Gratuitous Sesame Street

by Kieran Healy on April 9, 2008

Like Henry, I bought the Old School Sesame Street collection for, uh, my kids. Yeah, totally for them. There’s all kinds of good stuff in there, including the God of the Classroom, Roosevelt Franklin. The improvised interactions with children who don’t always do what they are supposed to are also great. For instance, here is a great moment where Paul Simon sings an short version of “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard.” Slightly sour as always, Simon takes the song quite fast, as if he wants to just get it over with. He is immediately upstaged by the improvisations of the little girl sitting next to him. After he cuts her off, so he can start singing, she waits for her opening and then upstages him again. But by then even he is enjoying himself.

And as an added bonus, Here is Stevie Wonder playing “Superstition” live on Sesame Street. Beats the shit out of Barney, I’m telling you.



Martin 04.09.08 at 7:16 pm

I always felt that Barney was entitled to my respect, albeit not my affection, because, unlike Sesame Street, it made no concessions to adult tastes.


Kieran Healy 04.09.08 at 7:19 pm

True. Barney only works on one level, which is why adults hate him. On the other hand, Sesame Street did a pretty good job of not patronizing children, which was also admirable.


D.C. 04.09.08 at 8:10 pm

I loved Sesame Street when I was younger. Too bad it is not shown to kids these days. I also really enjoyed all the cartoon interludes about counting and such, they were my favourite part.


Mike 04.09.08 at 8:23 pm

Hey! That kid in the plaid pants stole my dance moves!


Russell Arben Fox 04.09.08 at 8:23 pm

Damn, what an awesome clip, Kieran. I thought I’d seen just about every cool thing Sesame Street did back in the good old days, but the Paul Simon was new to me. Thanks!


Russell Arben Fox 04.09.08 at 8:24 pm

Oh incidentally, your link to “Old School Sesame Street” goes to your book on Amazon. Coincidence?


Kieran Healy 04.09.08 at 8:27 pm

Whoops, fixed.


Gene O'Grady 04.09.08 at 9:11 pm

I thought it was third graders, not adults, who provided the hatred for Barney. Or were my kids exceptions?


Martin 04.09.08 at 9:53 pm

gene o’grady:

Third graders generally hate Barney. Barney is addressed, with great stylistic purity, at 4 or 5 year olds. Hatred of Barney is prevalent among elementary school students as an expression of their new mature status with an underlay of status anxiety about how close they are to the age (and cultural station) when they watched Barney. Adults may hate Barney as well, but it’s more detached.


Bloix 04.09.08 at 10:04 pm

Barney is hateful to older kids for a simple reason. The actors on Barney are pre-teens who are playing characters at an emotional level of five to ten years below their actual ages. (Obviously you can’t have 2-year-old child actors.) This is annoying enough for adults, but for 8-year-olds it’s creepy beyond belief.


Russell Arben Fox 04.09.08 at 10:41 pm

More Sesame Street thoughts and links here.


Brautigan 04.10.08 at 12:01 am

I’d have to say that Stevie Wonder clip should go down as one of the Phattest Phunk sessions of all time.


Slocum 04.10.08 at 12:26 am

Damn — I’ve been playing ‘Me and Julio’ wrong. Stupid TAB files. (Actually, that’s not true — TAB files are one of the greatest, least appreciated things on the net).

Anyway, cool clips — thanks.


vivian 04.10.08 at 12:56 am

Barney epitomized surburban mentality and morality. Monocultural, and a vapid culture too. It was stifling. Whereas even at its most un-hip, Sesame Street is much more a place where I want to live. (Although I hear that Avenue Q might be even more exciting…)


Cannoneo 04.10.08 at 3:43 am

I showed the opening of the pilot to my urban lit class a couple years ago, the scene where Gordon, a teacher, takes his new student Sally home for milk and cookies with his wife, along the way introducing her to Sesame St.’s regulars.

I used it as an example of the neighborhood model of city life (as imagined by idealistic educators), one many suburban students are not aware of. It has Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street,” lots of interactions both random and routine, a diversity of family types, a local economy, etc.

They loved it and I think I convinced them to rue Elmo’s hostile takeover of the franchise during their childhoods. Mike Gold and James T. Farrell were a bit of a reality check afterwards, though.

Sally, btw, was played by Holly Robinson, and Gordon by her real life father Matt. It’s great – they improvise! As he’s giving her the milk, she offers that she also likes coffee, and dad mutters something about that coffee incident being a one-time occasion not a regular thing.


david 04.10.08 at 2:50 pm

Hey does anyone have a link or an explanation to the Elmoification of Sesame Street? I watched it in the early 80s, during the vintage Sesame Street era, I presume. I read that NY Times review that was discussed in Henry’s link to Ross Douthat, but I wonder is Elmo actually playing a larger role in the Sesame Street of today, or does he merely symbolize today’s tamer version?


jcamfield 04.10.08 at 3:37 pm

That’s awfully cute, but I think Elephant Man wins on the cognitive dissonance front (dancehall version of the Sesame Street theme song, mildly NSFW)


JC 04.10.08 at 11:22 pm

Stevie Wonder? Hmmm, looks like a guy names Simon to me…


vivian 04.11.08 at 12:55 am

David, vintage Sesame Street starts in 1969 and runs through the mid-seventies. By the 1980’s Elmo had a big role on the show, but it still had some edginess to it. Plus Savion Glover. The Elmoification apparently was originally when the 2-4 year olds just resonated with the character, all the love that had gone to Big Bird just shifted. (A puppeteer friend claims it’s partly because kids love the color red.) But then when Jim Henson died suddenly in 1989, Kevin Clash just became the most prominent personality in he organization – definite ideas of what to do, and good ones mostly. Just not so popular with adults. There’s a chapter about it in Carroll Spinney’s The Wisdom of Big Bird. And how weird is it that I’m patronizing you for watching it ‘only’ 25 years ago? Sorry for that…


jonp72 04.11.08 at 4:32 pm

Here’s a good comment about the Sesame Street clip of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition that I found on Metafilter:

“Today, the kid with the long hair wouldn’t be allowed to be dancing where he was, there would be lots o’ programmed shit going on with the synth and drums, the sax player would wear a different shirt, there would be lots of monsters dancing around like these girls, and they’d tell him to hurry the hell up.”

Damn, it was great to be a kid in the ’70s.

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