Sunday, November 15, 2009
Essay: Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?
As I am slightly behind the curve here (my news cycle is blessedly far from 24-hours,) I still am reflecting on the fortieth anniversary of Sesame Street. This show hit the air only a few weeks after my third birthday, the year that my memories begin, and in reflecting on the anniversary this week I realized that my consciousness was shaped by lessons I learned from Sesame Street.
Back when TV sets were powered by tiny dinosaurs running on treadmills, there were only a handful of shows for the youngest set. I remember loving Mr. Rogers, The Shari Lewis Show, and Bozo. But Sesame Street blew them all away with its hipness, its overt pro-literacy stance, and its multi-cultural nirvana. Growing up on a steady IV drip of the idealized life dispensed by Sesame Street, I now realize that I have spent much of my life seeking out the most Sesame Street-like environments. I wanted to live in a place where people were predictable and neatly classifiable. (“Oh, never mind him. Oscar is always grouchy.”) I wanted to live in a place where cookies and letters and friendship were reason for celebration. (“C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me!”) I wanted to live in a place where an uptight femme-y man and his chubby hubby can live together in universal community acceptance. (“Not now Ernie, I’m trying to sleep.”)
Imagine my excitement when I first emerged from the F-train station in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1988. “Holy cow,” I remember saying as I looked up and down the brownstone-lined street. “I’m going to live on Sesame Street!” Now imagine my disappointment to find the guy on the corner in the trench coat was not a friendly frog interviewing people on the street (and that most definitely was not a microphone in his hand,) and the local bodega was not owned by the eternally grandfatherly Mr. Hooper, but a gruff Korean man who sprayed water on my shoes. Sadly, Brooklyn walked the walk but failed to talk the talk of The Street.
Though I could not find it in physical form, as an adult I have tried to live true to Sesame Street’s moral lessons. With more or less success, I aim to practice tolerance, patience, caring and a love of words. (And even when I don’t achieve my aim, I know that it’s okay because everyone makes mistakes, oh yes they do.) Like on Sesame Street, friendship is a major theme in my life. And as far as idealized lifestyles go, the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts is as close as I could manage to get to the hand-in-paw-in-hand, heads-thrown-back, singing chorus of happiness as expressed on Sesame Street.
Naturally when I grew up and became a mom, I regularly sat my kids down in front of Sesame Street so they could carry the same idyllic world to aim for in their lives. One morning when my daughter Sierra was one week from her third birthday, she was happily seated in her tiny toddler-sized chair, ready for her dose of The Street. Instead we turned on the television to see the World Trade Center on fire. I called my husband up from his downstairs office. “Look, honey,” I said numbly pointing to the television. “The plane hit exactly where you used to work.” Before we could make sense of it, we three watched together in disbelieve as the second plane crashed into the other building. We stood there for several seconds of stunned silence while our minds try to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Then we heard Sierra’s tiny, sweet, little girl voice say, “This isn’t Sesame Street.”
No, this isn’t Sesame Street. Our world is so far from Sesame Street that sometimes I wonder if it’s fair that we hold these idealized notions of the creed of The Street. Workplace shooting rampages, the existence of Fox News, and the recent small-minded, homophobic vote results in Maine all remind us that we don’t live anywhere near Sesame Street. But in the end, I have to believe that if a place like Sesame Street can exist in our collective imaginations then it surely is something that can be realized. Or at the very least, Sesame Street gives us a direction in which to aim, on the way to where the air is sweet.
Posted by Pamela Victor