‘Sesame Street’ Was Always Political


There was a principle in politics, and there should be: Never pick a battle with Big Bird. You finish up spitting out feathers, as the eight-foot chicken walks away chanting the alphabet.

Mitt Romney repeatedly argued in the 2012 election for cutting taxpayer support and having the popular character start sharing the display with advertisements — “I’m afraid Big Bird is going to have to get used to Kellogg’s Corn Flakes” — exposing himself to accusations that he cared more about Wall Street than “Sesame Street.”

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, became the latest politician to find the large yellow target appealing in November. Following a CNN and “Sesame Street” town hall on vaccinations for youngsters, the Big Bird Twitter account stated that the character had received a Covid-19 shot. Cruz labeled the message “Government propaganda…for your 5 year old!”


Aside from the questionable assertion that encouraging children vaccination, a cornerstone of public health and education, is “propaganda,” Take note of how Cruz dismisses Big Bird’s promotion of the measles vaccination a half-century ago.

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And don’t forget that liberal and conservative parents have long admired “Sesame Street” for its noncommercial wholesomeness.

Cruz was, at the very least, right to one bigger truth: “Sesame Street” has always been political.

It is political not in the party sense, but because how we teach and protect children — and pick which children to teach and protect — is inextricably linked to political ideals.

Further than the great memories of Bert and Ernie and the Count, this is the focus of Marilyn Agrelo’s sweetly engaging documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which airs Monday on HBO. It mixes archive film and fresh testimonies to depict the younger days of a puppet revolution, based on Michael Davis’ book “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.”

“Sesame Street,” which debuted in 1969, was the brainchild of Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV producer who was first more engaged in the civil rights era than in schooling but eventually saw the link. “The people who govern the system read, and the ones who make it in the system read,” she once stated. And, ironically, she felt that the greatest way to persuade 1960s youngsters to read was through television.

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