Thursday, August 24, 2006

the people in your neighborhood...

metrodad just posted to ricedaddies about this nyt article called "tickled red to be elmo in a rainbow world". personally, i think this rove mcmanus interview is so much better... ("elmo LOVES wasabi! wasabi is a sometimes food!")

btw - for those of you in chicago, on friday's oprah (channel 7, 9 a.m.), they're re-airing the show where kevin is "revealed".

so, it appears that both the nyt and metrodad are really excited that elmo's muppeteer is black.

which reminded me of something that happened to me a few years ago, a friend of mine recounted a backstage visit to sesame street where a friend of hers was a "muppeteer". she giddily and gushingly (i mean like the blushing school girl, with the timebomb secret, straddling the cafeteria table bench) told me that the elmo muppeteer was "a really tall, african american man, named kevin".

the first thing i thought was "can you hook me up and get ME backstage at sesame street!?" and the second thing i thought was, "why is it a secret or a surprise or does it even matter to you that elmo's muppeteer is black?" it didn't really surprise me, just look at the cast of sesame street - it's probably the most diverse cast on tv and has been consistently so since it's debut in the 70s right?

admittedly, kevin clash seems to have breached the "caucasian muppeteer glass ceiling". but, i don't assume automatically that muppets are handled/voiced by white people. just like i don't assume that all the boy muppets are handled/voiced by males. and does the fact that they're white make the body of work of jim henson (kermit, ernie), frank oz (bert, grover) or caroll spinney (big bird, oscar) less impressive, less inspiring, less educational? do they lose their sesame street cred because of it?

as a child, i didn't care that all those characters were dreamed up and brought to life by white people (not that i knew). all i cared about was how alive the muppets were - they were funny, grouchy, loving, sympathetic, hungry, crazy, falliable, cynical, optimistic. they were just plain weird inside and out and yet wholly and unconditionally loved by millions. and who doesn't want to be loved unconditionally (by milllions) despite one's idiosyncrasies?

lately, it seems that parents are too worried about television not doing a good enough job at educating and well... parenting. i just don't think it's sesame street's job to educate children about racism, or HIV, or 9/11, death, love, pregnancy, obesity and divorce. but, they've taken these issues on to the ranting and raving of parents all over the globe. i always wonder if they take on these issues because they're told to or because they feel it's their duty. if it's the latter, do the producers of sesame street really think parents are doing such a bad job that they need to supplement?

in the 70s, sesame street did a great job teaching me the alphabet, numbers, opposites, rhyming and colors. they did a good job of making learning fun, encouraging me, as a child, to explore the world and making sure that the world always seemed big and full of things to experience with something new to teach me everyday. they still do, but for some reason, they go even further and sometimes they get schmacked for it - cookies are now a "sometime food" for cookie monster, zoe was given a zoemobile and a tutu instead of a doll, and remember when snuffy was big bird's "invisible" friend? and now, it's abby cadabby being too pink, too girly. (hello!? there are what five or six girl muppets and what a GAZILLION boy muppets. looks to me like sesame street is a tad testosterone heavy. how did that get past us feminists?)

i just feel that as a parent it's my job to pick up where sesame street should be leaving off. and depending on the subject matter, i'd rather that my child learn about these things from me anyway. i can appreciate that sesame street and other "educational" programs try to help me out. but, i worry that some issues are too complex/controversial for them to handle in 5 or 10 minute chunks - they may even be forced to sit on the fence - presenting some issues too simply/too detailed for some or not simple enough/too detailed for others. a parent knows their child better than anyone else (well, i hope they do anyway) and knows how to best educate their child - what tools/examples to use, when the child is ready to grasp a concept, when to table the discussion for another time, what language to use, etc, etc....

getting back to metrodad's post he says that he'll raise his daughter in a multi-cultural and multi-racial environment to teach her lessons about racism and racial stereotypes. i want to believe that that will help. i really do. i think the same thing about k'zilla and b'zilla with regards to our (not so diverse) chicago neighborhood (such as it is).

strangely enough, this makes me wonder about iceland's mostly blond, blue-eyed, extremely homogeneous population. i mean, how racist is iceland, if at all? i'm really curious - save for that genetic tidbit - i don't know squat about iceland. well, ok, i know i like bjork and that she isn't blonde.

sometimes i think that i'm actually self taught re: racism, stereotypes and prejudice. because despite growing up in a very diverse, multi-cultural, multi-racial neighborhood in chicago: my family was afraid of black people, the puerto rican neighbors thought the mexican neighbors were low class and dirty. everyone told me polish people couldn't drive - even the polish kids. the korean and the indian neighbors were lumped together as conceited and "foreign" and everyone thought filipinos ate dogs. even when i moved to san francisco, i thought there's no way, i'd encounter any racism there. it's practically all asians. and i was proved wrong. today, i'm still considered, less asian to some, and a race traitor/"coconut" to others. and just because they think that, i'm not saying they're racists either. and somehow, i gathered the bits and pieces for a definiton of what racism/prejudice is to me.

i won't even get started on how those of us with facial differences get treated/are viewed and how that factors into my perspective on prejudice..

but, of course, i don't have a solution or even a compromise - just personal anecdotes, i guess.

i DO know that we'll do our best to teach our children about all their different heritages, especially all the different languages since i still have family in the philippines and my husband's paternal side of the family speaks spanish at home. i know my husband will probably focus on history wheras i will focus on the arts. we want them to travel extensively as well which is an education in itself, changing one's perspective, the resulting culture shock, etc.... i definitely want to volunteer with them too - anywhere and everywhere, doing all sorts of things that challenge us physically, intellectually and emotionally. i want them to get involved with the world, to get engaged, and not just observe. i them to walk many miles in many shoes.

the bottom line is i don't want my children to grow up and become racists/race purists. my hope is that they will be satisfactory human beings - critical thinkers who make realtively sound decisions. that they'll see all "the issues" as the grey shapeless masses that they are instead of just "black" and "white", "right" and "wrong", "bad" or "good", "conservative" or "liberal". honestly, i'm not sure how i'm going to help accomplish this either - probably by example - not that i'm a very good example by any stretch of the imagination.


tessence said...

I think you way overestimate what most parents are doing for their kids. Most people don't talk to their kids about table manners, much less about big issues. The average kid gets most of his information about the world from TV and school. Because think about it. A kid Kzilla's age, in a typical family, may be at daycare/preschool from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then her parent picks her up and pops in a DVD for the drive home. Dinner, bath, maybe another video and a book, and bed. When the kid gets older, it's school, aftercare or being home alone watching TV, and a Gameboy for the ride there and back. Where does the talking come in?

I agree that I'd rather educate my kids about sensitive issues -- and in fact about most things -- myself. But I don't much care about what programming they show on TV, because I have the ability to decide what she's gonna watch, if anything.

mamazilla said...

you're probably right, i may be overestimating the amt of quality time parents are/are not spending with their kids. but, i don't know anyone who exemplifies the typical family as you described above. which is not a judgment or anything - just my experience.

and even i, who will even admit to spending an exorbitant number of hours in front of the tube on some days, will at the very least talk to k'zilla about what she is watching and/or turn off the tv to talk for a half hour at the very least, about anything and everything under the sun.

seriously, i'll be the first to admit that i am not a very good mommy. so, if i can eek out the time, anybody can eek out the time. even my mom who was rarely home while i was growing up was able to eek out the time.

and i have to wonder - if a parent can't find enough time to talk to his/her child. where/how do they find time to publicly complain about a characters' vices and virtues on a kids tv show?


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