Belle Waring at Crooked Timber posted this nice piece about Sesame Street.
When I was a kid, I really liked Sesame Street, and now that I have a little girl, I still like it. Timothy Burke, for one, finds it a bit too cloyingly pro-social (he complained of this in a comments thread that I am too lazy to find here). One of my favorite animated bits as a child was one in which three plainly dressed workmen emerge from, clean, and retreat into a giant letter I, accompanied by the following song in a minor key: “We all live in a capital I/in the middle of the desert, in the center of the sky/and all day long we polish on the I/to make it clean and shiny so it brightens up the sky.” Imagine my surprise when I read Ulysses at 17 (yes, I was trying too hard; don’t worry, I re-read it later) and found the following passage:
(He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new, clean soap arises, diffusing light and perfume.)THE SOAP:
We’re a capital couple, Bloom and I;
He brightens the earth, I polish the sky
Those jokers at the Children’s Television Workshop. I have also always liked the look of it. Even when I lived in NYC in a terrible place between Amsterdam and Columbus on 109th — I recall holding the phone out the window for my brother to hear the small arms fire before I retreated into the tub — I was always tickled by the resemblance to Sesame Street. Only there were fewer muppets and more crack dealers.
Finally, they sometimes address the big issues. On a recent episode, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus were investigating whether various things (toasters, plants, small children) were alive or not. By the end, they had worked themselves around to some serious questions. Is the letter “A” alive? No. Is the Children’s Television Workshop alive? Indeterminate. Is the word “alive’ alive? No, because it doesn’t grow or change. Take that, Platonism!