rockinlibrarian: (beaker)
The Internet is very emotional today, which has made it hard to focus. Sure, I like both David Bowie and Alan Rickman a whole lot (and the former was JUST singing on my computer again a few minutes ago). But they don't hit a nerve quite as much as this NEW Star-Wars-Intersecting-With-My-Personal-Life post I wrote that just went up on GeekMom today,* and even that one hit the emotional wayside when I read my dearest friend Angie's post reflecting on the bullying she suffered in high school and how it's affected her since, because, I mean I can't remotely claim that her being bullied hurt me just as much, but it DID make me ragingly angry and determined to be an anti-bully a billion times more strongly than my OWN having-been-bullied had made me. If that sentence construction makes any sense whatsoever. So I've been like PEOPLE EVERYBODY JUST READ ANGIE'S POST and all emotionally-charged all day.

But basically it's been distracting me from something that's been bugging me for...months, really. I first thought I'd write about it, and my misgivings, last summer, but never got around to it. Then in the fall, I wanted to write about it again, but other topics got in the way. But now, while other topics are still getting in the way, I keep seeing reminders, and I know I've got to get it off my chest through more than just a long comment on The Mary Sue.

I don't know if you know this... no, I'm pretty sure you know it-- Exhibit A, B, and the number 3, as well as this blatant one: it's been my lifelong dream to work on Sesame Street? Okay, by "lifelong" I mean "since 11th grade," since before then I was actually kind of scared of Sesame Street. Don't ask.

But no, when I was far out of the target audience, I became obsessed with this show. It started with a research paper. When I was trying to come up with a topic for my next paper in my high school research writing class, a vision of Cookie Monster flashed through my head, and I wondered what I could do with the topic of Sesame Street. "What effects, if any, did Sesame Street have on early childhood education?" was the question I finally went with.

And boy, were there answers. I didn't know that kindergarten didn't used to be mandatory, and that what kindergarten classes existed were more like day cares. Kindergarten and preschool curricula directly changed as a result of kids learning from Sesame Street, and more and more preschools opened. Here, if you're curious, I've found and scanned my whole report-- it seems to be a next-to-last draft, with some editing notes and a couple unrelated reminders written in the margins-- and keep in mind it's written by a(n admittedly advanced) seventeen-year-old, but it's still full of interesting information and anyone who wants to double-check the facts can find even more in the "Works Cited" section. So if you want the nitty-gritty details, there you go and I'll get on with this post.

So, as other adults who didn't even watch the show complained that it "wasn't what it used to be," I rolled my eyes. No, Cookie Monster did NOT turn into a Veggie Monster. Yes, Elmo is annoying, but he wasn't the whole show: he co-opted the last twenty minutes for "Elmo's World" which was deliberately targeted at a younger audience than the rest of the show, because the heavy research indicated that the preschool-and-up audience tended to wander away by then and only the toddlers kept watching. I knew the show only made changes that they'd thoroughly researched, and I trusted it. And when my own kids started watching I was not disappointed. There was just that one falter, when Kevin Clash broke my heart, and I didn't blame the show for that, just him, like, DUDE, I totally dreamed of working for you, how could you?!

And then, last summer, they're handed off to HBO. "It's fine!" they assured us. "This gives us the funding to continue doing what we do! The new episodes will FIRST be aired on HBO, but after a 9-month hold, PBS will get them, too!"

Okay then. I'm willing to reserve judgement, because as long as the same people are putting it together and as long as PBS still gets the episodes EVENTUALLY (it's not like there's much of a timeliness issue involved), everything should be just fine! Except it just FELT wrong. The show was founded SPECIFICALLY to give a leg up to underprivileged kids. That wasn't an afterthought, or some kind of politically-correct posturing; that was the BASIC MISSION of the show. I was reading Street Gang at the time, and that point was made over and over. It was for underprivileged kids. Other kids could benefit from it, too, but that wasn't the point. So to have the show belong exclusively--even if only for 9 months-- to a premium cable channel that, heck, my family doesn't even have, let alone underprivileged kids? Just seemed... off.

But then, within a month, two of the most involved and longest-running writer-performers on the show, Joey Mazzarino (head writer behind the scenes, Murray and Baby Bear and a slew of other Muppets, um, UNDER the scenes) and Sonia Manzano (writer behind the scenes since the 80s, Maria on the Street since 1971) announced they were leaving. Could have been coincidence. Manzano is not only technically "retirement age," but her writing career has been taking off in the past couple of years so she's got plenty to occupy herself. Still, the timing felt... ominous. It didn't help when I found out one of my fellow new GeekMom writers had been a producer on Sesame Street until relatively recently. I was like "SQUEEEEEE HOW DID YOU NOT MENTION THAT OUTRIGHT, HOW WERE YOU NOT BRAGGING THAT EVERY CHANCE YOU GOT?!" but she seemed hesitant to talk about it...and that made me worry....

So now Sesame Street's first episode on HBO is Saturday. The New York Times covered the changes you'll see pretty objectively. The Mary Sue read it and had a few more questions. Vulture just jumped right into digging up the dirt, revealing, sadly, that Joey Mazzarino's departure was, indeed, not a coincidence (though apparently I'm a bad fan because I didn't follow him on Facebook so as to know this already. Hey, I DO follow Sonia Manzano on Twitter though and during the last Olympics we totally had a conversation about the gymnasts. I TOTALLY DID HAVE A TWITTER CONVERSATION WITH MARIA GUYS IT WAS AWESOME. *ahem*). And I managed to piece my thoughts together on the subject at last.

I don't like it. MAYBE it'll be fine, sure, MOST of the creative team is the same, and they're still relying on research, but it feels like they've relied on that research to sanitize it, make it safe for middle-class America, just like every other preschool show, instead of being that one safe-yet-familiar haven for lower-class kids. It's not like middle-class kids COULDN'T enjoy the show, even if its imperfect setting might have made them, God forbid, uncomfortable. But middle-class kids have ALL the shows, and THIS show was DESIGNED FROM THE START to be FOR the poor kids. It's like YA literature-- it's FOR TEENS. Lots of adults love it too and that's fine, I'm one of them, but it's FOR teens. Start writing it for the adults who love it instead of for the teens, and is it really YA anymore?

I think the real test is, though, not so much what the show is now, but what Sesame Workshop continues to do BESIDES the show. Will they continue to produce the show in other countries, countries where literacy definitely could use a boost? Will they continue to address just the right issues specific to each of those places? More importantly, will they continue to reach out to the underprivileged here in the U.S. with auxiliary programs like the ones they have for children with parents in the military or in prison? Will they serve the non-HBO-accessing kids through their outreach? Will they remember why this organization was created in the first place?

I wanted to work for them not just because the show is clever and has Muppets. I wanted to work for them because they made a real positive difference in the world. They weren't just any old preschool show.

But I realized recently that, whatever some TV-based organization in NYC is doing, I'm actually addressing the same goals right here, in my own little part of the world. I'm bringing literacy to underprivileged kids all the time. I bring them worlds in bags of books. I'm a public children's librarian and I'm proud of my job. Maybe I don't need to work for Sesame Street to be inspired to take up its original cause.

---
*Relatedly, every year I react to the Youth Media Awards on this blog (one year it was even on video), and no one ever seems to care one way or another. Well, THIS year I posted my reaction post on GeekMom, and still no one cares, but on the off-chance you ARE wondering where my reaction post has gone this year, here it is.

Date: 2016-01-18 03:22 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] vovat.livejournal.com
I think part of the issue with Elmo wasn't just that he had his own recurring segment, but that he had that AND played a major role in the rest of the show. It's probably true that a lot of people making these complaints didn't actually watch the show regularly anymore. I did recently read an anti-Elmo article (http://kotaku.com/how-elmo-ruined-sesame-street-1746504585) that made some interesting points, but it's not something I feel I can really weigh in on.

Regarding kindergarten, I know my mom said it wasn't required when and where she grew up in Virginia, but she did go to one through the church.

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