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Thread: Sesame Street and the perception of the city

  1. #1
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    Sesame Street and the perception of the city

    Hello!

    My name is Hannah Miller. I am a freelance writer, based in San Francisco. I've posted in here to gather opinions for an essay I'm writing.

    The essay is about about "Sesame Street," and its impact on people in my age group (20-35). One of the effects I am trying to write about is that of the image of the city, as presented in the show - an image I think was swallowed wholesale by many viewers. About 3 in 5 members of this age group watched Sesame Street in enormous doses while growing up.

    I have a pet theory that Sesame Street was actually responsible for giving us a positive image of what city life was like, at a very impressionable age (3-6 years old). The show was such a huge hit, and millions of kids were parked in front of it. I think it's part of what people expect a city to be like now. From anecdotal evidence, I sense that there is a very large group of people who grew up in the suburbs and moved to the city in their twenties, since the mid-80s, and I wonder if SS didn't contribute to this.

    In addition - since I am a layperson - I was wondering if SS has even had any effect on actual design/planning?

    I'd love to hear some thoughts on this. Feel free to post, or email me directly at golden.notebook@gmail.com.

    Thank you so much for your time!

    Sincerely,
    Hannah Miller

  2. #2
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    welcome! I don't have any info for you, but others will. Most of the posting here occurs during the work week, so please don't be discouraged if you do not get many responses right away.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    Welcome.

    I am a bit older then the age group you are targeting; however,
    an image that sticks in my mind is that the stoop was the front porch,
    if you were outside people would stop and talk.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
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    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    That's a pretty interesting theory, Hannah; I've often thought that myself.

    It might also help account for our promoting multiculturalism as an ideal scenario for urban life.

    In reality, as suburbanites move into the city with their money, they push out the very multicultural scene that attracted them in the first place. Where do those people go? Why the suburbs, of course.

    Musical chairs?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Like JNA, the stoop is the most vivid memory I have of the show. How interesting that this feature of the home, which went missing for so many years, is coming back so strongly. This is true in subsidized affordable housing as well as in expensive homes.

    I have not watched Sesame Street in thirty years, but I still recall the diversity of the cast. All people (and muppets) were accepted. In teaching diversity and tolerance as integral to a healthy community, I wonder if Richard Florida would approve. Although I grew up as a suburbanite (older, established Chicago suburb - picture The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink) I often visited my grandparents in thier north side neighborhood. It was the one place where I might expect to see someone who was not white, and I can't think of any time when I thought that was anything but normal. I wonder if Sesame Street was part of the reason.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    The book "The Tipping Point" does an excellent analysis of why Sesame Street was so successful, both as a show and as a means to educate kids. There was a lot more put into it than I ever realized. You might find it to be an interesting resource.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Great post - of course you know Bert and Ernie are... errr. "creative class", right? ;0

    http://www.bertisevil.tv/img/bertanal.jpg
    Last edited by giff57; 14 Nov 2004 at 10:02 AM. Reason: u'mm Chet?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian silentvoice's avatar
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    I'm in that age-group. As far as my architectural work is concerned, no, there is no relation.

    I think the effects are social only and would have very little, if at all, on design of cities.

    The only thing from TV that got me thinking about design are those from futuristic animes (japanese cartoons) showing futuristic cities, but I digress.
    Last edited by silentvoice; 15 Nov 2004 at 12:08 AM.

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    In retrospect, I have been struck by how different SS was from the world that most American kids (at least middle class white kids) inhabit. I'd like to see a study of how kids interpret the SS environment, which is so very different from the suburban norm. It strikes me that Mr. Rogers' neighborhood is built pretty much in accordance with New Urbanist principles...I won't suggest, however, that NU's adherents were influenced by Mr. Rogers!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    http://www.bertisevil.tv/img/bertanal.jpg
    Hilarious!

    Quote Originally posted by Hannah Miller
    Sesame Street...
    I watched that show religously, but I do wonder, why so many inquiring minds want to know the impact of this show on people in your stated demographic? What about Electric Company and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood? I watched them all the time, too. But back to Sesame Street, I do remember it odd that a creature lived in a garbage can and that everyone was so happy and playful. Mr. Hooper was memorable. But other than that, I have no idea if it has had any affect on my life. I remember Kermit as the weather man, I remember the game show host guy, I remember Super Grover, I remember the Count, I remember Mr. Snuffle-Up-A-Gus, but I never remember the setting of the city ever having a lasting impression in my mind.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Interesting...

    I guess I never thought much about it, but maybe it is subconsciously why I became more urban in my attitudes as I grew up....

    Sesamie Streets seems like a good place to live. Walkable uses, tightly-knit community, with a diverse lot of great people that like to teach each other and watchout for each other. No need to hop in the car every time you want to go somewhere. All except for that green guy in the can (what's his problem?) and the freakeshly large talking bird.
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    I have my doubts about the connection, as I would think that since WWII the urban areas have been more attractive to young singles than families... but it is an interesting idea. I'll have to check on old census records at work on Monday to see how the demographics of inner cities have changed over time.
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    Cyburbian Achernar's avatar
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    I for one learned that a significant Spanish-speaking population lives in the United States by watching Sesame Street, years before meeting anyone whose first language is Spanish.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    I doubt "Sesame Suburb" would be very much fun at all. It just wouldn't be the same with Big Bird walking around a landscaped parking lot, Mr. Hooper's Store replaced by a Wal-Mart, and Oscar the Grouch being locked in the garage. I think another aspect of "Sesame Street" that helped to bring me positive impressions of the city was the clips of various urban children they often showed. Because I grew up in an outer suburb where there weren't a lot of other children, "Sesame Street" helped me to understand that cities could be good places for kids, too.

  15. #15
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    Not sure if it had an impact on my career choice, it's entirely possible, but I do remember trying to convince my parents, at the age of 4, to move us to NYC. There was a lot going on in cities when SS first started, not all of it good, and the show did a good job of counteracting the scary stuff on the nightly news and showing us that cities could be good places too.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by drucee
    I doubt "Sesame Suburb" would be very much fun at all. It just wouldn't be the same with Big Bird walking around a landscaped parking lot, Mr. Hooper's Store replaced by a Wal-Mart, and Oscar the Grouch being locked in the garage. I think another aspect of "Sesame Street" that helped to bring me positive impressions of the city was the clips of various urban children they often showed. Because I grew up in an outer suburb where there weren't a lot of other children, "Sesame Street" helped me to understand that cities could be good places for kids, too.
    I think it would be "Sesame Cul-de-Sac"
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I think that as a kid who grew up in a small mid-western town and in your target age, it was bizarre to see residential areas that did not have yards. I also think that is showed larger cities as diversified places. I do think that much of the set design gave a negative concept to cities. I know that I subconsciously relate many of the puppet characters to individuals who live in the city, such as how Oscar relates to homeless people, Bert and Ernie relate to the gay population (even though the creators say that they are not…) Elmo relates to an ignorant youthful population, and big bird relates to community and neighborhood leaders.

    I think as an educational too, it has helped to better understand both the positives and negatives of urban living, but has also caused some misconceptions such as the lack of crime, gangs, blight, and other real world issues.

  18. #18
    I am personally from the Captain Kangaroo generation, but my kids (7 and 5) watch/watched a fair amount of SS.

    I've noted that not only is the setting for the principal story an urbanized area, but many of the vignettes take place in urban settings: the "stop-action" counting games where the kids paint the number on a banner are usually shot in an urban park setting, as an example. The full intro and closing segments, usually shown only on Monday and Friday also are fully urbanized. BTW: My youngest really starts to tune out SS when the Elmo's World segment starts (usually the last 15 mins).

    As to whether there is any conscious or sub-conscious pro-urbanization as a result of SS, I cannot say.
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Sesame Country...?

    Quote Originally posted by drucee
    I doubt "Sesame Suburb" would be very much fun at all. It just wouldn't be the same with Big Bird walking around a landscaped parking lot, Mr. Hooper's Store replaced by a Wal-Mart, and Oscar the Grouch being locked in the garage. I think another aspect of "Sesame Street" that helped to bring me positive impressions of the city was the clips of various urban children they often showed. Because I grew up in an outer suburb where there weren't a lot of other children, "Sesame Street" helped me to understand that cities could be good places for kids, too.
    No more interesting or fun than Sesame Country would be....
    Big Bird targeted by Oscar the Grouch from the local landfill who simultaneously is teaching one of the kids how to shoot for the hunter safety class......Mr. Hoopers store replaced by red-neck-o-mart "Piggly Wiggly"....and so on.....

    The show did provide a glimpse into urban living and yes urban architecture. I never understood the connection with all the wildlife in the show.....I mean, how could there be so many animals in the city???
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  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Dunno. I'm always impressed by just how many animals live in the city - and by how little people notice them. Racoons are freaking huge and rather a surprise to encounter in the core of downtown, yet noone seemed to notice. People notice the buffalo-sized moose wandering through midtown and the east side mostly because they eat their gardens and landscaping, from what I gather. Ravens the size of turkeys are pretty ubiquitous too. Seagulls and squirrels in other places.

    I still remember the front stoop from that show, but I remember the store more for some reason. I had to drive to mine 7 miles through the country and it was a supermarket, but it had a lot better selection and better prices i'm sure.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SideshowBob
    I think it would be "Sesame Cul-de-Sac"
    "Sesame Estates"

  22. #22
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    View from the other side

    Okay, so I grew up in the city of Holyoke. Had the front stoop and backporch that connected to all the apartment. The back alleyway was the connection to all the apartments in our "compound." We had "Frenchie's" market on one opposing corner, the local barber opposite the market. A short walk included the playground (2 blocks), a gracery store (4 blocks), fish market, church, public school (2 blocks), parochial school, 2 parks. We had a lot of friendly people, I remember sitting on the back stairs trading baseball cards, playing red light - green light, wiffle ball, etc in the back yard and hopscotch on the sidewalk. We had the Vegetable Wagon that was pulled by a horse delivering fresh fruit and vegetables through the alleys, we had the "rag man" who collected rags and newspapers for recycling (maybe the same wagon on a different day of the week, it was a long time ago), milk was delivered to your door etc. I would say the Sesame Street image is a sterilized urban image. The image that many of us who lived in these areas cherished.

    It leaves out the reality aspect of it, the neighbor who fired off a gun in his apartment and had the bullet lodge in the wall above my brother's crib, the street gangs, getting mugged at age 5 for my fishing equipment, the winter time walk home from the Boys Club in the dark and running from doorway to doorway when we passed the rough-neck bar (probably was too young to walk home but no-one thought about that then). We moved out of the city at age 9 to the "idealic" suburban community where your neighbors did not talk to you, you got beat up by the neighborhood bullies, there was no place to walk home from....

    So my conclusion is that Sesame Street is influenced by the up-bringing of those who originally wrote the show. They may have looked at the negative aspects of urban dwelling, and found that they were off-set by the negative aspects of suburban living, and thus focused only on the positive. However, they did deal with several important issues, Mr. Hooper's death, the fire that destroyed Big Bird's home and how one's life can be totally disrupted by fire, the lifetime friendship of two of the characters and their eventual marraige.

    (I am 44 but have a six year old, so I remember the beginnings with my younger siblings and the more recent with my son)
    Planning is much like acting, as my old theater professor used to say, "If you sin, sin boldly, only you know if you are ad libbing." I follow this adage almost daily.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I don't think Sesame Street was trying to promote an "urban agenda" as much as it just tried to reflect the reality of its target audience - urban children who the show's creators wanted to help with the show. I can't fault Sesame Street for leaving out the gangs and violence.

    Hannah, if the show had a role in our perceptions of the city, its very small compared to real life experience and economic factors. I think 50's suburban sit-coms probably had more of an effect in promoting suburbs to middle class families than Sesame Street did in promoting the city. If any shows somewhat helped sway Gen Xers into cities it was Friends, Seinfeld and other early 90's shows that showed the city as a fun, hip place just as its young viewers were deciding where to live.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    I think your theory is awesome.

    I fit your description perfectly.

    Regarding the second part: not consciously, but maybe sub-consciously… I have never thought about it before. .

  25. #25
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    [QUOTE=Hannah Miller]Hello!

    Anyone hear remember Mad Magazine.

    They did a parody of Sesame Street when it first came out, back in 1971 or 70 I think.

    It was called "Reality Street".

    they included a rewrite of the opening jingle.

    "Smoggy Day/Sky is a charcoal Gray/...can you tell me the way/to Reality Street"

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