Culture

Stay Hungry: Sesame Street Adds 'Food Insecure' Muppet

Ah, the changing face of over 40 years of social engineering and media indoctrination.

Back in 2007, the New York Times reported that the DVD release of the first season of Sesame Street carried a rather unusual warning message:

According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. “What did they do to us?” asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.

Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.

But hey, at least Mr. and Mrs. Gordon fed Sally — I wonder if they have anything in the fridge left over for the newest resident of television’s most famous neighborhood:

The iconic kids show is set to unveil a new impoverished puppet named Lily, whose family faces an ongoing struggle with hunger issues. Lily will be revealed in a one-hour Sesame Street primetime special, Growing Hope Against Hunger, which is being sponsored by Walmart. The special will star country singer Brad Paisley and his wife Kimberly Williams Paisley, as well as the Sesame Street Muppets.

“Food insecurity is a growing and difficult issue for adults to discuss, much less children,” said the Paisleys in a statement. “We are honored that Sesame Street, with its long history of tackling difficult issues with sensitivity, caring and warmth asked us to be a part of this important project.”

The special will share the stories of real-life families to raise awareness of hunger issues in the United States, as well as strategies that have helped these families find food. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 17 million American children — nearly 1 in 4 — have limited or uncertain access to affordable and nutritious food. Walmart is sponsoring the show as part of a $1.5 million grant toward the initiative and holding screenings in select communities.

In 2005, six years before adding their “food insecure” Muppet, USA Today reported that Sesame Street’s community organizers were busy telling a show-biz icon that he needed to cut back on the dangerous substance abuse that made him a superstar:

Something must be wrong in the land of Muppets. First PBS announced that Sesame Street would kick off its 35th season this week with a multiyear story arc about healthy habits. No problem there; childhood obesity rates are soaring. Then I learned of changes that turned my Sesame Streetworld upside-down.

My beloved blue, furry monster — who sang “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me” — is now advocating eating healthy. There’s even a new song — A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food, where Cookie Monster learns there are “anytime” foods and “sometimes” foods.

Something tells me that Thomas Sowell won’t be dropping by the neighborhood anytime soon, even though his latest column addresses both Lily and Cookie Monster’s issues:

Dan Rather opened a CBS Evening News broadcast in 1991 by declaring, “One in eight American children is going hungry tonight.” Newsweek, the Associated Press, and the Boston Globe repeated this statistic, and many others joined the media chorus, with or without that unsubstantiated statistic.

When the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Agriculture examined people from a variety of income levels, however, they found no evidence of malnutrition among those in the lowest income brackets. Nor was there any significant difference in the intake of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from one income level to another.

That should have been the end of that hysteria. But the same “hunger in America” theme reappeared years later, when Sen. John Edwards was running for vice president. And others have resurrected that same claim, right up to the present day.Ironically, the one demonstrable nutritional difference between the poor and others is that low-income women tend to be overweight more often than others. That may not seem like much to make a political issue from, but politicians and the media have created hysteria over less.

The political Left has turned obesity among low-income individuals into an argument that low-income people cannot afford nutritious food, and so have to resort to burgers and fries, pizzas and the like, which are more fattening and less healthful. But this attempt to salvage something from the “hunger in America” hoax collapses like a house of cards when you stop and think about it.

Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, as the Times reported back in 2007, the original episodes from 1968 were so hardcore and on the edge that some scenes had to be reshot for modern consumption or edited out entirely, before they were released onto DVD:

The old “Sesame Street” is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper “Elmo’s World” started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal [yes, this was written in the pre-Obama-era — Ed], extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place [yes this written before Mayor Bloomberg had made a further hash of New York] — well, the original “Sesame Street” might hurt your feelings.

I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

Hey, who knew that the Ministry of Truth had opened up a branch office on Sesame Street? But then, Big Brother’s social engineering and PBS go together like cookies and milk, as Jesse Walker of Reason wrote in 2009 when he traveled down “The Way to Sesame Street,” to explore the surprisingly multifaceted “politics of children’s television:”

It’s hard to fathom just how unusual Sesame Street must have seemed when it debuted 40 years ago this month. The children’s TV show didn’t just mix entertainment with education: It was a full-blown collaboration between commercial showmen and social engineers. On one hand you had a team of educators, experts in child development, and officials at the Carnegie and Ford foundations trying to create a televised preschool. On the other hand you had veterans of projects ranging from Captain Kangaroo to The Jimmy Dean Show, including a gang of puppeteers best known for making strange and funny ads. The program itself reflected both an antipathy to commercialism and a fascination with commercials, which served not just as a source for its parodies but as a model for its programming.

The show emerged from the same Great Society milieu that had produced the Head Start preschool program. That guaranteed it would be a magnet for controversy. In his 2006 book Sesame Street and the Reform of Children’s Television, the historian Robert Morrow notes that preschool in the ’60s was frequently framed as a project for the impoverished, who were presumed to suffer from “cultural deprivation.” Not surprisingly, many poor people found this attitude haughty and high-handed. The middle class, meanwhile, often saw the home as “a haven to be protected from intrusions by educators as well as by television.”

Gosh, I wonder why? Actually, I don’t. Back in 2007, I first blogged about PBS slapping warnings onto Sesame Street’s gritty, substance abuse-filled original original episodes from the late ’60s. As I asked back then, when the current season of Sesame Street is being assembled for release onto DVD’s successor format forty years from now, how much of it will have to be reshot to comply with how much further the nanny state is sure to have expanded?

And what new societal ill will that batch of Muppets be highlighting?

(By the way, the Muppets aren’t taking all this social engineering lying down — they’re fighting back against 40 years of the evil corporatist system pushing them around: Occupy Sesame Street — The Man can’t bust our cookies!)