Of all the children’s TV programmes I watched, Sesame Street is the one I remember most vividly. I am surprised at how many of its characters, its jingles and sketches I remember. Whereas in hindsight Playschool seems prim and condescending, Bosco grim and almost Soviet, Sesame Street remains bright and breezy.
Even if I left aside such considerations as giant talking birds and dustbin-dwelling grouches, it was still pretty obvious that the world on Sesame Street was a lot different to the one I inhabited. For a start, the theme song told me that the air was ‘sweet’. I remember wondering how air could possibly be ‘sweet’. The theme song also left me wondering where the hell it was. The child’s voice singing it faded out on the tantalising ‘can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?’ No directions were ever given, but it was pretty clear that Sesame Street was in America. The buildings were taller, there were fire hydrants, and the programme was brought to you by the letter ‘zee’ instead of the letter ‘zed’.
Anyway, in the 25 or so years that have passed since, I have scarcely given it any thought. (Apart from the odd time when I found myself in the company of a group of people my age with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. The fallback for a conversation topic on those occasions is always children’s TV programmes.) But it now seems that there will be a Sesame Street project to promote tolerance in the North.
According to this report here, there will be a ‘specially designed show’ for this ‘troubled country’.
It appears there was a study which found that many children, as young as three years old, have sectarian beliefs.
To gauge the potential effectiveness of such an initiative, I recommend another study to investigate the effects of Sesame Street on grown-up sectarian thugs between the age of 20-35. (For comparison, I recommend a similar survey on British soldiers of the same age) I’m willing to bet twenty quid that upwards of 85% of said individuals will have watched Sesame Street as children, and many will be able to perform a rendition of ’1-2-3-4-5/6-7-8-9-10/11-12.’ Many more will be able to tell you that the Spanish for water is ‘agua’. I’m pretty sure that Sesame Street is an effective vehicle for getting certain types of message across. But what kind of messages? And could they help to promote tolerance in the North?
The Irish Times article also happens to mention the matter of a new documentary called The World According to Sesame Street. The blurb on Rotten Tomatoes says:
‘These three producers from New York’s Sesame Street workshop take Sesame Street as we know it and localize it with indigenous songs, puppets, and curricula. However, this is far from the straightforward, benevolent task it may seem to be. The cultural and production challenges of formulating each region’s program are a complex of the political and the personal and make The World According to Sesame Street dramatic and edifying viewing.’
So from what I can gather, the intention would be to develop songs, characters and lessons specific to the North. I must confess that I find this rather worrying. From what I remember, I knew a lot more at the age of 5 about Sesame Street than I did about what Protestants and Catholics were (in fact, aged 3 and 4, at the height of ‘the Troubles’, I attended a mixed nursery school, and had no idea whatsoever who was Protestant and who was Catholic) Watching the characters interact on screen, would I have been able to identify with a Celtic-supporting Bert as opposed to a Rangers-supporting Ernie? How would I have reacted to a sash-wearing Big Bird sitting down to discuss his need to march up and down the street with grouchy Oscar who stores petrol bombs at the bottom of his trashcan?
There is a serious side to this. How do you develop Protestant and Catholic puppets? In order to develop meaningful lessons, wouldn’t the difference between Catholic and Protestant have to get accentuated, instead of removed? And why would anyone bother with this sort of thing, unless they were awash with piles of cash from well-meaning American aunties and uncles?
Sometimes the best of intentions lead to the worst of outcomes. This is the latest in a long line of education-for-mutual-understanding wheezes that bring zero results. Despite the millions poured into this sort of thing over the last 25 years, low-level sectarian attitudes are probably worse than ever; and this sort of thing serves to perpetuate the idea that having an industry devoted to bringing about ‘reconciliation’ is actually a good thing.
(One, two, three million English pounds HAHAHA!)