One can run into excellent cultural analysis in the most suprising of places. I recently encountered two which deal with how we as Americans are raising our children. The first is a witty comentary by Joel Stein aptly titled Elmo Is an Evildoer - Los Angeles Times
Being an American parent of preschoolers I must readily confess that we have a few items of Elmo junk in the various toy boxes, closets and nooks of our house. But the reality is, when watches Elmo (we have one DVD) what emerges is pretty silly. Stein does a great job in looking at how the most incarnations of the Seasame Street TV franchise are reflecting the values we have in our day. Seasame Street is no longer dominated by Oscar, Big Bird, and Bert teaching kids lessons of friendship and responsibility, but rather a dumping batch of blabbering self obession which makes little kids center their lives on "ME, ME, ME." Believe me, the kiddos need no help in being self-centered creatures, sin secures this situation in their lives quite easily without any help from Elmo. Stein makes some really pithy observations about the fare offered today once someone tells you how to get to Seasme Street. I'll highlight a few:
The lesson they teach — in opposition to Oscar, Big Bird, Grover or Bert — is that bland neediness gets you stuff much more easily than character. We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths.
I am not the only one who hates Elmo. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of MTV2's dark "Sesame Street" parody, "Wonder Showzen," think the evil red one is destroying the show.
"Elmo doesn't grow. People show him something and he laughs. He doesn't learn a lesson," says Lee. "It's the exact opposite of what old 'Sesame Street' used to do. Elmo has been learning the same lesson his whole life, which is that Elmo likes Elmo."
Is it any surprise that a culture whose gods are self-esteem, self-realization, self-actualization, self-help, self-worth, etc. would put before its children a little self-obsessed red puppet that loves to talk about himself in the third person? Recently while staying in a hotel while our son was in the NICU, I caught a show called My Super Sweet 16 which was about a spoiled rich girl and her indulgent sixteen year old birthday party. It seemed all this girl could think about was how I look, how jealous everyone is of ME, how she better get what she wants, and how she is to be the center of all things. Elmo would be proud. He lives in the same universe where the Sun about which all is to orbit is the self. Stein finishes his article about the little red Sesame demon with the following:
I desperately don't want the show to go away, so I know they can't afford to run the "Elmo accidentally drank bleach and died" episode. Instead, they need to simply take Elmo and his buddies and give them their own hourlong show for the idiot spawn. Then put Luis, Gordon and the cool Muppets on their own half-hour "Classic Sesame" for the kids who will one day actually contribute to our society.
Whichever of the two shows you watched would serve as a convenient litmus test for the rest of your life. "Which 'Sesame Street' did you watch?" will be code on college applications, Internet dating and job applications. Blue and red states will be divided not by presidential choices, but by Grover and Elmo.
If we can't save all the kids, let's at least save the ones who can master speaking in first-person. The rest we'll use for reality TV stars.
I think I just saw one of those reality TV kids celebrate her 16th birthday...I'll pray for the kids to be old school Sesame and leave Elmo's self-love world behind. A firm reading of Philippians 2 would do the kiddos well - count others more significant than yourselves, and don't talk about yourself in the third person.