In an effort to keep commercial TV at bay, I bought the Kiddo the "Old School" Sesame Street DVDs. These were the first years of the show that aired from 1969 to 1972. In other words, the years that I watched the program. While I remembered a few things like Kermit singing "Bein' Green" (Kermit was my favorite), I never "got" how amazing the show was, what groundbreaking social commentary it provided.
In the clips of the show, people like Jackie Robinson, Johnny Cash and Lou Rawls appear. Two male characters live together. Everyone, including the monsters, had emotions — not just vapid happiness. The cast was among the first multi-racial casts to ever appear on television. And was shown living in harmony in a single community. In 1969. Jesse Jackson appears with a group of children, leading a chant, "I may be small, but I AM SOMEBODY. I may be on welfare, but I AM SOMEBODY. I may be black, brown, or white, but I AM SOMEBODY."
If that was not enough, the first episode showed a real life clip on where milk comes from. Folk music in the background sings, "Oh, Cow ..." softly as the sun rises on content cows with calves eating grass in the pasture. The farmer leads them gently into the barn for milking, patting them. I nearly cried.
This is stark contrast to the big dairy-sponsored film at the petting zoo that announces cows eat Corn! and shows how great technology is that puts the cows on a big rotating platform to be milked by the hundred at once, looking like cogs on a factory wheel.
What's happened to us in the last nearly 40 years? Not just the loss of reverence for our food animals, but the lack of a stand for real change in the world. The mass commercialization of a show that was once so altruistic and bold?
Elmo showed up, and the whole street drank the wrong kool-aid. Character licensing, corporate sponsorships, mass marketing. Nick Jr. and children's TV for profit. In the changes I see in just one children's show, I see the downward spiral of the last four decades. The hope and the efforts of that first Sesame Street cast left unanswered.
I miss you, Kermit. I still believe. I am hoping that we are starting back down that better path in the wake of disillusionment so similar to what was going on in 1969 that it is frightening. Now that I am grown, maybe it's up to me, to my generation, the target of that first great message, to bring it back.