Published October 05 2010
‘Sesame Street’ scandals
- What: “Sesame Street Live: Elmo’s Green Thumb”
- When: 7 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive
- Info: $14-$51. Call (800) 745-3000 for tickets. Visit www.fargodome.com for more information.
- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton shares an HIV/AIDS message with the help of Kami, from the South African version of “Sesame Street”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eXlNn-C8BY
Popstress Katy Perry’s recent cleavage-revealing guest spot on “Sesame Street” proved a little too much (or too little) for the children’s TV program.
Citing complaints from viewers who saw Perry’s appearance with Elmo online before it hit airwaves, the show axed the Perry spot last month.
Perry was on “Saturday Night Live” that very weekend wearing a super-low-cut, bright-red Elmo shirt, in an apparent reference to the brouhaha.
But Elmo’s shaking the whole thing off, apparently. Unflapped by the controversy, he and some of his pals (presumably Perry not among them) will return to the Fargodome Friday through Sunday with “Sesame Street Live: Elmo’s Green Thumb.”
And why shouldn’t Elmo and pals take the matter in stride? Controversy is nothing new to residents of “Sesame Street.”
As The Week magazine puts it, the Perry dust-up is “just the latest episode in a surprising legacy of controversy for the iconic show.” The magazine then lists a number of “other cases where Big Bird and company ruffled feathers,” from Elmo’s poor grammar to controversial Muppet with HIV.
Marie Offutt, communications manager for North Dakota PBS affiliate Prairie Public, believes people get worked up about what’s happening down on “Sesame Street” because it’s something that’s close to their hearts.
“I think it’s bound to happen when you’ve got a program that’s become a cultural icon. People care,” Offutt says. “We are in people’s homes everyday. … These characters are like family.”
Here’s a look at some of the controversies that have cause some families to wonder what’s going down on the “Street”:
Bert and Ernie rumors
Rumors have made their way around for a long time that “Sesame Street” chums Bert and Ernie – who share a home and a bedroom on the show – are, in fact, homosexual.
But, the urban-legend investigating site Snopes.com says “Bert and Ernie are not married. They’re not even homosexual. … They are nothing but well-loved puppets from a hugely popular children’s TV series.”
Snopes references a Children’s Television Workshop statement that says: “Bert and Ernie … do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future … Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”
Goodbye, Mr. Hooper
One of the classic moments on “Sesame Street” came when adults from the neighborhood helped Big Bird come to grips with the death of his friend and castmate Mr. Hooper.
There were parents who felt the theme was too much for children. But, according to the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of America television website, the episode “is considered a landmark in children’s television programming.”
In fairness, he is a Grouch, so one would kind of expect Oscar to be at the center of at least a little controversy. But, as The Week puts it, the trashcan-dwelling green grumpster “has been regularly called out for being too cantankerous and caustic for preschool-aged viewers.”
And, recently, he was portrayed as a reporter for “GNN.” Following a segment in which he is hugged and kissed, a grouch calls to complain, saying they’re switching stations.
“From now on, I’m watching Pox News,” says the caller. “Now there’s a trashy news show.”
The reference to Fox News drew criticism from some on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
PBS ombudsman Michael Getler addressed the controversy in a blog, writing, “I don’t know what was in the head of the producers, but my guess is that this was one of those parodies that was too good to resist,” he wrote. “But it should have been resisted.”
The HIV-positive Muppet
The 2002 introduction of Kami, an HIV-positive character, to the South African version of “Sesame Street” is listed among TVsquad.com’s top five “Sesame Street” controversies.
The golden-yellow puppet is an orphan who has the characteristics of an affectionate 5-year-old who is healthy despite being infected with HIV.
The specter of an HIV-positive character drew concern from pro-family groups and some conservative U.S. politicians.
Elmo’s rough language
He’s only 3 years old, and a monster. Can’t we cut Elmo a break?
Some don’t think so.
They’re troubled by Elmo’s English language faux pas; particularly the popular furry red character’s habit of referring to himself in the third person.
One commenter on an Internet post about the Perry flap wrote, “I don’t let our kids watch Elmo because of his lousy grammar, not because of how his friends dress.”
Monstrous eating habits
In 2005, producers decided that there was a little too much cookie making its way into Cookie Monster’s mouth. So now the floppy blue monster works fruits and veggies into his diet and regards cookies as a “sometimes” food.
With the change came some rumors, like the one that Cookie Monster’s name was changed to “Veggie Monster.” An online petition calling for PBS to change the name back has almost 5,000 signatures. Snopes.com says no such change has happened. And the shag-rug-like creature is listed as “Cookie Monster” on the “Sesame Street” website.
There was also talk that he’s given up cookies entirely. Not true. In a 2006 interview with NBC’s “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer, Cookie, himself, addressed the issue.
Cookie Monster: “Me like fruit.”
Matt Lauer: “And there you have it. Cookie Monster likes fruit, and not cookies.”
Monster: “No! You members of the media blow story way out of proportion! Me still like cookies!”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734