Tuesday, November 10, 2009

celebrate the birthdays of tv shows

Happy 40th Birthday "Sesame Street"!

This children's show first aired on November 10, 1969. I have fond childhood memories of "Sesame Street," not the least of which is its richly diverse casting, including the children, the adults, and the muppets. Even the cartoons:

I first posted this cartoon here, in a piece that also acknowledges the relatively progressive racial portrayals and content on "Sesame Street," and contrasts it with other mainstream children's entertainment.

Here's hoping that "Sesame Street" lasts at least another 40 years.


  1. I'm black, grew up on Sesame Street, witnessed my two boys watch this show, and love what it does for young children. I also celebrated it's birth.

    Sesame Street reached every one.

  2. Cool stuff. Apparently, according to my migrant mother, I learnt English from Sesame Street!

  3. I dont know. It seems to me that some white people, who suffer from the "we have no culture" syndrome so they use American consumer/pop culture to celebrate, in order to validate their heritage or something.

    Does anyone agree? It's just an observation I've made.

  4. @ DIMA:

    I think that at this point, most white Americans are such ethnic mutts that American culture *is* cultural heritage.

    I don't mean to say that white people have some exclusive claim to mainstream pop culture, please understand (although it's common to say that pop culture is "white culture," I realize). I just don't think it's a case of "missing heritage." Just because something doesn't go back a few thousand years doesn't make it inauthentic.

    I am Irish-American, but I consider my primary cultural heritage to be U.S-American, in all its goodness and badness, rather than Irish. Because isn't "cultural heritage" more about what has shaped you, what has influenced you, rather than something in your genes?

  5. I agree with you DIMA! It's sad, really. I can't imagine living like that.

  6. Willow, but you must realize that the majority of America's pop culture comes from non-white culture, so where does that leave white Americans with?

  7. @DIMA

    It is kind of sad, but it's also kind of true. What are white people in America supposed to celebrate, slavery? The culture of their ancestry in a country they've never visited? Traditions are made at some point, and I for one don't object to the celebration of (positive) pop culture. Pop culture is still culture.

    Anyway, I love Sesame Street, still. I do wish Abby Cadabby weren't the only female puppet though, and that it didn't take them so long to come up with one (although, I must say, that as a kid the Sesame Street furry characters were genderless in my mind, and still pretty much are, save for Oscar).

  8. "I am Irish-American, but I consider my primary cultural heritage to be U.S-American, in all its goodness and badness, rather than Irish. Because isn't "cultural heritage" more about what has shaped you, what has influenced you, rather than something in your genes?"

    I agree with that, though leaving it in the open that not everybody had the same shaping experiences. I'm second generation to a family that immigrated from Hong Kong, and it has become more clear to me that some of the values I've been raised on are different; I actually relate very differently (and feel closer affinity) to pop culture from Asia.

    At the same time, I continue to believe that white Americans would have nothing to lose by at least acknowledging their particular cultural heritage. Like, Willow, you know you're of Irish descent. I remember a girl from high school who had a clear sense of Irish identity, even though she was very much a product of American culture. And I always thought it was something to be admired. American culture always seemed at its richest, to me, when it acknowledges where its influences and inspirations are coming from.

    As for Sesame Street...my brother, who is 2 years younger than me, preferred that our mother get Thomas the Tank Engine, and would not take no for an answer.

  9. Living in Oklahoma, by time I had seen that sketch I had already met a full-blooded Cherokee.

  10. I am a Sesame Street kid! I grew up on Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Zoom! Does The Electric Company and Zoom! still come on?

    But anyway, while I loved Sesame Street, my children were only mildly interested. However, I am glad to see it still going strong after all these years.

  11. I grew up on Sesame Street while in Japan! I watched it until I was 10, not because I'm...slow, but because I was still genuinely entertained by it. I was sooo embarrassed about it, though, and would never admit it to anyone.

    I remember reading somewhere that conservatives once upon a time, were offended by the show because they showed people of different races interacting together peacefully. I know that shouldn't be funnny, but I seriously laughed out loud at that. Like that's something to be offended about?

  12. I remember seeing that clip on Sesame Street! It's stayed with me ever since.

    The more I look back on my past, the more I realize how stuff like that taught me how to behave...

  13. You know what I'm just about fed up with? This "white Americans have no culture" crap.

    Do I even need to explain how ridiculous that is? It's like saying white Americans don't have celebrations, ways of doing things, beliefs, customs, foods, etc. Humans don't live in groups with one another without those things. Even if you can split us up into subcultures that have little in common, everyone has a culture, including white Americans.

    DIMA, are you seriously saying that white Americans adopt pop culture because they have no culture of their own? Where do you think the pop culture comes from? Just because it's part of a consumeristic culture doesn't mean it isn't part of our culture. It means our culture is consumeristic. There are pros and cons to that, but I wouldn't call it "sad."

    honeybrown, maybe most of the pop culture you consume comes from POC, but that's not true for me. Most of the books, music, art, movies, video games, etc. that I consume were made by white people.

    Yes, we are a hybrid culture with a lot of different influences. Can you think of one that isn't? We may think of culture as pure and static, or at least having its origins in a pure and static time many many years ago. But there's no such thing as a pure or static culture. And American culture has gelled enough in the past couple hundred years to be distinct even with all those influences.

    What I think is "sad" is that so many people characterize white Americans (and "The West" more generally) as colorless, soulless, inhuman, culture-less, and so on. That gets more and more offensive the more I hear it.

  14. @Jillian -- a Native American scholar I really admire once said that the most radical, anti-racist thing whites could do to undermine whitness and white racism/privilege would be to reconnect with the actual land and culture from which their ancestors came -- the place they are indigenous too. So yes, please do reconnect with those cultures you've never seen!

  15. Bluey12, care to list those cultural notions? Jazz? Rock? Anime? Slang? Unless they are distinctly European-only, you're wrong.

    Why so defensive? Are you upset that diversity has not truly been celebrated and that the aspects considered in the "mainstream" is void of any soul or character? Haven't you noticed that today's films, especially centered around white protagonists, is essential the SAME FRIGGIN' STORY REHASHED???

  16. Absolutely, American pop culture is not 100% European-backgrounded. I mean, start with Christianity, which is a Middle Eastern religion. ;o)

    I guess my question is, why are we (this includes me, in my first comment, I think) considering race the sole arbitrator of "cultural heritage"? Isn't someone's heritage more "what shapes you," regardless of at what point in your life you adopt it? (I am thinking of people who are, like, 1/64th Irish and get really into Americanized Irishness, but I have seen this with people of all sorts of backgrounds).

    I mean, if you get down to it, my primary cultural identity and thus what I would consider my cultural heritage is "geek." My genetic heritage is Irish. Difference. (Although I do wonder if I would seem more "Irish" if I were not such a geek ;o) But as it is, I'm sure you can understand why I would rather align myself with Tolkein than with Irish food).

    >> "Haven't you noticed that today's films, especially centered around white protagonists, is essential the SAME FRIGGIN' STORY REHASHED???"

    Nihil sub sole novum. Even ancient mythologies are the same friggin' story rehashed. Including the one I just quoted.

  17. honeybrown, I'm not entirely sure what you're asking me, so if I'm reading you wrong, let me know. It seems like you're asking if I can list "cultural notions" that are distinctly white-American.

    Firstly, yes, I can. Country and bluegrass. Fast food. Assembly-line manufacturing. Faith in technology and progress, belief in the moral value of health, post-WWII idealization of the nuclear family, rugged pioneer individualism. Archery as a sport. Ren Faires. Survivalism. Green bean casserole as a Thanksgiving dish. Reverence, of the sort usually reserved for deities, for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Mormonism. Scientology (which, I would like to point out, ties together concepts of science, health, and morality). Disney and now Pixar movies. The concept of and reverence for "Judeo-Christian values."

    None of these things are exactly exclusive to white Americans, and how could they be? It's not a white country. But they originated among white Americans and together form a distinctly American group of "cultural notions."

    Secondly, if I couldn't name any one thing that was distinctly American, and even if you can quibble with all of those things, it does not invalidate my point. A hybrid culture is still a culture.

    I'm not defensive because mainstream culture has no soul or character. I'm annoyed because it does (to the extent other cultures do, anyway), and people keep saying it doesn't. I get that a lot of people dislike mainstream white-ish American culture, and believe me, I have plenty of my own criticisms. But to characterize it in a dehumanizing way is offensive.

  18. Well, Willow, to put it in the context of race, it might be significant that Irish Americans were not always thought of as White. In fact, there were old attempts to use common facial features to suggest they had more in common with African Americans.

  19. @bluesy

    Fast food -- apparently you've never head of kabobs, Thai street vendors, etc.

    Faith in technology and progress -- Chinse gun powder? African iron smelting?

    belief in the moral value of health -- um, what?

    post-WWII idealization of the nuclear family -- that's exclusive to white?
    rugged pioneer individualism-- that's how the Native Americans settled America
    Archery as a sport - in Mongolia, from the time of the Huns, it's been known as one of the three manly SPORTS
    Ren Faires-- the Renaissance with its significantly Moorish contributions

    Survivalism -- what?

    Disney and now Pixar movies -- diverse people create those movies The concept of and reverence for "Judeo-Christian values" -- as someone else pointed out, Judaism and Christianity are Middle Eastern/African relgions

    Sorry, this stuff didn't, as you say, originate among white people.

  20. Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp6eswhgOKk

  21. bluey512 said
    "Archery as a sport."

    American? Oh please don't let Mongolia hear this ;)

    And I don't think this has anything to do with a lack of culture, it's more that Americans value sentimentalism and nostalgia. And I've never seen this to be a purely white thing, most people I know have a special soft spot for what they loved as a kid, be it Sesame Street or Fat Albert or Scooby Doo or Looney Tunes. The same thing happens with toys, books, music, even food.

    I am so happy that Sesame Street is still going strong. I've been watching recent clips on YouTube and it's as good as ever. They have so many great celebrity guests and really makes learning fun. And I always liked that it was in a city, not like other shows that take place in big expensive suburban houses.

    You know, it would be cool for muppets from different versions of Sesame Street (like Montoya from Plaza Sesamo) to meet eachother now and then.

  22. Corrector, if you don't understand that I wasn't saying Americans invented bows, then you aren't worth talking to.

    Americans did, however, invent the compound bow. And I learned that at a Ren Faire.

  23. @DIMA et al:

    Considering that it was pretty much white America that invented the notion of modern, commercialized pop culture in the advanced industrial world, why shouldn't they celebrate it as theirs?

    Oh, and bluey, you forgot one: Superhero comics.

  24. "modern, commercialized pop culture in the advanced industrial world" -- care to explain?

  25. @bluesy, nobody said that you said Americans invented bows -- corrector said Mongolians had archery as a sport -- get hooked on phonics, please.

  26. Basically now what the desperate white people on this board are doing is admitting they didn't invent stuff so trying to claim super-specified versions of that stuff -- i.e. well we didn't invent the bow but we invented a certain type of bow... What you're basically saying is whites modified a bunch of stuff other people invented.

  27. Whoa, where did this idea that culture has to be "pure" to be a real culture come from?!

    ALL SOCIETIES that have been in somewhat prolonged contact with another society absorb some outside influences.

    For an example, take rock 'n roll. So, modern American pop culture. With a basis in jazz. Usually considered African-American. Primary instruments of jazz music: sax, clarinet, trumpet, piano. Sax=>clarinet=>[something]=>recorder = European, but many cultures have something similar. Piano=>harpsicord=>hammered dulcimer = European, but derived from a Persian stringed instrument. Trumpet-like instruments come from all over. Or how about Japanese culture? Influenced by Confucianism. That didn't start in Japan. And most Latin American cultures have so many influences that insisting on some sort of purity test pretty much does away with them as valid cultural heritages.

    Heck, even the most American (U.S.) of innovations--the fast food restaurant's Extra Value Meal--doesn't get full credit as "American": the first place to introduce it was Taco Bell.

  28. Look. When I say "archery as a sport" is American, what I mean is that Americans revived the use of the English longbow, as a sport as opposed to an actual martial art, and then further developed the bow, eventually coming up with the compound bow. I imagine this is somewhat different from the way archery is practiced in Mongolia, if it still is.

    There's no doubt about it - American culture to a large extent takes inspiration from other cultures. How could it not? It's only been around a few hundred years. But that doesn't mean American culture isn't a culture, or that it isn't distinct, or that it hasn't made innovations.

  29. Well bluey512, your imagination is completely wrong. Archery has been a sort in Mongolia for thousands of years and still is today, along with horse racing and wrestling. And in all cultures with such weapons, archers would have games and competitions to show off and hone their skills. Your claim is completely and totally baseless.

  30. Cloudy, you read my post wrong. Please re-read it.

  31. I took a look at that post linking to racist media and saw a comment saying there were only white people in Wall-E.

    This is not true; I saw more than a few black people in the ship, and I think Wall-E even bumped into a black lady once.
    I didn't notice the supposed Asian captain, but I haven't seen that movie in a while.

    It bothered me because it wasn't something I thought about when I saw the movie, yet these people can't even recall a single black person when there were more than one (and I'm not particularly attentive to background details).

  32. bluey512, I read and reread your post just fine. There is nothing unique about American archery and it's quite disingenuous to call it an "American" thing when it's a sport that has been a continuous and celebrated pasttime in Mongolia for thousands of years. Who cares what kind of bow they use? You can not be serious when you say that using a longbow makes it different and unique.



    Archery is archery.

  33. When insecure POC and guilt-ridden white liberals continue to tell themselves that "white people have no culture", they effectively dehumanize POC. They deny the dynamic, evolving, and creative nature of our (POC) cultures, and ignore the cross-fertilization and mutual influences between POC nations.

    In the characterizations of insecure POC and guilt-ridden white liberals, the cultures of POC are ancient (but unmodern) and pure (but cannot adapt to change), while white people are commercialized (but modern) and impure (but adaptable, changing, and evolving).

  34. @Jillian: I did not think Abby Cadabby was the only female puppet.

    Prairie Dawn was on the show from before I was born, and Zoe was consistently referred to with female pronouns. Zoe was introduced in 1992, around when I became capable of watching Sesame Street.

  35. Cloudy, different groups can invent similar things completely separately. So "Americans came up with archery as a sport" and "Mongolians came up with archery as a sport" are not mutually exclusive statements. And I do think it makes a difference what kind of bow you use, what your competition rules are, why you do the sport in the first place, etc. etc. That's all part of culture.

    I think superhero comics are an excellent addition to that list, by the way.

    Restructure, that is such a great point. The characterization of whites/Americans as cultureless is definitely rooted in the belief that culture is pure, static, ancient, and undeveloped.

    I feel like that leads to a lot of the stereotyping and cultural appropriation you see in white culture, among other things.

  36. Re: "white people have no culture"

    I get the impression that folks have a narrow view of what culture is. Does the term "culture" only refer to such things as dance, music, food, etc? Culture is everything we do, and about how our society works.

    A system of laws, the way a society organises itself, its ideological attitudes - are these not manifestations of culture?

    And why are so many people getting hung up on who invented what? (Can't archery be both an American and a Central Asian sport, fer chrissakes?)
    Is a culture only valid if it invents things? Borrowing and adapting elements from elsewhere is just as integral in terms of the development of a culture. The Thais, for example, have a rich and unique culture but it would be entirely unrecognisable without its borrowings from China, India and elsewhere. It is the particular combination of elements, and how they are expressed, that defines cultures.

    I suggest people read bluey512's comments properly before attacking him/her.

  37. "honeybrown1976 said...

    Willow, but you must realize that the majority of America's pop culture comes from non-white culture, so where does that leave white Americans with?"

    Seriously? Are we separating US culture into what-whites-did and what-non-whites-did? Isn't this exactly the kind of divisive segregation we're all trying to get away from? Those of us who live here and grew up here, no matter what your color, we are ALL US Americans and we ALL influenced one another to create our culture, for better or for worse.

    I also agree with Bluey and Willow, it's incredibly absurd to claim that US Americans have no culture. We may not have such a long standing and static ancient history that other countries in the west have, but we do have a culture.

  38. Eurasian Sensation, bluey listed "archery as a sport" as something that is distinctly a white American thing.

    "It seems like you're asking if I can list "cultural notions" that are distinctly white-American.

    Firstly, yes, I can."

    "None of these things are exactly exclusive to white Americans, and how could they be? It's not a white country. But they originated among white Americans and together form a distinctly American group of "cultural notions."" [emphasis mine]

    This is why we're coming down on her/him about it. Of course it can be both, but the idea of it being special to white American culture is absurd.

  39. Elsariel there's nothing wrong with acknowledging POC groups for their cultural contributions, especially when they haven't been for so long. So, basically, cut the divisive segregation crap. For so long, POC have sat and watched whites take credit for things that they didn't do. Yet, it's only divisive when it's pointed out?

    Take off your rose-colored glasses.

  40. Elasrial said
    "Seriously? Are we separating US culture into what-whites-did and what-non-whites-did?"

    Can they even really be separated? Most everything in American culture came from blending white/Euro culture with black/latin/Asian/native american/etc cultures. Cajun and Tex-Mex culture and food, jazz, rock, the list goes on. There are some parts of US culture that are more distinctly European (New England and Pennsylvania Dutch cultures come to mind), but they are parts that make up a whole. When I think of America, I think of basketball, gumbo, Star Wars, hip hop, rock, block parties, surfing... why can't some white people see that this *is* their culture? It belongs to all of us, not just white people.

    By the way, DIMA, I do agree. I've met many white people who look at stuff like black and latino pride and then feel like they don't have a culture to lay claim to and take pride in.

  41. "For so long, POC have sat and watched whites take credit for things that they didn't do. Yet, it's only divisive when it's pointed out?"

    Honeybrown, no, it's not only divisive when it's pointed out. It's divisive on both accounts. That's what I'm saying. We're all responsible for shaping US American culture. It's not just one group or the other.

  42. Elsariel, I hear what you are saying. I really do. I just wish it was actually in practice.

  43. Reading through some of the comments, it's hilarious that people consider something 'not someone's culture' simply because some other culture did it first. It's not a competition.

    Have a look at soccer. It's a sport that features extremely strongly in many European, African, and South American societies. You'd be a moron to say that soccer wasn't a part of their culture just because 'country X did it first'. If culture was merely about what things people invented, well then you've pretty much wiped out the cultures of most indigenous peoples.

    It's about what interests and defines a people, not how inventive they are. b

    Hell, the current president got into power by playing on a defining feature of American culture whose origins are firmly rooted in the white part of it: the can-do attitude. It's something that defines American culture from otherwise similar Euro cultures, the much greater willingness to 'give it a go'.

  44. @ Cloudy - what I was getting at is that bluey made some interesting points, worth considering. However, everyone seems preoccupied with who invented the bow and arrow. And yes, he's wrong on that, but it's hardly fundamental to what he was seemed to be saying overall.


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