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How Elmo Ruined Sesame Street (kotaku.com)
348 points by bufordsharkley on Dec 8, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 187 comments



I'd rather a million Elmo-centric Sesame Street episodes than even one episode of Barney or Caillou.

That said, every kid needs some old-school, Elmo-free Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. (No, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" is not the same; it's insipid and dumb by comparison.)

Also, back in the day, Square One TV had a police-procedural parody called Mathnet that was still loads better than network TV's attempt at a mathematical-cop show for adults (Numb3rs).

It literally couldn't get any better for a kid than PBS in the 70s or 80s.


My two kids enjoyed "The Backyardigans", and with my own interest in musical expression, I found it mostly quite entertaining. Episodes about space, art, math, earth science, cultural beliefs... And a few clever spoofs of some grown-up faves. It was a fun show, and each episode had a genre-specific set of musical arrangements. Zydeco, country, folk... Very cleverly done.

I have a soft spot for that show beyond its lack of Dora-level annoyance: my son is on the autism spectrum, and for some time, his only speech was echolalic. He was most fond of using phrases uttered by one of the Backyardigans, Austin, who himself didn't speak much. He always used the echoed speech in contextually appropriate ways - one time he saw snow falling outside, and said, "it's..it's..it's snowing," with the exact prosody of Austin's utterance of that line in "The Secret of Snow". That was very illuminating for me as the father of a developmentally delayed child. I didn't know how to predict his ability to function as he got older, or really his understanding of language at all...But that day, the sight of gently falling snow never seemed so amazing to me.

When it was on, I often watched it with them; I didn't want to lob a bowling ball at my television, which Caillou made me consider doing. And don't even get me started on Kai-Lan...


> "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" is not the same; it's insipid and dumb by comparison.)

Funny, because DTN is a award winning show with excellent writers and a body of research and consulting experts backing up their approach. It's only "insipid" if you try to analyze it as an adult. For kids, its engaging and important.

Compare and contrast to other popular shows like Pororo that, while charming and well executed, really don't have nearly so much science behind them.


Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is an astoundingly well envisioned show, and I'm really disappointed that the top comment here speaks ill of it. It expands upon the core of what Rogers was trying to teach and I find it to be a wonderfully fitting, modern successor. One of the joys I've experienced as a parent is in observing how well crafted and thoughtful DTN (and some other notable shows on PBS) have become, and how my daughter incorporates lessons learned from them in her daily life.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (and early Sesame Street) surely deserve massive amounts of praise, but they were not formed perfectly, from whole cloth, as perfect educational programs. As with any other field, our knowledge of child psychology and early development is continuing to evolve, and there are brilliant people doing amazing work in this area.


I don't think DTN is necessarily bad on its own merits at all. Certainly there is much worse: Dora, Barney, Caillou, to name three. But compared to its predecessor it pales, significantly.


While I remember MRN fondly, it was as complete mess compared to what we have now. We need to accept that there was almost no actual rigor put into the creation of our kids shows, at their genesis.

I remember them fondly and praise them regularly, but I try to keep this in mind. Modern kids shows are optimized for kids. Even Dora is specifically optimized for very young children. It appears insipid because it's repetitive to us. But to a child, it's carefully tuned.


It's a little disturbing to hear all of this praise of a model of children's television that's A/B tested to hell and back and engineered for children.

Then again, I grew up watching (and loving) Loony Tunes. There's a depth there that this modern-day pap doesn't possess. The Teletubies never did Wagner or the Barber of Seville; Bugs Bunny did.


"Engineered for children" is a good thing if it means that the show producers have incorporated recent research into early childhood development when designing the show. This is true of shows like Daniel Tiger, Dora, and (although not mentioned in this thread) Blue's Clues.

The brains of little kids do not work the same way that adult brains do, so shows really do need to be constructed differently. Mr. Rogers knew this--it was a big part of the success of his show--but both research and TV technology have come a long way since he started his show.

It would be bad if a show was simply A/B tested for stickyness, but that's not the story with the shows I mentioned above.


Loony Tunes were made partially for adult consumption before the main feature or between double features in a theater which is why they have more sophisticated themes, particularly the censored ones that aren't PC today.


Teletubbies is aimed at children young enough to not be speaking yet - 6 months to 2 years old.


Children under two aren't even supposed to watch television.

> Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-ini...


yeah.

And as a parent who has held back normal bodily functions for an entire day while they did all the "right" things for their kids, sometimes the safest and best thing for everyone involved is to sit the kids in front of TV and know they will stay put for 15 minutes, so you can go to the toilet and then cook their dinner.

Also, the other day our 4 year old told me he wanted to be a paleontologist so he can find bones and coprolite. He didn't learn those words from me.


He wants to find dino poo, that is a cool 4 year old!


These rules are considered to be outdated and very few pediatricians suggest "0 screen time" anymore.

Please see various MODERN materials and their sources at: http://www.zerotothree.org/parenting-resources/screen-sense/...


The summary box at the very top of your link says "children learn better and more efficiently from play and interaction in the “real,” three-dimensional (3-D) world with parents, caregivers, and peers" and that there is "no research showing that when children younger than 2 years old use these devices independently it enhances their development" and implies that the only reason for having > 0 screentime is simply because there's so many screens you might as well give up.

Sounds pretty much the same as the AAP advice, just more cynical.

It looks from elsewhere in this thread you're taking this as a criticism of your parenting skills. Yes, it is easier just to turn the TV on to distract your kids for 15 minutes. When all is said and done we don't know what the effects are and even if they aren't great, there's millions of other kids doing the same thing so it'll probably be OK. But that doesn't mean that other people might find it in their interests to find a way to eliminate that tool for distraction. Maybe you can too - suppose the kids helped you with dinner? Even very young children can be taught to contribute with basic tasks.


> Sounds pretty much the same as the AAP advice, just more cynical.

The fundamental difference is the inclusion of "guided" vs "unguided." There is this implicit assumption that "screen time" means "without continuous parent interaction" because our conversation is colored by the early 90s and television. The AAP advice doesn't differentiate. There's also a strong scent of "excluded middle" in your argument. Two 30 minute sessions of screen time, guided by parents, with programming specifically and scientifically designed for that age bracket is a hell of a lot different than parking your child in front of a television for 2 hours while you answer emails.

But even if we ignore that, 24/7 parenting presence is the province of the ultra rich, and often even then the province of women delegated to full primary caregiver status. So smug it up, friend. It's simply not economically possible for many people. You're still just another maybe-parent judging people on the internet.

I'll listen to my pediatrician and consults, thanks.


> The research is clear: Children learn better and more efficiently from play and interaction in the “real,” three-dimensional (3-D) world with parents, caregivers, and peers.

> This resource provides guidelines for parents and caregivers of children younger than 3 years on how to use screens in ways that minimize the potential negative effects and maximize learning.

> Although the body of research on the effect of screen media (beyond TV viewing) is still relatively limited, it clearly points to the following implications for parents and other caregivers: • Be thoughtful about how you use media with young children. Set limits on screen time to be sure that children have plenty of time exploring the real, 3-D world with family and friends. ( ... )

Though the guide doesn't explicitly say it, 0 screen time still seems like the optimal satisfaction of the presented guidelines.


The message is, "Your TV is not a good substitute for a babysitter or any substitute for parenting."

There is absolutely no doubt that real world interactions are what toddler minds are optimized for. Most importantly, children without autism spectrum disorder learn from social interactions. There isn't much of any evidence that you sharing teaching tool with your child that is from a tablet is detrimental.

My family limits my daughter's unguided screen time pretty strictly. She gets 1 episode of sesame street in the morning and one episode of Daniel Tiger at another point in the day. If she is sick or has a supersleep day, we'll get 1 episode of something else she likes to help keep her calm.

But there is tablet and phone time where we focus on interaction. At her age, a camera is fascinating. She takes me to someplace (usually someplace she played earlier) and we take a picture, she then looks a the picture. As per the guidelines, we don't focus on technical features but rather on the social and real world interactions. I feel absolutely no concern about this. I can see her working out how toe camera works and experimenting, and it's amazing. She's fascinated by beaing able to see things from multiple angles at once, and I think this is healthy.

But 0 screen time is just so totally unrealistic in a world of smartphones. What's more, it's not how MANY of us grew up. I was using text consoles, unguided, within a year of learning to read.

I look at people who say all screen time is detrimental with the same dim view as people who say vaccines cause autism. It's often cause driven.


That is because so few parents do the right thing.


No, the 0 screen time reflects research from a time before real work on educational television and its effects was done.

Please read the material before speaking up. Much of it is sourced to actual data, unlike your casual dismissal of my parenting skills.


My kids had virtually zero screentime before the age of 6. I really think all parents need to try to do this. Limited media is fine for older kids though.


I could program pascal and play basic Sierra adventure games by 6, on my own. I expect my daughter can surpass me if she gets interested.


Hey, me too (the game part, anyway). I memorized all the correct answers to the questions in LSL through trial and error, lol. Good times!


Haha, I have the same experience. "I Have Hair..."


That's American pediatricians and those rules didn't ever seem to have much in the way of evidence to support them.


I think you give Dora to much credit. Yes, the show has educational advisors, but I've always viewed that as a mechanism to gain parents trust to leave their children infront of the Dora marketing machine for 30mins a day.

For example the repetitive sing songs are not educations theory, simply an animation trick to fit the show to the timeslot available. Ie. Script ended 10seconds short, no problem just loop "I'm a map" 3 more times.


Dora is kind of good for little kids. They learn some problem solving, get introduced to Spanish.

But for goodness sake, all of the programmes talked about here are ENTERTAINMENT.

While I certainly enjoyed the shows I saw as a kid, the current crop seem more suitable for kids to me (ie, more balanced in terms of gender issues, racism and violence). I would rather my kids watched what is available now, than what I watched 30 years ago.


It's true, nothing is better than what we enjoyed when we were kids.


As a parent I dislike DTN because of the heavily auto-tuned singing and horrible music. It makes the entire show feel very manufactured and hard to watch.


> Also, back in the day, Square One TV had a police-procedural parody called Mathnet

I remember that; it was awesome. Drenched in cheesiness, but it served its goal, and it did manage the "tainment" part of "edutainment".


Odd Squad feels like a spiritual successor of Mathnet.

It's entertaining, educational, and clever enough for parents to watch and not want to gouge our eyes out.


Great show!

Just watched it the other day, very entertaining and makes the viewer think by themselves.


The story you're about to hear is a fib, but it's fact.


Don't wanna be pedantic but I think the line was:

"The story you're about to hear is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up but the problems are real."

Honestly surprised I remember that gag since it's been ages since I watched that show but I did love those segments. It was like the Square One answer to 3-2-1 Contact's "Bloodhound Gang".


I was also sad to see the Ghostwriter series (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostwriter_%28TV_series%29) disappear.


I still use LJBAD as an "enable this for debugging" symbol on the off chance that someone else used DEBUG.


Go ahead an be pedantic; I looked up a video right after I made that comment and saw my error. :)


MathNet was amazing, because I definitely watched it in some high school math classes.


Speaking of Mathnet they had another segment on there called Mathman. I got so into it when I was younger that I really rooted for Mathman to not lose to Glitch. They did a good job of gamifiying math for me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yd3tA4wMPI.


Mathnet and Mathman pretty much single-handedly made me and my siblings love math as chidlren :)


Haha, forgot about Mathman, that show always freaked me out, that creepy tornado guy always kills him...


It inspired me to actually write a version of Mathman for the Apple II...


> It literally couldn't get any better for a kid than PBS in the 70s or 80s.

As a kid in the 60s, we spent most of our time unsupervised roaming the countryside. The 60s Superman comics were the best, and for TV we had Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings. Chemistry sets weren't yet emasculated.

Somehow we learned to read without SS :-)


> Somehow we learned to read without SS :-)

But statistically speaking less of you learned to read, and those that did learned to read less well. The effects of Sesame Street were studied very thoroughly.


> It literally couldn't get any better for a kid than PBS in the 70s or 80s.

Don't forget such gems as "The Electric Company", "3-2-1 Contact", "Reading Rainbow", "Mr. Wizard", "Bill Nye" and others.

It seemed for a while that TV producers really wanted to pursue the mission of Television as an educational medium. I honestly don't know anything about the quality of today's material, but the material I grew up with was really well done on so many facets. It wasn't just about learning basic reading or arithmetic, but also about how to socialize well, diversity training, problem solving, emotional growth and more. It was multi-faceted and didn't pander to children or just spend 30 minutes entertaining them with vapid songs. I feel like there was a real earnest effort by very smart educators to use the medium to its fullest and I grew up enjoying those shows more than afternoon cartoons and other 30 minute commercials.

By comparison Barney, Teletubbies, and those late 90s, early 2000s "educational shows" are pure garbage. I can still sit down as an adult and find enjoyment in classic Sesame Street. And I think that's part of the difference, the modern shows were basically entertainment and electronic babysitters for busy parents, SST, Mr. R and classic children's shows taught on multiple levels and parents weren't bored out of their minds to sit with their own kids and help reinforce the lessons.

(Mathnet was one of my favorite segments of its parent show, It was funny and entertaining, but introduced basic math skills as well as critical thinking skills. It also introduced me to this kind of slightly archaic story-style which helped give me a life-long love of classic radio dramas and comedies)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_eBFzNLsGk


TV was the only dynamic medium back then. We have Youtube, apps now to get the job done. The investment in public tv for education is gone.

Fortunately, PBS Newshour is still tops.


Was that the show where they said "My name is Wednesday... it was a Tuesday?", might have been on right after 3-2-1 Contact? That show was awesome, now I'm going to have to find a few episodes for my kids! Thanks for the reminder.


"My partner is George Frankly; the boss is Thad Green. My name is Monday. I'm a mathematician."

I think we're remembering the same show. Yes, do look it up; your kids will thank you.


At some point (according to Wikipedia, the start of the fourth season), Monday was replaced with a new girl, named Tuesday (naturally).


The Muppets and Sesame Street is children's programmable watchable by parents. Something families could watch together. Pure genius.

Hunt's Elmo character broke that. As a parent, that's what ruined Sesame Street.


Peg + Cat is a fairly intelligent PBS kids show. Lots of exposure to math & music concepts.


Cannot recommend this enough. Strong female lead character. Entertaining enough for adults to watch. Math!


3rded. I ctrl+f'd to see if anyone else had mentioned it.

I often sing the "we solved the problem" song when I fix something at work.

I'm pretty sure that my 2 year old daughter feeds off my enjoyment of the show; its the only show she'll start doing a little happy dance to when the opening jingle comes on.


and puns!

I really like the whole drawn-on-graph-paper look, too.


Fairly intelligent except that every one of Peg's lines sounds like it's spoken in upper case.


too bad she starts screaming "oh no a problem!!"

and panics

Not a good role model.

Same with Caillou, poor guy is too depressed...


> Mister Rogers

For those who didn't grow up with Mister Rogers, I encourage you to watch this, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKy7ljRr0AA, to get a sense of how effective he was as a speaker.


He must be rolling in his grave with the way violence has waxed and mentionable, manageable feelings have waned. I haven't watched any cartoons recently but it seems the trend is toward rejection and denial of feelings rather than acceptance and understanding.

He even brought up mental health (this being the late 60s) which is remarkable as there hasn't been much focus on mental health until very recently (and still not enough).

I wish I had grown up with his show, I don't remember if we just didn't get it or if I just always missed it but it seems he had a good thing going on.


I also thought it was incredibly surprising he even uttered the words "mental health" given how it was looked at back then. It comes across as brave and with much foresight. A very smart man indeed!


Actually cartoons have definitely moved towards acceptance and understanding of feelings in the past few years. Shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Gravity Falls come to mind.


The Muppet Show needs to make a comeback. It was like SNL for kids.


There's a new one, though I haven't watched it. I've heard very mixed reviews from other fans of the original and the 90s version.


As an adult, it is really tough appreciate shows that I have enjoyed as a child when a remake of it appears. Just don't seem to get the same sense of excitement when watching it.


> (No, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" is not the same; it's insipid and dumb by comparison.)

You might need to go rewatch some MRN. Fred Rogers is basically a saint, but MRN had plenty of insipidness of its own.


Fred Rogers did something that the producers of DTN haven't; he drew strict boundary lines between realism and make-believe, opening each Neighborhood of Make Believe segment with "Let's pretend..." This emphasis on exposing fiction as not real tightened as the show went on: Picture-Picture would eventually lose its "magical" properties, and in one episode Fred actually walked off set and introduced the kids to the cameramen, boom operators, and so forth.


DTN kind of Inceptions this concept -- Daniel often has "lets pretend" events, where he says "let's make believe" and wags his ears while sparkles shine.


Caillou is brutal.

I love George Shrinks though. It's simple adventures, but they created something that's actually interesting without being overly complex.


Don't forget the nature programs. I watched Wild America exclusively as a toddler


I am rather fond of Wild Kratts. It is a victory in the house if the kids pick that over Power Rangers.


Wild Kratts is actually pretty good stuff. It tends to be the go-to for my kids and I hate it a lot less than most of the other options.


Wild Kratts (and their earlier show, Zaboomafoo?) are on Netflix, too. Prepare for kids dj-ing to their favorite episodes.


mathnet taught me the fibonacci sequence.


> It literally couldn't get any better for a kid than PBS in the 70s or 80s.

Well, except for, you know, books.

I don't really buy any of this "need" stuff when it comes to TV (or that one form is significantly better than another).

If you drop your kid in front of anything and they turn into a slackjaw zombie (as my son tends to do), that's bad.

If you drop your kid in front of anything that you watch, engage, and use as a jumping off point for interaction, that's fine.


By painting all of television with one brush, you underestimate the importance of a friendly face on a caring adult.

https://www.google.com/?#q=mr+rogers+latchkey+kids


>Well, except for, you know, books.

Don't confuse file type with content :)


I don't understand why folks think this is out-of-place on HN. It seems on target to me.

It is evidence of an emergent media phenomenon (albeit a slow one) - that a single character on an iconic platform changed its dynamic enough to cause its identity to come into question.

Because Sesame Street leveraged novelty and maturity, the emergence of a cutesy, immature, "it's all about MEEE!" type of character represents a sort of test case, and in this case, the evidence is that the show changed as the result.


It would have been interesting to explore characters as they age throughout the show. Given the shows longevity it could have been really interesting to have a varied set of characters age right along with the viewers.

Children could identify with Elmo for their entire lives. The Elmo of today would be finishing school and starting a job, and only visiting occasionally. He would take a very different role than that of 20 years ago.


Aren't these characters those like Maria, Gordon, and Mr. Hooper?


For logistical reasons, not really. It's easier to maintain puppets vs trying to keep the same human actors tied to the show.


The point is, Maria and Gordon __have__ been with the show for decades, and now their characters have kids. Similarly, some of the kids in earlier years still are involved as older kids. It's one thing I have really liked about the show, as it lets them show nuanced relationships (both in terms of jobs and family).


Ah, I see. I'll admit to not seeing the show for the past few years. Good to see that they're still there!


But they have. And to agree with both you and the parent post, watching with my child the other day, I noticed an adult actor that looked familiar. I looked it up, and he had originally been one of the child actors when I was watching as a kid.

Granted he wasn't anywhere near as frequent as the puppet characters, but still amazing.


That would make reruns tricky to do and/or confusing.


So Elmo coming to Sesame Street is basically like Twitter changing stars to hearts.


The Time When Sesame Street Was Disrupted


I LOVED Sesame Street, but have always hated Elmo - for exactly the reasons detailed in this article - and I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Fortunately, I'm old enough to have watched Sesame Street before Elmo took over.

As an aside, I wish someone would revive The Electric Company.


They tried. The new Electric Company lasted 1.5 seasons or so. It was totally new and different... and not nearly as addictive, funny, or clever as the original one.


The premise reminded me of Ghostwriter and The Bloodhound Gang from 3-2-1 Contact, but less well executed than either and even more self-consciously hip than Ghostwriter. In other words, well trod ground. Part of the problem is that Sesame Street was developed by psychologists as a way to catch and keep children's attention while delivering an informative payload; newer edutainment shows are developed by marketroids who know mainly how to entice kids to beg their parents to buy sugared cereal.


My mother claims I sat in front of the TV utterly hypnotized by the "phonetics shadows," and that it's how I learned to read.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfQseUDQB2o

Is there anything like this available for kids now? It's so stripped down and catchy that, even as an adult, I could watch these all day long.


I bought the DVDs when they came out, about 10 years ago. Look for "The Best of the Electric Company." It was, and remains, totally brilliant. My two elder children loved it, and couldn't get enough. My son (who is now 10) never got into it, but I'll somehow forgive him.

Really and truly, the Electric Company was a very, very clever show that mixed humor and education in a unique way.

The company that produced these DVDs never imagined that children would be watching; they imagined it was only nostalgic adults. So the "best of" DVDs, when first produced, included condom ads! After enough parents protested that this wasn't the most appropriate kind of advertising to put on a children's DVD, the company issued new ones with more child-friendly advertising.


I give a lot of credit to "The Electric Company" as well. Because the episodes were repeated so much, some of these memes still stick with me today, including "You Drive Me Up the Wall" which packed humor, double-meaning of phrases, idiom, and reading into one little skit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6eNoTF_hNY


There's AlphaBlocks from the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/shows/alphablocks

That's a more rigid synthetic phonics approach (although some people claim they're saying the sounds wrong) and it's short (5 minutes?) animated stories rather than the more abstract thing you linked to. I'm English, I've never seen that before, it looks good and I wish there was more like it around at the moment. There is way too much really bad children's tv with a tiny smear of "education" sprinkled on top.


Alphablocks and Numberjacks are both great IMO; I think the kids like(d) it too.

The last couple of years of Christmas lectures have been really good family viewing (for our family!), as were the RSC lecture series last year.


As a father I agree Elmo is essentially the never ending toddler who does too much on his own on Sesame street. He really does need someone a little more mature than him to help teach him lessons.

But having said that I've watched far too much Sesame street and yes Elmo usually gets more time than the rest but not always. The author paints a picture like Elmo always gets most of the time but the truth is he isn't played THAT much more than the others. Even in the hurricane episode that is cited in the article Big Bird was on screen longer than twice the time of any other monster.

So yes he needs to be downplayed a little bit but the article is over the top as well. In fact watching many of the episodes in the past 5 years and you'd think Abby was gunning for Elmo's spot; she gets quite a lot of screen time especially with fairy school.


To my mind, Jim Henson's death and the resulting loss of his voice, puppet characters, and leadership, dealt a blow to Sesame Street from which it has not really recovered.


It took genius to blend the qualities Henson did, and the resulting ability not to get too stuck in sentimentality was a comedic superpower.

The OP points out how some of the older Sesame Street monsters have an edgy quality to balance their cuddliness. That was distinctive of Henson. His regional TV commercials from the 1950s already showed something similar: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3929121.


I completely agree. I can not stand Elmo as a character. He lacks depth and is really annoying. However, observing my 1.5 year old niece when Elmo comes on, you can see why he is the popular Muppet. Kids love his annoying voice and silliness which is why Elmo will continue to be at the forefront of Sesame Street.

I saw the episode where they talked about Mr. Hooper's death. It was the saddest thing I had seen in a very long time. Very emotional and probably the most honest episode ever made.


The tone is of course hyperbolic as it must be these days, but I do agree that Sesame Street used to have a very interesting adult/child dynamic, which may be gone (haven't watched the show in years). I always loved the interactions between Grover and Mr. Johnson... even as I see myself becoming more like Mr. Johnson every day:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQPLY9uxiss


I recently watched "I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story" documentary and I had this impression that the show shifted towards a younger audience with Elmo. I wonder that this was probably related to a bigger audience on this age range.


I understood the documentary to say that Sesame Street noticed that their audience was getting younger. In response to this age shift they introduced Elmo; a character that resonated to this new growing demographic.


Could they have cause and effect backwards? Perhaps the shift toward insipidness simply alienated older viewers at that time?


Hah, I always preferred Grover. Then again Elmo wasn't a thing in 1983.


For me, Oscar was always the best. Not only did he get to live in a garbage can, but he also disagreed with everyone all the time. My hero.


I liked Oscar too, but I'm weird too.


The number of people who are quick to jump unquestioningly on this and say, "It was better before" are... well it bums me out.

Sesame Street's role in child development has changed radically as the general opinion on how TV should interact with kids has changed. These kids shows have been pushed down the age bracket, appealing to younger markets where demand is a lot greater for the content. Older kids shows? They exist in the spaces between cartoon network hot properties, and do a good job of confronting the complex issues kids will face from 4-12. The same is true of The Mr. Rogers->Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. They're tuned for totally different age ranges and requirements.

I dunno how many of you are parents. I have a 15 month old daughter. A constant chime of the following information is reiterated by child care consulting, doctors, and developmental evaluators:

- Sensory experiences are more important than anything right now. - Emotional stability is more important than anything. - Disregard the advice about "no screen time." Screens shouldn't be a substitute for parenting, but kids can learn to use tablets startlingly early in life and interactive education is provably better than passive education. In some specific subjects, interactive solo play is superior even to parentally guided play.

Let's also not forget: This article is just false. The idea that no one ever corrects Elmo? Totally wrong. Elmo gets a lot of screen time, but over the last year we've seen a huge amount of investment in a lot of other characters. Cookie Monster, Abby's complexity, and most importantly a huge increase in the time humans spend on sesame street talking.

The idea that Seasme Street doesn't touch on tricky subjects is false. Just last week the PBS Kids app rotated the episode on "Minne Myna". It's a two-sided story. On the one hand, Big Bird makes a case to bird court that someone else can't steal his nest just because he left it. "Finders Keepers is a bad rule."

But it's also trying to talk to kids and say it is okay to be sad and that they SHOULD be sad if they lose their homes. The episode is delicately touching on the subject of home eviction. Someone who has never been evicted might not even notice, but anyone who has lost a home will immediately realize what Big Bird's singing about. Big Bird gets a happy ending, but the episode leaves reminding kids that many other birds didn't get their nests back and that it's okay to be sad.

I see so much of these kinds of articles. All I can do is despair as my generation begins to make the exact same mistake as our outrageous parents who had very similar things to say about childhood programming which we all wax nostalgically on now.


> "I see so much of these kinds of articles. All I can do is despair as my generation begins to make the exact same mistake as our outrageous parents who had very similar things to say about childhood programming which we all wax nostalgically on now."

Thank you so much for this insightful post. As the parent of a two and four-year-old, reading this article all I could think was, "But Sesame Street is not for you!!! Who cares if your adult-self doesn't like Elmo?"

People don't seem to understand that Sesame Street was established on and heavily influenced by hard scientific research [1], and that research has found letting your children watch the show gives them a head-start on learning before they enter public school. When the show changes, science informs those changes.

And I can see it with my boys. Elmo youtube videos taught my two-year-old the alphabet, his shapes, and counting to 10, which blows his daycare teachers away. My four-year-old got the same jump on these concepts from Elmo. Funny enough, he seems to have outgrown the character and has moved onto Team Umizoomi [2] where he enjoys problem-based learning for math and patterns. It's best to watch these shows with the kids, engage the learning with them as they watch, and also make references to the characters and events to reinforce the learning away from the television.

I also find all the "get off my lawn" comments in this thread and in these kinds of articles disheartening. I agree that it seems like my generation is just adopting the cycle of knee-jerk cynicism to change to which our elders subjected us.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sesame_Street_research [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Umizoomi


>"But Sesame Street is not for you!!! Who cares if your adult-self doesn't like Elmo?"

Lots of people weren't adults 20 years ago when Elmo was hitting his stride as the most prominent member of Sesame Street, though.


And I can see it with my boys. Elmo youtube videos taught my two-year-old the alphabet, his shapes, and counting to 10, which blows his daycare teachers away.

Sesame street (and the Electric Company) helped me with my early reading and numeric ability, long before Elmo showed up. You can watch classic episodes on Netflix and see that there was actually more of that stuff in the early years than there is today, with more elaborate animations and songs that made it easier for kids to remember.


Could you provide me a link to the research that demonstrates the shows you watched before Elmo resulted in better learning outcomes for children than the shows with Elmo?


>quick to jump unquestioningly on this

I and many people I know have been saying this since Elmo first became popular. It isn't a new hipster opinion its always been true, for some people.


Worse are Mr. Noodle and his brother.


Come on, anybody that has Christine Chenoweth as a sister can't be all bad...


Is that why Elmo is an evil Sesame Street Fighter character?

http://flavourmachine.com/sesamefighter/

(Inspired by http://www.deviantart.com/art/Sesame-Street-Fight-Elmo-Bison...).


The most shocking thing to me from this article was that Big Bird is actually male. I always saw her as an older sister character. It could have something to do with the fact that "bird" is feminine in my language. That would also explain why the local translation used the gender-neutral diminutive form of "bird"...


Seems there would be a massive market for a Classic PBS Kids channel.


I'm just old enough to have watched Sesame Street when Grover was a big deal and Elmo had yet to become huge (late '80s), and he was the main character I glommmed onto then. I still don't get Elmo's appeal.


Adults are no longer the target audience for these shows.

Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in the Tipping Point.

Sesame Street pioneered the use of TV to entertain and educate toddlers. But a lot of the original content was beyond the comprehension of younger children.

While Elmo is annoying to us, he is perfect at keeping the attention of a young child, and while he has their attention he can teach them things.


>while he has their attention he can teach them things.

The author's point was that he isn't, though-- at least not good things. He's self-centered and immature; he avoids things that are "hard" and acts selfishly.


I dunno. I remember loving Sesame Street as a kid, but it never clicked with either of my children. Neither of them could stand to watch a whole episode. Elmo was briefly popular in our house, but only briefly. Kids mostly aren't stupid. And the smart ones in particular know when they're being pandered to.


my vote for the gold standard of kid's educational tv is "Schoolhouse Rock" Pretty much an entire primary school education just from that handful of shorts--civics ("I'm just a bill") grammar ("conjunction junction, what's your function") and math ("my hero, zero") to this day 100% of my understanding of the US legislative process is from "I'm just a bill"--eg, "yes i am only a bill and i'm sitting her on capital hill" i heard on NPR once that the guy who conceived and wrote those, was/is a jazz musician, and when he would perform in nightclubs, people in the audience would recognize this voice request songs from SchoolHouse Rock.


There is no substance on earth more addictive than Elmo is to a two year old.

In most television shows and movies what people are looking for is somebody that represents them - call it an "avatar" if you must. When kids watch Sesame Street they relate directly to Elmo.

He's younger, smaller, has an insatiable curiosity, and is in a permanent mode of questioning and discovery. He even has similar mannerisms to children - he laughs a lot, has lots of energy, and is frequently confused as to what's happening around him.

The reason the author doesn't like Elmo is because Elmo acts like a two year old. The reason two year olds love Elmo is because Elmo acts like a two year old.

Sesame Street was created for two-year-olds, not bitter Internet pundits.


Sesame Street was created for two-year-olds, not bitter Internet pundits.

It may have been created for two-year-olds, but do you know what it was created TO DO for two-year-olds?

The article has it exactly right. The purpose of Sesame Street was never entertainment. Their purpose was to use TV to help preschool aged kids get a head start on academics and emotional development, while pushing a specific set of liberal social values around inclusiveness on them. It is a matter of historical record that this was the goal.

In order to accomplish this goal, Sesame Street deliberately had to have enough entertainment value to keep kids watching. And pulled in enough pop culture people to give babysitters a reason to turn it on. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G95MA6RxJTs for an example of how they combined those two.) But those are means to an end, not the end. And it is very important to always push kids to do a little more than they think they can do.

The current dominance and role of Elmo reflects how Sesame Street has lost sight of their initial vision and confused the means (entertainment) for the end.


>The reason the author doesn't like Elmo is because he acts like a two year old.

I think the author's reasons for not liking Elmo are actually the ones he stated and took an entire essay to carefully explain.

And I find the author's detailed reasons compelling. I think there's something to be said in modeling behavior that you'd want a younger child to aspire to rather than just presenting them a mirror as they are today. I'm with him in feeling that it just isn't as challenging or valuable. I absolutely think the old show did a much better job of that.


I'm not particularly moved by this assessment.

Two year olds are incredibly diverse. Elmo exhibits only certain, particular behaviors of a two-year-old: he is self-centered, demands everyone else's attention, and is mostly oblivious to the fact that he's part of a larger social dynamic.

In the early days of Snuffy and Big Bird, they acted more like two-year-olds also, but they leaned on other qualities that are often evident in people who are learning language and movement: they were thoughtful, unafraid to say things that didn't make sense at first blush, and descriptive about their imaginations.


But that's the thing: Sesame Street wasn't created for two-year-olds. Or rather, not just two-year-olds. It was created for kids as young as two, maybe younger, and as old as six or seven, maybe older. But the increasing focus on Elmo is stripping the show of its capacity to speak to anyone older than maybe three in a useful way. It's come to the point that it's probably detrimental to older children, really to all children, because, as the author points out, it may (inadvertently?) teach things like, "Intrude on personal space! Whine and quiver your lip, kids! Guilt gets things done! Cuteness will get you everywhere!"


> There is no substance on earth more addictive than Elmo is to a two year old.

The way you put this refutes your argument. Sesame Street isn't about feeding addictions. Children are addicted to sugar, too. The genius of the program was always its ability to give them more substantive fare while still enchanting them.

IMO the article makes some key distinctions, while remaining good-humored and self-aware. That's the opposite of being a "bitter internet pundit". There's real psychological insight there, applicable beyond Sesame Street, and (the grad student in me wishes to add) some fine cultural criticism as well.


That's fine but when all they show on Sesame Street is Elmo skits your two year old at age six is still relating to a two year old.


I think Sesame Street is for children from ages up to six or so. Spending as much time on Elmo as they do, in my opinion, drastically shrinks their audience. Children who would watch Sesame Street at age 5 find Elmo dull and switch to something else.

For sure, my evidence is anecdotal: my daughter enjoyed the show from ages two to three, maybe a year and a half total, and now has zero interest. She still finds Elmo cute and cuddly but gets bored by his segments way before they end.


Sesame Street was created for two-year-olds

Nope. Watch some first season episodes (they're on Netflix) and even in the very first shows, where they clearly didn't know what they were doing yet and the characters were poorly defined and less funny, and it's clear that they were aiming for slightly older kids and to engage them intelligently. An obvious clue to this is to look at the age range of the children they had on the show, which was more clustered around the 4-5 year mark.


My two year old has no interest in Elmo. He's more interested (right now) in Pixar characters, and to a lesser extent Masha and the Bear. One could argue Masha is an equivalent to Elmo, though probably worse overall being a much less educational show. But the obsession with Pixar is fascinating to me. Not just Toy Story and Cars, but Wall-E and Up. Very proud of that, and impressed by Pixar frankly.


  Sesame Street was created for two-year-olds, not bitter Internet pundits.
Well, then it's high time we bitter Internet pundits did get programming created for us, isn't it? Max Headroom only lasted a season.


My kids when they were 2 did not attach to Elmo. I do know that my older kid at 6/7ish was bored by Elmo.

So maybe it's just that Elmo is polarizing even with kids?


Big Bird was supposed to be the child viewer's avatar.


It is very hard to put yourself in position of very young child and issue judgement on what toddlers would like. I couldn't stand Teletubies, I still can't. But young kids are fascinated and my late grandma loved them too. Who am I to judge.


> issue judgement on what toddlers would like

The issue here isn't really what toddlers like or don't like. The issue is, if you're going to sit your kid in front of a screen to watch something, what are they getting out of it? A 3- or 4-year old seeing 6-year old behavior in Big Bird sees a role model in how to behave. Seeing 3-year-old behavior in Elmo reinforces how they're already behaving.


2 or 3 year olds cannot learn empathy, their brains just aren't wired for it. It's like telling a wheelchair user 'here let me teach you how to run 100m in sub 10 secs'. Which is why I'm so dumbfounded by the comments agreeing with the article - it's based on the notion from 50 years ago that children are just adults who haven't been tought yet how to be adults. This is clear and plain nonsense, children and youth until ~ 25 years old (I realize I'm now antagonizing much of those reading this...) just don't have fully developed brains yet. Especially at lower ages it doesn't make sense to try to teach them things that they are physically incapable of learning.


They can't learn empathy until their brains develop, definitely. However, they can model the behavior they see around them—and by "can" I mean "do, constantly, whether you want them to or not". So showing them a positive role model for them to learn behavior from is still beneficial, and they'll pick up on the other things—like empathy—as their brains develop.


Totally with you here. My kids were at the right age for elmo and Teletubbies when those phenomena got popular. Elmo "worked," but Teletubbies blew Elmo out of the park. My youngest would stop walking and stand transfixed at the TV when Teletubbies came on. It was positively creepy. A British friend said it was very controversial because of all the child psych research that went into capturing the kids' attention. The "Tinky Winky" controversy came along much later.


It was perfect watching when home from highschool with a fever, which does tend to reduce me to the emotional range of a toddler.


"It is very hard to put yourself in position of very young child and issue judgement on what toddlers would like"

But what they like, going in, is often worst for them.

If you put both ice cream and a spinach salad in front of a child, which will he pursue by choice?

Being challenged is often initially uncomfortable. But that's part of the point - to learn the long-term value of delayed gratification.


Except Sesame Street is (was) designed to teach children, rather than be just funny.


My kids, 7 & 2, have never seen Sesame Street. I used to watch it in my youth. My kids jump to Netflix or Mickey Mouse clubhouse on YouTube. May Elmo did ruin SS?


So Elmo is basically the Jar Jar Binks of Sesame Street.


Actually, the article made me think Elmo is Nermal, The World's Cutest Kittycat from Garfield.

We just need Oscar the Grouch to start mailing Elmo to Abu Dhabi all the time. Problem solved.


Elmo in Caliphate-Land.


I love the internet. I love that someone wrote a whole article on something so arbitrary. I'm not sure why it's on HN though.


Fascinating stories with no particular rationale are not just on topic for HN, they're primo material.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Fair enough - it was a good read.


A great article, but why is this on Kotaku? I thought they were a video game/geek culture publication. It seems to have far more depth and thought put into it than most of their tripe as well.


Well, they recently had a bit of a scandal when it came out that some large game studios are blacklisting them over repeated leaks of internal information. So maybe they need to broaden a bit now they no longer have access to as much gaming stuff.


Are you telling me Cosmos was not a kids show ?


It entirely depends on the kid.

Nova did a series on the formation and geological history of North America, and the local station happened to air it following their Sunday morning children's programming. My six year old sat through each episode entirely enraptured with it, and he asked all sorts of questions after. My younger kid, not so much.

I know Cosmos is going to be above his ability to completely understand, but I think it'd probably keep his attention and prompt questions.


Anecdata: my not-quite 6 year old daughter has watched Cosmos repeatedly in the past few months. She likes it a lot.


TL;DR: Elmo is the Wolverine of Sesame Street.


As with literally every article written by kotaku, oh my god I just don't care


Agree that Kotaku is bad in general, but it is not fair to unilaterally disavow the publication from HN. Some Kotaku authors are very, very good (see: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10460393 )

The bad Kotaku articles rarely get submitted, and the ones that do never get upvotes. The system works.


How Massive Amounts of Non-Gaming Content and Inundation by Perpetually Offended Millenials Ruined Kotaku


Is it so wrong to want gaming news but not care about cosplay?


The main problem with this article is that it makes the "Why Snoopy ruined Peanuts" article utterly redundant. Its clear that the author is just taking "Why popular character X ruined (show) he was from" as a formula.

http://kotaku.com/how-snoopy-killed-peanuts-1724269473

I guess its interesting from a sense of irony or maybe a creative exercise. But it almost feels like textbook "clickbait".


The author wrote that article too.

The author says he's a teacher, I'd be interested to know if he has children himself.


Maybe he has a boilerplate that he reuses.

:%s/Snoopy/Elmo/g

:%s/Peanuts/Sesame Street/g

:%s/Woodstock/Mr. Noodle/g

etc


From the article: "I have a 13-month-old son..."


I agree with this. Kotaku articles have no place on the front page of HN, especially ones like this that don't understand the larger context of the program, and its inability to thrive in the "junk food media" environment that is being force fed to kids.

If I ever have kids, I'm going to continue to not have TV in my home. They can read all the books I read when I was a kid, or watch select TV shows from the past 20+ years that aren't just constant pointless bullshit.


I have the same gut reaction, but as counterpoint, I know some people that grew up with parents that really restricted viewing- not 'no tv at all', but close enough.

Later, the parents conceded that the media blackout backfired, as their kid couldn't relate to a lot of the things their peers were talking about- even if it is 'pointless bullshit'. They weren't like a social pariah or anything, but to this day, they feel uncomfortable in those conversations where you recall tv/movies growing up.

Not really defending tv, but there's probably a good middle ground that lets the kid still participate in their culture.


I suspect Hulu+, Netflix, Amazon' and similar will help. With some configuration it should be possible to control what your kids have access to, while still giving them broad access to media their generation is interested in. Compared to the option from 10+ years ago, which was pretty much all TV or no TV and maybe access to a video rental store and theaters for movies.


My parents had a 'restricted viewing' policy in the sense that a) we only had OTA TV, not cable or satellite; b) there were other things I was supposed to be doing almost all the time and c) we were too poor to go to the movies or rent movies.

I will freely admit that I don't get a lot of references to shows people watched growing up. But honestly, this is such a tiny thing I really doubt it's worth mentioning. If it comes up, you smile, nod, and move on.

I would certainly say I'm better for it - I spent time outdoors actually learning and doing things or reading instead. And sure, I read a lot of relative trash, but even the trash of the day contained references to real things that warranted looking up or learning. And I also ended up reading a lot of literature and nonfiction.


> They can read all the books I read when I was a kid,

Hang on. Some old books sell well and so keep getting re-printed, but they're not very good.

There are some great books for children created each year.

The Kate Greenaway award is mostly (but not entirely) for younger children (because it's an award for excellent illustration) and the Carnegie award is mostly for older children (because it's an award for older children).

This website compares books that are "most read" (eg Roald Dahl) and "most loved" (eg not Dahl). http://whatkidsarereading.co.uk/


When I was a kid I read stuff like Dune or the Foundation series (and everything else Asimov), or the part of the Ender's series that was published back then, or everything Robert Heinlein, or anything Author C. Clarke, or Neuromancer, or Snow Crash, or 1984, or Fahrenheit 451, or H2G2, or everything Philip K. Dick, or A Fire Upon the Deep, or Brave New World, or the Mars Trilogy.

I read all the "good" stuff before I was in high school.

If I have a kid, he/she is reading allllllll of that. If I had a 12th grade reading level when I was in like 5th or 6th grade, so can they.


There's many great modern shows, just like there's a lot of crap from the past. Try watching some steven universe, for example.


Netflix has amazing stuff for kids as well: Bill Nye, Magic Schoolbus, to name a few.


Yes, there is always a mix, and the mix is always mostly garbage. But if you have a TV in the house, the tendency is just to watch whatever crap is on because it is easy.

Any good current show will eventually become a good old show. And if it is good enough and matches my tastes well enough, I'll eventually hear enough about it that I choose to watch it. And I'm OK with that. I have enough going on in my life that I have no need to rush to watch things just because they are currently being released.

So I believe you when you say that there are great modern shows. And I do not see that as a reason to get a TV.

Disclaimer. I grew up without a TV back when that was really weird. As a grown-up I spent periods both with and without a TV. I have no TV by choice. I do have children, but youtube channels seem to fill the place in their lives that TV serves for most kids.


"I remember a storyline years ago that perfectly encapsulated this: Episode 3280, Season 26."

Too much detail.


Republicans killed funding for public TV so now the shows have to earn their own money which means the primary concern is no longer teaching but how to make money via toys and DVDs, etc. which leads to finding the most addictive character and making him a star. Because capitalism ruins everything.


Because capitalism you get to play with nice computers - socialism was never good at that. You also get to buy things that customers want, not stuff that some detached bureaucrat thinks that you should buy.

However you do have a point - they do have to sell toys and a ten year old will probably not buy a big bird doll. This requirement causes them to invent more addictive characters, so as to spin off dolls that younger kids will wish to own. On the other side they may have tried to push Ernie and Bert dolls to teenagers, this might have created a more diverse offering.

Another point is that the principle that work with consumer markets are not very good when applied to education: the target audience here still has a limited ability to evaluate your effort as an educator...


http://www.sesameworkshop.org/about-us/financials/

here it says that 31% of the funding comes from government/corporate support;

Also they don't seem to be making that much money; them bloody capitalists are rather poor themselves. I guess Dora is doing better in terms of finances - they must have more limited expenses.

http://www.sesameworkshop.org/wp_install/wp-content/uploads/...


  Republicans killed funding for public TV
When, exactly, was this?


Capitalism created the Beatles :-)


Just waiting for the follow up clickbait

"Sorry Kotaku, acutally ___insert controversial person___ ruined sesame street"


I liked the treatment of Sesame Street as a microcosm of celebrity. Of course the show would find the very first popular chord it hits and then jam on it with all the subtlety of Nickelback. There's way too much money in that, emotional maturity is bound to take a back seat.

I can understand the lamentations, but really, if you were expecting your kids to learn the hard lessons of life from television programs, you deserve all the tantrums you get.


I would expect children to learn to count and spell and, occasionally, how to deal with death, from Sesame Street. Unfortunately, it seems the show has become more about pushing merchandise to parents and pandering to celebrity than education, and this is worth complaining about.


Summary: These things I loved as a kid are now slightly different and therefor RUINED. In an unrelated note, get off of my lawn you damned kids.

Seriously, more hard hitting journalism by the folks that brought us "Snaktaku reviews the Big Mac" and "We really pissed off some game devs and had to buy our own copy of games" authors.


I admit to having never watched much Sesame Street, but I think that's a pretty inaccurate characterization of the article. There are several convincing examples of the point the author's trying to make.


Sure, except Sesame Street and it's impact is incredibly well researched and this article is based on one guy's book and Kotaku trying to generate page views. I'd rather read the studies.


It's a fine article, and no doubt the studies are fine studies. There's lots of room for both.


[deleted]


Clickbait would be "You'll never believe which character ruined Sesame Street" or "10 reasons we hate Elmo". This is more of a "I have a thesis, it's not simple enough for a headline, but here's what the article is about" type of headline.


I never liked Big Bird. What a twat.


Horrible Rant: As a kid of the eighties You could say that I was their target audience and yet the show never appealed to me. It always gave me the creeps. Somebody else here mentioned Mr. Rogers and that one is even creepier. I felt like it was trying to lure me to his neighborhood to do bad things to me.

Sorry but to this day I still cannot see the appeal of these shows. Why did you like it?




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