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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Muppet with a Serious Problem.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard someone tell me about the introduction of a Muppet with HIV to Sesame Street was whether it was one of the ambiguously gay duo, Bert and Ernie. However, it is neither. It so happens that the diseased Muppet will make her debut in the African version of Sesame Street. She lacks a name, color, and any sort of form, but Sesame Street execs assure the public that she has HIV.

We all know the ways that HIV can be transmitted. Many of us would assume that the likely suspected point of infection would have been the massive Muppet orgies that occur when the cameras are off. Personally, I tend to suspect it was a blood transfusion. But often such assumptions are misleading and plain wrong, especially my own. Take for instance Bert and Ernie’s uncertain relationship to one another.

The question of their sexuality was actually asked in a letter to TV Guide. Children’s Television Workshop, creators of Sesame Street, responded, “Bert and Ernie do not portray a gay couple and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans.”

Right there is a very good argument against a Muppet with HIV. They are puppets, not humans. Sesame Street is not Reality TV. Remember Snuffleupagus? He was Big Bird’s furry, elephant-like, invisible friend. To underscore that last part, no one else could see him except Big Bird (and the children watching). But eventually the show changed and everyone could see him. Ponder that change for a bit and be saddened by it.

There exists a line of thought that children should be made aware of worldly problems. It manifests itself in such things as sex education for children in kindergarten and, currently, an HIV Muppet. Such things are child abuse. The purpose is to destroy that invisible thing that only a child can see and to erase a child’s ignorance. But children should be ignorant, blissfully so. If there were a preschool teacher that tried to hammer into children the non-existence of the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, that individual would rightly be seen as a monster.

A Muppet with HIV is a monstrous thing. It is the foisting of a very serious problem, especially in South Africa, onto children who do not need to recognize that a problem exists nor that it is serious. What they do need to know are their numbers and letters, which used to be the main thrust of Sesame Street.

Robert Knezevic, head of the Sesame Workshop’s international division, said, “One of the things about the Muppets is they are so non-threatening to children that we can communicate what may seem to be controversial messages and start a dialogue. So when this Muppet with HIV gets full blown AIDS and dies, does the show become threatening? Probably not, it’s just communicating a controversial message and starting a dialogue.

There shouldn’t be an HIV Muppet on Sesame Street, no matter how well intentioned, because it sacrifices childhood ignorance to adult insecurities and problems. Moreover, it is time that Big Bird’s friend Snuffleupagus was made invisible again. There’s my two cents and a wooden nickel.

This column has been brought to you by the letter R.