Is nothing sacred? That is the rhetorical question that some parents, no doubt, have been asking over the past few days as the clean streets of Sesame Street were tarnished with the image of female breasts (or at least cleavage alluding to these breasts). Let me explain.
Sesame Street, the internationally beloved children’s programming, routinely books celebrity guests (like Ziggy Marley and Ricky Gervais) to illustrate key educational concepts and lessons for their audience. This could be anything from a lesson in phonics to a playful musical romp. The appeal (for both children and their parents) is that you have a familiar face (the celebrity) bringing some form of credibility to the show and providing a much-needed break from the puppet people (Elmo, Grover, etc). Sometimes these segments come in the form of parody, and sometimes they are just simple object lessons.
The bubblegum pop singer Katy Perry recently filmed a takeoff of her song “Hot ‘N Cold” for Sesame Street, with Elmo, and the dress she wore was considered too cleavagey for PBS, or at least for the handful of reactionary parents that objected to the clip when it was broadcast on Youtube, days ahead of its actual sesame street broadcast date. In the clip, Perry has dressed up (as in to “play dress up”) and tries to convince Elmo to join her in “play.” The entire feel of the musical clip is whimsical, girly, and wholly innocent. The fact that Perry is attired in an outfit that, while reasonably innocent and fanciful, does reveal a bit of cleavage doesn’t at all change the feel and message of the clip (see above).
If say there was something particularly seductive or licentious about Perry’s manner (like a simulated lap dance, or the use of a stripper pole), than I would almost understand having some objection. But seemingly cleavage, no matter what context, is just too much for some people and seemingly too objectionable for their children to lay eyes on.
After much controversy, Sesame Street pulled the segment from its planned broadcast and issued the following statement:
“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 caregiver…In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video, which was released on YouTube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of ‘Sesame Street,’ which is aimed at preschoolers.”
While I am neither a Katy Perry fan, nor am I a frequent Sesame Street viewer (anymore), I find this sort of moralizing and intransigence the more objectionable than any amount of cleavage. With the bulk of children’s programming (not on Sesame Street) consisting of serial violence and/or crass and cynical marketing, I see this sort of playfulness (cleavage enhanced or not) to be utterly benign.
But this digs at a deeper, darker question about parental fears. What is it about the human body (in particular, the female anatomy) that scares and repulses parents so? Is it the implied sexuality of someone like Perry, or is it our deeply repressed desires or fears that we project upon our children the problem?
Needless to say, this controversy has probably done nothing to hurt either Sesame Street not Katy Perry. For them both, this is free viral publicity that I am knowingly contributing to. But are we still such a puritanical culture that sexuality, or not even sexuality…anatomy, is reinforced as something entirely shameful and verboten for our children to see?
Please share your feelings on this matter, and in the meantime, please enjoy the following Sesame Street parody of the highly eroticized vampire show True Blood (somehow this made it past the moral majority):