Pop Culture Rewind: Sesame Street

JODIE RAMODIEN | REGULARS



Come and play, everything's A-OK, friendly neighbours there, that's where we meet, can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.


Growing up I never understood the appeal of High-5 or The Wiggles but I always loved Sesame Street. It’s hard to pin down exactly why. I think I found Grover’s accident-prone nature and clumsiness both funny and relatable, I enjoyed Oscar’s perpetual state of grouchiness, and I was easily the annoying Ernie to my brother’s Bert. Hearing the old versions of the Sesame Street theme song evokes a wave of nostalgia.


Like Scooby Doo, Sesame Street has been on air since the 1960s and is beloved by multiple generations, from boomers to zoomers. The idea for the show was conceptualised in 1966 during the Civil Rights Movement and following US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, a social welfare legislation which sought to end poverty in America. According to the Sesame Workshop, an independent nonprofit organisation, the founders of the show, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrissett, “had a simple but revolutionary idea: television could help prepare disadvantaged children for school. They taped educational advisors, researchers, television producers, artists, and other visionaries to create what would become the longest-running children’s show in American television history.”


While the show’s universal appeal has endured throughout the decades, its initial target audience was “the four-year old inner-city black youngster.” Sesame Street is based on the streets of Harlem in New York City which housed a historically black community and neighborhood. It was after a documentary Cooney produced about the Harlem pre-school program that she felt driven to becoming “absolutely involved intellectually and spiritually with the Civil Rights Movement and with the educational deficit that poverty created.” African-American Harvard professor and psychiatrist Chester Pierce aided the showrunners in creating a “hidden curriculum” which sought to “build up the self-worth of black children through the presentation of positive black images'' and “present an integrated, harmonious community to challenge the marginalisation of African-Americans that children routinely saw on television and elsewhere in society,” according to the Smithsonian Magazine.


In 1970, The State Commission for Educational Television in Mississippi banned the show which The New York Times reported as having been “regarded as one of the leading pre-school educational television series.” The commission stated that reason was on “racial grounds” as “Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children.” What they mean by “ a highly integrated cast of children” is of course the fact that children of all races were being represented alongside one another. In response, a local affiliate from NBC shamed the commission’s decision and aired the show on their network instead.


Sesame Street was a revolutionary show from the outset that has inspired and educated young children for decades. It’s positivity and inclusivity make it as great a show for children in 2021 as it was for children in 1969.