Sunday, May 23, 2010

I don't know who your favorite Sesame Street character is, but mine has always been Cookie Monster. In the old days, when he was in the middle of one of his fits, his eyes would occasionally stick until one or both would wiggle loose again. His body had loose flaps and his "skin" would fly around in his rages. His fur was much more coarse then and I seem to remember his fingers having longer hair sticking off their tips. I liked him better that way- less groomed, a little rugged. The low-budget eyes made him look even crazier, so they made me laugh even harder.

These days, though, his fur is real shiny and smooth and his eyes never stick, ever. I suppose it's because the producers have added fruits and vegetables to his diet. Did you hear about that? Along with Ronald McDonald, Cookie was blamed for making American kids fat. Sesame Street has since changed Cookie's image, making him look more healthy and even giving him skits where he teaches kids about a balanced diet.

I used to think there was nothing to this, that kids didn't really learn that much by watching these characters. But, since having my daughter and seeing her as she came away from watching these shows got me to re-thinking. There may be something to the idea that these characters really do teach with their actions. For example, Norah thinks Oscar is just misunderstood. She really wants to like him, wants him to like her. Every time someone new approaches his trash can, I can see her hope, but, then, it never fails, her smile disappears and she is always disappointed in him. The other characters don't seem to notice that he's insulting them. They smile regardless, subtly teaching kids to put up with meanness, cause THAT is what makes them nice. I am not saying kids should shout obscenities at Oscar, or push over his can, but maybe we should be teaching our kids to smile perhaps, if his lid is open, but just keep walking by.

I used to feel the same way as Norah, looking for the good in Oscar, laughing at some of his gruff remarks, thinking I caught glimpses of who he could be. But, these days, I REALLY don't like him and I strongly encourage Norah not to like him either. I'm not kidding! I think he has a horrible attitude, something my dad would call "piss poor." I don't use those words with Norah when I warn her not to be friends with any "Oscars," though the words, obviously, cross my mind. She usually looks at me like I'm crazy and for an instant, I see her teenage self reflected in her gorgeous blue eyes, defending her choice of low- life boyfriend to her father and I. "Mom, don't you see?! He really is nice!" No he's not! Nice people are ALWAYS obvious about it... like Big Bird! ; ) Why can't you make friends with him?!

How many of us made the wrong friends back in our school days because we thought we were so much nicer than our parents or the adults who disapproved of our choice? I was once as foolish as the next, but one important skill I've gained and held tightly to in my adulthood is the ability to walk away from people who aren't nice to me. Friendship is a kind of yoke and so, kindness should be equal, or at least, reciprocated. Give Elmo a friend like Oscar and after enough time, even HE will start to doubt how much he loves his world.

I think it is interesting that the definitive verse on friendship starts, "Do not be misled." Then, it goes on to say what we've all heard a million times: "Bad company corrupts good character." I think we all wrongly assume we will be the one influencing our friends and unfortunately, Sesame Street subtly reinforces that human fallacy. But, the wisdom of God warns, "He who walks with the wise, grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." and still more: "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways and get yourself ensnared."

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