A while back, Casey posted a link to a lament for the old Sesame Street, complete with hallucinations of imaginary friends, grouches and utter disregard for the nutritional needs of children. And real cows.
I have a different complaint.
Clare received Elmo in Grouchland for Christmas (gee thanks, Nana and Pop). We're watching it daily nowadays. Someday soon I hope the newness and fascination will wear off, but until then, I expect to hear Vanessa Williams chipper little ditty as the Queen of Trash, and see Mandy Pitimkin's crazy eyebrows, in my dreams.
That's par for the course, however, and hey, honestly, it could be worse. Those songs really are catchy. And at least Mandy tosses us poor parents an inside joke once ot twice.
No, my complaint is entirely different in nature and has to do with an aspect I suspect is another indication of the difference between the Old and the New Sesame Streets. Back in the Bad Old Days, the classic fuzzy monsters were simple. Eyes, big bulgy nose, fur in some fun random color. Add some eyebrows for Oscar to make him grouchy, and that's it. Nothing else needed. Simple. But nowadays, monsters are all fancied up. Complicated, fussy monsters instead of simple fuzzy ones.
Take Elmo and Zoe, for example. I know Elmo's an icon for the New Sesame, but his existence predates Elmo's world by many years and his evolution as a monster has been an incremental process. Zoe pops onto the scene in 1992, specifically designed as a counterpart to Elmo.
And this gets to the heart of my complaint. Elmo is a simple classic monster--eyes, big bulgy nose, red fur. Zoe, on the other hand, has a spangly hairdo, barrettes, a necklace and apparently permanently wears a tutu due to her girlish fascination with ballet. Before I was fully initiated into the wonders of Elmo's World, I thought of Elmo as androgynous: a sort of monster-Kinder for whom gender was a not-yet-significant aspect of identity. But with Zoe as a counterpart, Elmo can no longer be androgynous. Zoe is clearly marked as a female: the fussy hair, jewelry, tutu. And so in the New Sesame Street, the unmarked standard is male, and female is signified with all the markers you'd expect of frilly girly girls: hair, bows, ribbons, barrettes, necklaces, whatever.
Maybe that's not any better than just having all your monsters be male, which is certainly the case in the Bad Old Days. But the New isn't any better. Now we have girl monsters, but to be a girl means having to be specially marked as different from the norm. I don't want Clare to learn that.
But the truth is, I get suckered in too: I love Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality. And their portrayal of the strong, ideal woman is one who's smart, successful, assertive...and wears high heels. And, as RRR tells us in Sexism and God-Talk, a woman's liberation can be measured in inverse proportion to the height of her heels.
The ideal before us: smart...and yet still sexy. I don't want Clare to have to deal with this, the angst of how to be smart and still be a girl. How to juggle talent and intelligence and yes, ambition, and concern for hair and makeup and how to make herself attractive for everybody. I don't want her to feel she has to compensate for being smart by making herself as beautifully feminine as possible. I just want her to be.
But not even the fuzzy monsters on Sesame Street seem to be able to achieve that. And if it can't happen in that imaginary, sunny place...