... or is it a marvel?

August 23, 1999|By Stanley Joseph

WHO CAN ignore the power of television -- especially children's television? Evangelist Jerry Falwell couldn't -- he accused "Teletubbies'" Tinky Winky, the purple one with the red purse, of advocating a gay image to children.

Remember when either Barney, the purple T-Rex, or Arthur the four-eyed armadillo, was the toy to get for Christmas? And Nickelodeon, the No. 1 children's network, has become MTV for grade school kids.

With new networks such as Toon Disney, Fox Family and Noggin aiming for kids, some would say that things are going too far. But I couldn't conceive of a world without children's television.

That would mean no more cereal commercials promising prizes, not being empowered by an animated character who is not bounded by "adult" realities -- and no one ever telling me how to get to Sesame Street.

Even though Headstart, a federal program for low-income families with preschoolers, began in 1965, it was "Sesame Street," beginning in 1969, that had the longest and strongest effect on America's youth -- past and present.

Sesame Street was created for kids living in the inner city. The age requirement for Headstarters was five, but my parents had me watching television alone at age two.

Besides entertaining me with skits of Ernie bugging Bert, Sesame Street opened my perception of the world. I was a city boy from Miami, and "Sesame Street" took me to a farm where children would go milk cows with their fathers, feed the pigs and help their mother cook.

I remember one week when the whole cast went to Hawaii, and it was then I realized that the world was a lot bigger than I could ever imagine.

I saw kids of different colors playing together on "Sesame Street" before I heard the "have a dream" speech.

The different ethnic adults who "lived" together on "Sesame Street" planted the idea of diversity in my head. The show made me proud of my community.

Video clips of other city kids who shopped for vegetables and fruits at bodegas, and taking a bus and the song "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" got me to interact with my mailman and local store clerks.

With more mothers going to work and more kids going to day care by six a.m. I can understand why people are concerned about television. But fear not.

"Sesame Street" did get me prepared for school, and most importantly got me prepared socially. It was always a good ice breaker to ask another kid if they'd seen "Sesame Street."

Stanley Joseph, 25 and a founding editor of YO! Youth Outlook, is a student at San Francisco State University. This piece was distributed by Pacific News Service.

Pub Date: 08/23/99

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