With the recent alleged sex scandal involving Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, fans of “Sesame Street” have begun to see their beloved show in a very different light.While the under age sex allegations have since been dropped, the scandal has still cast a shadow over what is supposed to be a colourful, kid-friendly show.
But this isn’t the first time the popular PBS children’s show has gotten bad press.
The show’s 43-year history has been riddled with scandals, ranging from the more recent Katy Perry appearance debacle to the long-time rumours about Bert and Ernie’s sexual orientation.
Early episodes of 'Sesame Street' showed Cookie Monster smoking a pipe and an early green incarnation of Grover partaking in civil disobedience with hippies.
According to an NPR interview with The Week's Dale Hrabi in 2009, original episodes from 1969 to the early '70s are labelled 'adult only' upon purchase and were meant to reflect the era.
Here's the Grover clip we mentioned:
When actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, 'Sesame Street' writers had a challenging task on their hands. During a Thanksgiving Day episode in 1983, adult characters on the show explained death to Big Bird, who didn't understand why Mr. Hopper wasn't coming back. While the topic was addressed in a sensitive manner, many parents believed their children were still too young to learn about it.
For years, rumours circulated about Bert and Ernie being more than roommates. In 1993, 'Sesame Street's' producers finally put the rumours to rest, saying Bert and Ernie 'do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.'
In 2002, matters once again became complicated when a documentary spoof, titled 'Ernest and Bertram,' showed two male puppets who became heated lovers. 'Sesame Street' threatened to sue Peter Spears, director of the eight minute movie.
Poor Bert just can't get a break. In 2001, only weeks after the September 11 attacks, a placard featuring Bert next to Osama Bin Laden was circulated during a Bangladeshi rally.
The image made it appear as if Bert had joined the Taliban. Rally members got the image from the now-defunct website 'Bert is Evil,' that showed Bert as the criminal behind such acts as JFK's assassination.
Brad Fitzgerald, who created the now-infamous picture, made the Bin Laden-Bert image to joke that the muppet had involvement with various acts of terrorism. According to ABC News, 'a Bangladeshi poster shop didn't realise the image was a joke when they printed up 2,000 posters for Anti-American protesters.'
Needless to say, 'Sesame Street' was not happy about this mix-up.
In 2002, 'Sesame Street's' South African edition created Kami, an HIV-positive muppet, whose mother died of AIDS. Critics immediately sent angry letter to producers, saying the show was promoting homosexuality and prematurely educated children on the disease.
In this video, President Bill Clinton and Kami appear in a PSA about HIV/AIDS.
After years of chanting 'me want cookie,' Cookie Monster was given a new diet in 2005: fruits and vegetables. With child obesity on the rise in the U.S., 'Sesame Street' was encouraged to help educate kids about healthy eating. The show came out with the song 'A Cookie is a Sometime Food' to teach kids that cookies shouldn't be eaten all the time.
In 2006, the Israeli version of Sesame Street introduced an Arab muppet, Mahboub, to teach children the importance of tolerance and acceptance. The five-year-old character plays the drums and speaks Hebrew and Arabic. Many Israelis were not happy with this new character.
Tensions have long existed in Israel between the Jewish and Arab communities, where Arabs make up about one-fifth of the population but complain about being treated as inferior to the rest of the country's citizens.
In 2009, 'Sesame Street' aired an episode where it appeared to be mocking Fox News. In the segment, Oscar the Grouch is the host of a news program on GNN, the Grouchy News Network. In the middle of his newscast, Oscar gets a call from a viewer who complains about GNN's coverage. 'From now on I am watching Pox News. Now there is a trashy news show,' the muppet character says.
According to The Week, after Fox complained, a PBS representative said that although the parody was 'too good to resist, it should have been resisted.'
In September 2010, 'Sesame Street' announced that it would not air a music video duet of Elmo and Katy Perry. The music video, a revised version of Perry's hit 'Hot 'N Cold,' was released online, instantly sparking a controversy over the appropriateness of Perry's cleavage-showing outfit.
The show released the following statement:
On October 16, 2011, visitors to 'Sesame Street's' YouTube channel were in for a big surprise. The channel was hacked and replaced with porn. YouTube quickly fixed the problem, but not before some of the page's 148,000 subscribers viewed the offending material.
'We apologise for any inconvenience our audience may have experienced on our Sesame Street YouTube channel,' Sesame Workshop said in a statement. 'Our channel was compromised and we worked with YouTube/Google to restore our original content. We always strive to provide age-appropriate content for our viewers.'
During this election cycle's first presidential debate, Mitt Romney said he wanted to cut government spending to PBS, and thus 'Sesame Street.' In the following weeks, Romney's comment about cancelling Bird Bird was turned into hundreds of memes and even a pro-Obama ad. The comment even sparked the Million Muppet March in D.C. to protest the proposal.
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