II: RECEPTION AND CULTURAL IDENTITY: Sesame Street: Cognition and Communications Imperialism

Hendershot, Heather; Kinder, Marsha
January 1999
Kid's Media Culture;1999, p137
Book Chapter
This chapter recounts the history of criticisms of Sesame Street and lays out new grounds on which to question the program. When Sesame Street first appeared on the air on November 16, 1969, it was unique in several ways. Sesame Street's 1968-1970 budget was $8,191,100, the largest amount of funding ever put into a U.S. educational television series. The program stressed cognitive development, while other programs emphasized creative play or affective development. Some parents and critics reacted strongly against Sesame Street's style because Public Broadcasting Service was supposed to be above commercialism. The Children's Television Workshop (CTW) saw its style choice as a purely pragmatic one in order to compete with commercial television for children's attention. To attract adult viewers, Sesame Street featured stars recognizable primarily to grown-ups, and such celebrities still commonly appear on the program. Yet whether the CTW talked about it or not, the show's style and its picture of racial integration were certainly overtly controversial, and Sesame Street guests included celebrities from Hollywood's blacklist. A key part of Sesame Street's early success was its modern image, which was underpinned by a technologically deterministic faith in television. It used computer animation, chroma keying, pixillation, word matting, and other techniques that gave it a technologically modern look. The child-testing practices of CTW are based on a number of questionable assumptions: that children's viewing practices can be translated into data, that their viewing can be scientifically studied without accounting for contextual aspects of television viewing and meaning making, and that memorization or recall is identical to learning.


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