time again in a popular series of clips, as children were singled out for refusing to conform to majority behaviour. The song’s lyrics were “One of these kids is doing his own thing” - the inference being that viewers needed to finger the perpetrators, so they could be bundled off to a Siberian gulag.
Likewise, Karl Marx’s slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was given contemporary relevance through the inspiring story of how many peanuts it took to make a jar of peanut butter.
Finally, when all else failed, Sesame Street had one more ace up a sleeve that looked suspiciously like Kermit’s torso. On the surface, it was a perfectly innocent counting song accompanied by an animated pinball machine. But the intermittent psychedelic flashes were actually psychotropic triggers designed to activate sleeper agents. On the fateful day when the show is brought to you by the letters K, G and B, the revolution will begin. And it will be televised.
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