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TV Critics Cheer Sex on Sesame Street

By Christopher Gildemeister



Last week, Sesame Workshop – creators of the decades-long, award-winning educational children's series Sesame Street – announced that it would not air on its broadcast program a guest appearance by pop singer Katy Perry. The appearance, in which Perry sang a version of her song "Hot and Cold" while chasing the Muppet character Elmo, had been released to YouTube.


The video caused many parents to voice concern over Perry's cleavage-baring, short-skirted outfit, and repeated scenes of Elmo running around the hem of Perry's miniskirt, with a focus on her legs. Among the reactions reported by media news website TMZ were, "Talk about inappropriate costume choice for a kids' show. ... Kids aren't dumb. They may be small and their vocabularies are still growing, but they have HUGE eyes. They love to emulate their TV idols," "They're gonna have to rename [Sesame Street]  'Cleavage Avenue'," and "Good move, Sesame Street. Can't we keep our kids from being sexualized at least until they are out of preschool?"


And filmmaker Nicole Clark – whose documentary Cover Girl Culture discusses the ways entertainment and the fashion industry sexualize young girls – said of the scene, "This presentation, this way of dressing, this way of being – all of it says to a little girl, 'this is a good way to be.' This appearance on Sesame Street validates this kind of dress."


Sesame Workshop addressed parental concerns by stating, "In light of the feedback we've received on the Katy Perry music video, which was released on YouTube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on YouTube." The PTC responded by applauding Sesame Workshop's responsible decision.


But the critics didn't.


This column has previously discussed the attitudes which seem prevalent among professional television critics. Today, much of being a television critic consists of cheering for anything, no matter how inappropriate for children and unpopular with the mass audience, that the entertainment industry is eager to promote. Often it appears that the more offensive a program is, the better the critics like it. The critics themselves prefer to believe that they are more intelligent, more perceptive, and more enlightened and sophisticated than the average American.


In fact, many of these critics are hopelessly out of touch with the tastes and desires of the readers for whom they are supposedly writing; and no greater demonstration of this fact can be seen that the critical reaction to the Sesame Street/Katy Perry flap.


After smirking in a headline that "nobody mentions Elmo is naked," Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant defended Perry's choice of costume, noting that "she's worn sexier outfits," as when she hosted the Teen Choice Awards on Fox. Catlin concludes his column by asserting that "little kids certainly must be familiar with the shape of human female breasts." E! Online referred to those who objected as "boob-hating parents." And the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes – after sneering that the video had been "expunged from the official YouTube Sesame Street page, which had been washed down with lye," went on to claim that Perry's dress in the Sesame Street video is not low-cut, and to compare it with one worn by Bristol Palin on the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars


Such objections are nonsensical – that is, those which are not purely insulting. Of course, critics pride themselves on their "snarky," sarcastic writing, so it comes as no surprise that they utilized the style here; but when allegedly clever writing is more in evidence than common sense, perhaps the critics need to think more clearly and carefully about what they are saying.


At risk of being pedantic, this column will undertake to explain to the critics what is wrong with each of their "objections":


"Elmo" is a puppet, not a real human individual. It has no features which could be considered prurient; and therefore, stating that "Elmo is naked" is nothing more than a smart-aleck remark...and not a very clever one.


Saying that children "must be familiar with the shape of human female breasts," or calling parents "boob-hating," constitutes no argument. Children are aware that they possess genitalia. Should full-frontal nudity also be featured on children's programming? And a parent need not "hate" breasts (or genitals) to object to such intimate body parts being displayed on a children's program on a taxpayer-supported network via the publicly-owned airwaves.


Statements that dresses on Dancing With the Stars are more revealing than Perry's on the Sesame Street video, or that Perry herself wore sexier outfits on the Teen Choice Awards, contain a flaw so blindingly obvious that their inclusion can only be chalked up to sheer disingenuousness on the part of critics: 


The Teen Choice Awards are aimed at just that – teens. Dancing With the Stars, though some children may watch, is aimed at adults. But Sesame Street's entire target audience is children ages 2-5. As any parent who has ever resisted calls for specific toys or foods after their children have seen a commercial will know, very young children are extremely susceptible to being influenced by what they see on TV. Further, children so young do not have the discernment to be able to evaluate what they are seeing.


Many of these same critics would no doubt object to women being treated as mere sexual objects, or to an untoward emphasis being placed upon women's bodies, in prime-time programming – and rightfully so. Yet when such a portrayal is included on a program which is specifically intended for toddlers, they see no problem.


In the past, individuals famous for more "adult" aspects of their appearance or speech also appeared on children's programs; but in doing so, they respected the best interests of their child viewers and the desires of parents by tailoring their presentation to make it age-appropriate. George Carlin served as narrator for the American version of the children's show Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, and played the Conductor on the PBS children's show Shining Time Station, and did creditably in both roles; but apparently, today's professional TV critics believe he should have used the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" in front of his young viewers while doing so.


Today's alleged "critics" are more interested in pandering to the entertainment industry's worst impulses than they are in exercising any critical faculties and actually considering the effect that programming has on its viewers. Their knee-jerk defense of the sexualization of children reveals such "critics" as the mental lemmings they are – willing, unquestioning, sheep-like tools of the entertainment industry, always in lockstep with the herd mentality of the so-called "critical" establishment.


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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