We were a Muppet family, but I was never that big on Sesame Street. Mom always wanted me to love Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, and the crew. Really though, save for Grover and his The Monster at the End of This Book, I wasn’t down.
Though I wasn’t a massive Sesame Street fan, I didn’t hate the show, so bits and pieces of it stuck with me over the years. Along with Oscar and Snuffy, I also remembered Gordon. He was just as whimsical and magical to me as a Muppet because Gordon was a human who got to live on Sesame Street. I didn’t know much about Gordon, but I knew if you were cool enough to cohabitate with Muppets, you were quite the bad ass, the epitome of cool.
So, I was distressed to read Gordon and other longtime human cast members of Sesame Street were being let go. Apparently in the transition of the show from PBS to HBO and the downsizing from an hour to 30 minutes, the Children’s Theater Workshop and the network decided more Elmo and fewer humans was the key to success. Over the past couple of days, people are rightfully claiming this is a case of ageism, though no one has mentioned species-specific discrimination.
What concerns me isn’t just the belief that young children have no desire to see people their grandparent’s age on TV (which I don’t believe, as so many kids have much stronger ties to their grandparents than I ever did), but that we were severing one of the final ties that connected what I liked to what kids who could ostensibly be my kids like.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear I like old stuff, but I also like long-running stuff that can help bridge generations together. As a kid, I liked Captain Kangaroo on its own and because my aunts and uncles used to watch it as a kid. I liked tapping into Bozo the Clown both because I loved the ping pong balls and buckets game (you want to know how beer pong became popular? Bozo, that’s how), but also because I was tapping into an institution. It is part of the reason we pick the sports teams our families rooted for, because it helps to bring us together.
Now, I realize the Reds have a much different lineup now than in the 80s, so one can argue Gordon and others are past their prime and, like an athlete need to be replaced, but to have a show that is supposed to teach tolerance and inclusion turn its back on cast members that have been involved since the 70s is not the Sesame Street I knew. This is some new Sesame Street, like the team that moved cities yet claims to keep the heritage of their old locale.
With this latest change in the Sesame Street lineup, I look around the TV landscape and see that the long-running shows are also high turnover programs like news broadcasts or Sportscenter. There is no throughline but the name of the show. For someone who has always hated too much change and sought out programming that felt comfortable and familiar, I am nostalgic not just for Gordon, but for all of the connectors between my parents and me…between me and the next generation. Everything continues to become fragmented and insular. While it is great to be able to cultivate such a specific collection of TV and movies thanks to massive streaming libraries, this latest blow to communal viewing still hurts my heart because now the current Sesame Street isn’t an artifact from another era that gives me hope that the classics stay classic and relevant at the same time. To me, it is a zombie Muppet that looks a little like the original, but is lacking in, well, the humanity that Gordon and others brought to the show.