Thursday, October 26, 2006

The World According To Sesame Street

This week on PBS, the new season of Independent Lens premiered with The World According to Sesame Street, a documentary that looks at how the Sesame Street franchise is presented around the world. You see, when they bring Sesame Street to a foreign country, they don't just dub the American program into a foreign language. They work with people in the country to produce their own local content, which reflects the culture of the country. Like in Kosovo, where one of the primary missions is to show Serbian and Albanian children that their counterparts are people just like them, and prevent racial hatred, and where we see a meeting of producers discussing how they need to have a show where muppets learn not to pick up hand grenades. Or in Africa, where there's an HIV-positive muppet. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried. And before you call me a pussy, this is a picture of Kami, the HIV-positive muppet:

And if you can watch a group of muppets learn that they can't catch AIDS from being friends with Kami, or watch a segment where Kami shows a little girl the box of scarves and jewelry that her mother left her before she died from AIDS, and realize that that reflects the reality of life for kids across the entire continent, and not cry, then feel free to call me a pussy. This program is repeating this Sunday on KCET, and you can check the website to find out if and when it's going to be shown in your area, and there's probably a DVD coming. This is one of the most moving hours of TV I've ever seen, and I strongly recomend watching it.

It's also pretty infuriating when you watch the conservative pundits who spent a news cycle or two complaining about Kami (without putting her in any context). And it's always irritating to me to hear conservatives talk about ending public funding for PBS. One of the arguments they always bring up is that Sesame Street is good enough to survive in the commercial market without public funding. I'm sure some incarnation of Sesame Street could indeed survive, but it would not be the show that we grew up with, the show that American kids have watched since 1969. Once it got under the control of network micromanagers and commercial interests, it would be rendered just another mindless kids' show. Look at what passes for kids shows on the networks if you don't believe me.

They also bring up that there's no longer a need for the documentaries PBS airs, because of the proliferation of chanels like Discovery, TLC, National Geographic and The History Channel. Have you ever watched the shallow documentary programs on those channels? Have you ever watched the excellent documentary shows on PBS? There's no comparison. Hell, there's more hard news in the 30 minutes of BBC World News that PBS stations run than in an entire day of CNN or MSNBC (I won't even mention Fox News). I hope PBS never loses it's federal funding, but there's always a danger of it. In that spirit, enjoy this clip of the late Fred Rogers advocating for PBS funding in a Senate hearing (I tried to embed the clip, but GoogleVideo doesn't seem to be as easy to embed as YouTube). Yeah, that one made me cry too. Maybe I am a pussy.

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