"Sesame Street" returns for its 41st season on Monday, but the opening episode won't include a scheduled segment featuring singer Katy Perry and Elmo.
I teach a course in "Children and Television" at Goucher College in Baltimore, and for the 15 years that I have taught the course, I have celebrated the use by Sesame Workshop of child and parent focus groups to screen content before airing. I can cite chapter and verse on the mistakes "Sesame Street" did not make on-air because of those pre-air screenings.
I admire Perry's willingness ot be on the show, and her sense of fun in the video. I love Elmo and puppeteer Kevin Clash, who was born and raised in Baltimore, to death. In fact, I have a feature story scheduled in Monday's print edition of the Sun on the new season of "Sesame Street" that includes interviews with Elmo and Clash.
But looking at the video through the eyes of an educator and a critic, let me say two things -- and they might seem contradictory. First, the video is a brilliant production -- in concept, editing and sense of parody. Second, I think Sesame Workshop made the correct decision in pulling it from the show. I'll take it on in depth later if you want, but "Sesame Street" exists in a highly-politicized media environment and country. Since it's birth in 1969, it has lived near ground zero in the culture wars. Remember Newt Gingrich's campaign to "zero out" congressional funding for PBS and "Sesame Street" in the '90s?
Here is a statement from Ellen Lewis, vice president of the workshop. And please, spare me any arguments about censorship. Sesame Street Workshop left the video online for all to see, except the little kids who will be watching the season premiere Monday. The video will probably be shown only 10 million times on cable news channels today.
"Sesame Street has a long history of working with celebrities across all genres, including athletes, actors, musicians and artists. Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, for the child and adult. We use parodies and celebrity segments to interest adults in the show because we know that a child learns best when co-viewing with a parent or care-giver. We also value our viewer's opinions and particularly those of parents. In light of the feedback we've received on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on You Tube."