Ratha (papertygre) wrote,

Cookie Monster, hypocrisy, and oversimplification

sylvar found a good one...

Jonah Goldberg, Let Cookie Monster Be Cookie Monster:
After three decades, they’ve announced he’s not a Cookie Monster at all. In the interests of teaching kids not to be gluttons, CTW has transformed Cookie Monster into just another monster who happens to like cookies. His trademark song, “C is for Cookie” has been changed to “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food.” And this is a complete and total reversal of Cookie Monster’s ontology, his telos, his raison d’etre, his essential Cookie-Monster-ness.


The social engineering on display in the negation of Cookie Monster’s identity is no less sweeping than it would be if they declared Grover a transsexual.

In fact, that’s what makes this decision so hypocritical. Sesame Street normally drenches kids with “be true to yourself” pap and identity politics. In one episode, Elmo and Whoopi Goldberg (no relation) have a long talk about how they’d never want to give up, respectively, their skin or fur color because that would be changing who they are. Well, the hue of Elmo’s fur is less essential to his identity than Cookie Monster’s gluttony is to his. Rosita, the Hispanic Muppet, is often told not to be ashamed of her accent because that’s just a part of who she is. Maybe they should ditch it, in the name of good diction. Heck, maybe the kids in wheelchairs should get up and walk next season because we’re all in favor of kids being able to walk.

Well... let's set aside for a minute the question of how much impact children's shows have on children's ideas and behavior, and assume for the sake of argument that whatever Sesame Street portrays will shape the mindset of its watchers. We find ourselves with the question: which is a better example to set? To be content with one's nature -- one's accent, skin color, level of ability, etc. -- as it is, or to be eager to learn, grow, and improve? But doesn't wanting to improve mean dissatisfaction with the way one is?

Let's say Rosita wanted to take a class to learn to drop her accent. That's fine, isn't it? -- why shouldn't she do so? On the other hand, regardless of whether or not she does, isn't it bad for others to make fun of her for her accent? Of course. And both of these facts coexist. But how to express this subtlety to the kids? Impossible, apparently -- the only solution is to pick one side and stick to it, safely eliminating all ambiguity. Rosita's accent is part of her, beyond challenge; end of story. And if Cookie Monster is perceived as too gluttonous, the solution is not just to add a dimension of restraint on his otherwise strong desire, but to *eliminate* the desire altogether, just delete it from his character. (OK, so I'm extrapolating from the opinion piece; I have not seen this new Cookie Monster in action.)

There is a balance the CTW people are trying to strike, but their medium -- a colorful, stylized, simplified show -- forces them to the oversimplification which looks, to a more critical eye, like "hypocrisy." I wonder how much this simplification really helps kids absorb the lessons it is designed to teach, or if instead it gives them a false impression that the world somehow really is that simple. I can't remember very well how I thought when I was that young -- so I don't know.
Tags: culture, ethics, self-improvement
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