Like many of my Generation X counterparts, I grew up watching a friendly, big yellow bird and a grungy green misanthrope who lived in a trash can. And there was the purple Count who loved counting (natch), the blue whatsit that was a fiend for cookies (join the club, bub), and a big, fuzzy thing that kind of looked like an earless woolly mammoth that no one but the bird ever saw. Crazy times.
Ask us, and we can probably sing that show’s theme song, or at least hum the tune if we’ve forgotten the words. We also can’t get some of the counting songs out of our heads, and have fond memories of a frog plaintively singing that it’s not easy being green … and who occasionally went a little nuts and frantically waved his arms around, at least when he wasn’t being an on-the-scene fairy-tale reporter.
For me, it didn’t hurt that one character had the same name as my grandpa, who was (and still is) one of my favorite people in the world. I call him the original Super Grover.
“Sesame Street can feel deeply personal to just about anyone under the age of 55,” wrote Hank Stuever, TV critic at The Washington Post, in a story published Monday. “It taught us to read and count, but it also taught us about kindness and acceptance.”
Kindness I get because that’s how I try to live my life. But I’m finding it hard to accept the notion that Sesame Street is 50 years old this year. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not old, and neither is Generation X; it’s eternally 6 years old, just like Big Bird. Six is a good age. You have no real responsibilities and can sit in the driveway and eat dirt, at least till your mom catches you … but if you’re the youngest of four, Mom might say, “Well, at least she’s getting some nutrients.” (True story.)
I don’t remember my two oldest brothers watching Sesame Street, but my youngest brother and I would often watch the show together. Corey loved when Big Bird called Mr. Hooper (RIP) “Mr. Looper.” When your name’s not that common, that sort of thing on a national television show seemed magical to a little kid watching TV with his baby sister.
But the show was magical already to us, and we felt like Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Mr. Snuffleupagus, all the other monsters, and the adults on the show were our family. Strange family, but there ya go. For many of us, a lot less strange than actual family.
Stuever wrote, “To watch just one old Sesame Street clip is to fall giddily down a never-ending YouTube spiral of classic sketches, songs and moments. You remember the feeling of being 3 or 4, when you started to realize you’re you, which is no small thing. It’s an addictive form of time-travel for adults, a flicker of joy with a trace of the melancholy. It’s Proust, covered in felt and feathers. It is near, and it is far.”
Cue Grover teaching us the difference between “near” and “far.” While you’re at it, play the sketch with the Yip Yip aliens who come upon a telephone. The mooing and the “nope, nope, nope” get me every time. My friend Jennifer and I used to imitate the aliens imitating the phone ringing. We were easily amused at times.
And now the show that taught a generation how to get along with people not like them will be honored this weekend at the Kennedy Center, the first television show to be so recognized.
I can think of more than a few people who could stand to learn the lessons Sesame Street can teach, especially on cooperation and compromise. Some adults might also benefit from its instruction on spelling, and on counting (don’t blame me if the Pinball Number Count sequences keep you up tonight).
If you can count to 50, you’ll realize that 1969 was a pretty significant year—Sesame Street isn’t the only thing that reached the half-century milestone this year.
The Apollo 11 mission and landing on the moon is probably what most people remember from that year. But it was also the year of Woodstock, Altamont, and the Stonewall Riots. It was when PBS, Cracker Barrel, The Gap and Wendy’s, among others, were founded. It was the year that Richard Nixon was sworn in to the presidency and Sen. Ted Kennedy would be involved in a fatal car crash that even now stirs up controversy and conspiracy theories 10 years after his death. It was also the year of the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the start of a decades-long strange fascination for the man ultimately responsible for them.
It was the year Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was first published, the year Johnny Cash debuted “A Boy Named Sue” (one of my family’s favorites) at his concert at San Quentin State Prison in California, and the year of the Abbey Road album and the Beatles’ rooftop concert. It was when Monty Python’s Flying Circus (a gift to all mankind … with a weird sense of humor), The Brady Bunch and Scooby Doo began, and the original versions of Star Trek and The Saturday Evening Post ended. Funyuns and TicTacs were also born, which is probably a good thing since you’ll need one after eating the other. (I’m addicted to one of those two. Tasty.)
But none of those had quite the same impact on me and many others in my generation as did Sesame Street.
Blame Big Bird and Mr. Hooper. Oh, and Ernie’s “Rubber Ducky.”
Between Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock (which started a little over three years later)—and the insatiable need to do everything my brothers could do—it should be no surprise that I learned to read long before first going to school, and that I continue to absorb knowledge whenever and wherever I can.
Hey, it doesn’t hurt to have a snappy little song to go with that education. If only there were one for fact-checking …
But more than learning math, spelling and some social studies, Sesame Street taught something that a lot of us seem to have forgotten. It taught—and still does—that while we are all different, we’re capable of much more than any labels might indicate. We can work together, and we can help each other with no expectation of reciprocation (though it’s always nice). We can communicate without resorting to insults and anger.
And we can get along with others, despite any ideological or other disagreements, because at heart we are all human … or somewhat reasonable facsimiles thereof.
Funny we should have to learn that from a bunch of fuzzy monsters.