Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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Boys and dolls

So I ran across this blog post criticizing Sesame Street for challenging gender roles by teaching boys that it's okay to play with dolls, on the grounds that it contradicts the Bible's teaching on gender, etc.

Of course, this is a completely ridiculous claim; nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about who is and isn't allowed to play with dolls. Correct me if I'm wrong, by all means, but I did an online search of several different versions and translations and could find no mention of dolls in the Bible at all. Ordinarily, I wouldn't indulge such a narrow-minded twit and his lunatic theories, but this gives me an opportunity to refute a common criticism about Sesame Street.

As quoted from the above source:
I grew up watching Sesame Street. That was in an era when it was largely, like much of American culture, compatible with a basically traditional outlook on the world. In other words, you could predict as a Christian parent that many cultural outlets would support, in a general sense, a Protestant worldview.1 Boys were boys; girls were girls; right and wrong exists;2 authority figures are good; and so on.

The times, how they have changed. We’ve now transitioned culturally to an era in which the basic foundations of the Protestant worldview are under assault.
This is a common go-to complaint among conservative pundits: "Sesame Street is so much more liberal now than it was when I was a kid watching." These people are wrong, and I can prove it by tracking the history of depictions of boys playing with dolls on Sesame Street, starting with the most recent and working backwards:

2011: "Baby Bear's Baby Doll," the episode in question in the above document. Baby Bear worries that Telly will make fun of him for playing with dolls, but Gordon reassures him that it's okay for boys to play with dolls, and for men to wear gorgeously flattering pink shirts.

2008: Abby Cadabby uses magic (oh, no! Witchcraft and deviltry!) to conjure a doll for Elmo so they can play with their dolls together.

2006: Telly has a doll named Freddy, and Zoe won't let Freddy play with her pet rock. Or something. Point is, there's a boy playing with a doll.

2001: Herry and Rosita sing their dolls a lullaby.

1998: Herry Monster brings his doll, Hercules, to a sleepover.

1995: Herry sings a "Song for Two" and then exits with his doll.

1988-1989: Monsterpiece Theater presents "Guys and Dolls," in which two guys (Herry and Alistair Cookie) play with dolls.

1986: Elmo shows everybody his new doll. (Wait, if Elmo already has a doll, why did Abby have to conjure him one by magic in 2008?)

1980s (and possibly 1970s): A boy tasked with buying a loaf of bread is distracted by another boy with a doll, among other things. (I'm unable to verify the earliest known appearance of this clip, but I remember seeing it when I was a kid in the '80s, and the animation quality suggests to me that it might have originated in the '70s.)

1971: Farley imagines that a monster is knocking at his door and is terrified when it proves to be so. It is Herry, who was just wondering if Farley wanted to play with him and his dollies.

That's not even all the examples I could mention. I skipped a few in which the doll seemed incidental to the main crux of the sketch. Also, it's not even taking into consideration the fact that all puppets, including Muppets, are basically just dolls that wiggle, or the fact that most puppeteers on Sesame Street are grown men. By the way, I only picked boys and dolls because that's the topic of the offending essay. Mention any other social issue you want, and I bet I can prove that Sesame Street's attitude about it is no more liberal than it was 43-44 years ago.

When people talk about Sesame Street getting "more liberal," they either forget or are unaware of how radical it seemed when it premiered in 1969, with a (human) cast that was half Caucasian and half African-American. This generated a lot of controversy, to the point that the show was initially banned by the state of Mississippi.3 In 1969, a show that was so deeply integrated was unheard of, and even today, how many current TV shows can you think of in which the main cast is half white and half black, or to put it another way, in which people of color are equally represented?

Criticize Sesame Street all you want, conservative pundits, and I'll meet your critcisms with laughter or scorn or well-reasoned rebuttal, as I deem appropriate, but don't say that it's getting more liberal. It's not Sesame Street's point of view that has changed over the's yours.

1Because, of course, the Catholic worldview is invalid and dangerous and apparently doesn't count as Christian. Grrr...
2Shift verb tenses much? Actually, Sesame Street almost never teaches about right and wrong, at least not in those terms. It teaches more about kindness and treating everyone with respect, about feelings and how one's actions may affect the feelings of others; in other words, more Golden Rule than Ten Commandments. And as for boys being boys and girls being girls, I wonder how he would then explain the video I posted yesterday in which a woman portrays the mustachioed Little Tramp character. Those Maria-as-Chaplin sketches started appearing as early as 1976.
3I imagine that Jim Henson, who lived the first ten years of his life in Mississippi, must have been pretty disappointed and embarrassed by that.
Tags: idiocy, muppets, sesame street, ss youtube channel project, television
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