My sister Julie Howson pointed the latest installment of Rob Owen's Tuned In Journal from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where Owen talks about the strange disclaimer that appears at the beginning of "Sesame Street - Old School Volume 1". The disclaimer is presented by an animated character, who says:
Welcome to 'Sesame Street Nostalgia.' I am Bob, your host, and I want you to know that these early 'Sesame Street' episodes are intended for grown-ups and may not meet the needs of today's pre-school child.
I've been watching more Sesame Street than NHL games on television lately, since my wife Kathleen suggested that we watch Sesame Street with our son Jimmy during his morning feedings. I started watching Sesame Street when I was a pre-schooler because it came on the air in 1969, so I was more than a bit intrigued by the need for a disclaimer at the beginning of a DVD showing archival footage of Sesame Street from when I was a child.
According to Owen's column, the early episodes of Sesame Street that are depicted in Sesame Street - Old School Volume 1 include a scene "showing kids scampering about a junkyard" and that scenes like this might not be "what's considered appropriate and safe for children today". Of course I think he's right.
My son Jimmy is only five months old, and I doubt that when he's a couple of years older he'll even recognize a junkyard for what it is. I have would have no problem with showing my son a scene like that because I doubt he's going to say, "Oh Daddy, let's go find a place that looks like that and see what we can find to play with."
But if that's the real reason for the disclaimer, I have a bigger question: Could you ever show a program to young children like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids - The Original Animated Series, Volume 1? A lot of that program takes place in a junkyard. There are characters in that cartoon series who are obese and have speech impediments. Bill Cosby was heavily involved in Fat Albert from a creative perspective, and I'm sure it was considered good clean fun at the time it was produced. It's still OK with me.
Kudos to The Sesame Workshop for making a DVD that illustrates the best and worst of their creative legacy. The groundbreaking fantasy animations, the terrific music, the edgier segments with the Muppets that defined the Sesame Street of the late 1960's and early 1970s-- those were the innovations that made Sesame Street the children's television institution that it is today.
The program continues to succeed in spite of the political correctness that infiltrates the current Sesame Street. This manifests itself in the repetitious super-safety of Elmo's World, the inclusion of handicapped children in many production segments, and an institutional resistance to using classic Sesame Street segments that would still be interesting and instructive today, even if they don't meet the current standards for diversity or other sensitivities.
I'm not saying that you need to include segments with other actors playing Gordon or bringing back Mr. Hooper from the dead. Those segments must be presented in their historical context because they would confuse children if they were mixed in with current production. But, there is no need for a disclaimer on Sesame Street - Old School Volume 1. This production is as appropriate for pre-schoolers of today as it was 35 years ago.
Sesame Street - Old School Volume 1 is definitely going to be on my Amazon.com Wishlist for 2006.