Monday, August 01, 2016

Muppet Monday

A few people have asked me about last week's news that the Sesame Workshop released Bob McGrath, Roscoe Orman and Emilio Delgado (aka Bob, Gordon and Luis) from their contracts. It's hard to think of Sesame Street without the three of them. Hell, Bob's been there since the very first episode in 1969.

I guess this is part of what Joey Mazzarino was talking about last year when he announced he was leaving the show after "battling for what I believe is the heart and soul of the show." There have been some changes since the move to HBO, and that beautiful new set has come at the cost of cutting the running time by a half-hour and a real winnowing of the Muppet cast. I've watched it a bit on HBO, and while there are always some cute segments, I can't remember the last time I saw Bob or Luis do anything. (I have seen Gordon occasionally, and I notice Loretta Long's Susan is remaining in the cast.)

This is a real bummer, because bless these gentlemen for all the work they've done and, let's be honest, their part in raising my generation. Bob always made me feel like it was okay to be who I was, no matter what the jerks who bullied me said. Gordon showed me, in many ways, the kind of father I would've wanted to be, and his marriage with Susan showed me a positive future. And Luis was, along with Maria, an important childhood introduction to Latino culture. Luis and Maria were my favorite members of the human cast, and in a lot of ways I thought of them as the parents I wanted to have.

Roscoe said on Facebook that the Sesame Workshop has reached out about possibly bringing them back because of the general outcry that this is unjust. I haven't heard anything else. I wonder how many people who are genuinely outraged actually watch the show or, like so many things in the pop culture news, just hate the thought of something that was part of their childhoods changing in any way. It's true that the new Sesame Street isn't as good as it was, but the difference for me tends to be that I'm 40 now, and very much outside the target audience. What I want to know it whether kids today respond to it. I wonder if Bob, Gordon or Luis mean as much to them, since they seem to be barely on.

I don't know if the new curriculum is to blame. I don't know if it's just the inevitable passage of time. We're in the midst of a generational shift, and some of our beloved pop culture institutions, like Sesame Street and Star Wars and Star Trek and Archie are aiming at today's kids, and I notice a lot of people my age aren't handling it well. I think there's a sense of being left behind. When our foundations fundamentally change, we feel less connected. I get it. I'm not going to get negative and outraged about what's happening to Bob, Gordon and Luis. But it's a bummer. I'm not saying don't be sad about it. I'm not judging you if you're angry. I'm just not, personally. But it's a huge bummer.

I think some of the anger comes from it seeming so unceremonious and out of left field. Some kind of a send-off on the show itself would be a respectful way to thank McGrath, Orman and Delgado for everything they've done, both for Sesame Street and for anyone who's been a child since 1969.

Well, I usually have a video here, and I found a song I always dug. This is from 1978, and it's called "Gimme Five." It was written by David Axelrod, Judith Freudberg and Sam Pottle, and features David (the late Northern Calloway), Bob, Gordon and Luis extolling the virtues of the number five in a soulful fashion. Take it away, gentlemen, and thank you all for all of it.


Jason said...

"We're in the midst of a generational shift, and some of our beloved pop culture institutions, like Sesame Street and Star Wars and Star Trek and Archie are aiming at today's kids, and I notice a lot of people my age aren't handling it well. I think there's a sense of being left behind."

This is something I've been thinking about a lot, starting with the '09 Star Trek movie, but especially since The Force Awakens came out and left me feeling the same general sense of "meh" that so many expressed (to my consternation) about the prequels. It's not a question of whether or not these new variations on old themes are good -- that's debatable, obviously -- so much as it is the sense that... they're not for me. When Han Solo died, it really felt like a symbolic statement to the older fans. At least to this older fan. Our heroes are old, our time is past, these properties belong to somebody else now.

For a generation that has so strongly identified with our pop culture, where do we go from here? I honestly don't have an answer for that. And yeah, it makes me desperately sad.

SamuraiFrog said...

I get that. The Force Awakens is a hard movie for me to talk about online, because the things I liked about the movie seem to hurt the feelings of a lot of fans my age. And I don't really mean to do that. But I said a lot on this blog before the movie came out that I really wasn't interested in seeing a Star Wars movie for my generation; I wanted kids today to have their own Star Wars movie. And I was honestly impressed and excited that the movie did that. I wasn't disappointed, because I'm happy that today's kids get to renew the whole thing. I don't want the Star Wars movies to keep perpetuating this idea that my generation "owns" the whole thing, because that thinking has led to some of the ugliest fan encounters I've ever had.

It probably helps for me that I have a half-sister who turned 21 this year. All of the excitement over TFA made her interested in actually watching the previous 6 Star Wars movies, something she'd never done before, and now she's a Star Wars fan.

I find the renewal of all of these properties exciting and hopeful, because I feel like that means that these great things I loved--many of which were here before I was--will keep going on after I'm gone, and my sisters and my nieces will continue to enjoy something that maybe reminds them occasionally of how much I loved those things. It makes me feel, weirdly, more connected.

So I understand where you're coming from, though I don't share your feelings. I appreciate your sense of perspective. I'm not sure where we go in a pop culture sense, either.

Jason said...

I understand that view, from an intellectual standpoint. And I do share it... intellectually speaking. I want Star Wars, and Trek, and Sesame Street and all of it, to continue and to have relevance for today's kids. Emotionally, though... I guess I keep hoping someone can figure out how to extend and renew these things without making older fans (me) feel alienated by them. And so far, it hasn't happened. Maybe it's not even possible. And I really struggle with that. There is a part of me that wants to scream out in a fit of jealousy, "Get your own generational touchstones," even though I know how childish that is. And I want the Damn Kids(tm) to appreciate things as they were, for what they were, even though I know that's just not how it works.

It all reminds me of a friend of my parents who argued with me once that George Reeves was the only true Superman, and this Chris guy that all the kids loved just wasn't the same. It should comfort me to know we're not the first to grapple with this sort of thing... but realizing that I've now become that guy only makes me feel older and more obsolete.

SamuraiFrog said...

Yeah, I don't want to be that guy. I remember when I was a kid and a lot of music from the sixties was being used on commercials and kids thought it was cool to dress like hippies. Now I hear songs from the 80s and 90s on commercials and understand the frustration my Mom felt twenty-five years ago. I don't want to be the one grumbling.

I think our generation bears some of the responsibility here, because we sort of demand that these things never die, but at the same time it becomes less viable economically to keep perpetuating one generation's interpretation of a thing. Yeah, I despise what Doctor Who has become, and it's a bummer I can't watch it anymore, but there are a lot of old episodes I've never seen, so it balances out. I don't feel left out because I've had so many repulsive fan interactions that I don't want to be in, anyway.

I mean, Batman was around for almost 40 years before I was. I liked a specific interpretation of Batman for a time. Now the Batman I see in most media is a very different Batman that I don't really like. Maybe my time with Batman is over. I don't think that makes me obsolete. Batman just doesn't meet my needs anymore. DC wants Batman to meet the needs of people with more disposable income. I'll always have "my" version. I guess I just feel like I've had my time with my toys, and now it's time to pass them on and let someone else enjoy them. That seems harmonious to me.

For what it's worth, I think the MCU is doing it right and keeping it fresh.

Roger Owen Green said...

There may be good news