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One of the fundamental takeaways from The World According to Sesame
Street, a documentary on the iconic children's Television show and its
global variants, is that Sesame Street doesn't teach American values. A
Television show that we see so widely loved and licensed in the United
States can easily been seen as promotion of American values, however,
this documentary reminds us that the kind of core principles and early
learning skills taught in Sesame Street are something that transcends
social and regional boundaries. These are things that children from all
walks of life can appreciate and understood and in no way what is shown
on Sesame Street only accepted by Americans.
Gary E. Knoll, the CEO of Sesame Workshop, states that Sesame Street's
original purpose was to give kids in low-income or more urbanized areas
a leg-up in the education game, working to give children the same kind
of information that more affluent or middle-class preschools were
giving children. Knoll reminds that the 1960's was a tumultuous decade
in America for race relations, war, and poverty and Sesame Street was
conceived to be the safe window children could utilize every day to
better themselves and further their education in a way that was fun and
communicable to them.
This was a radical move, to say the least. Television's 1950's
inception caused a wave of controversy - controversy that even still
holds ground today by people who claim the medium promotes idiocy and
passivity when it comes to peddling information. Sesame Street, a show
that nearly every child, rich or poor, watched when they were little,
worked to tell people that it was all in what people watched that
reflected their attitudes and ideas and this was a show that could
seriously better children all over the world.
The World According to Sesame Street works to show the Sesame Street
offices in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Kosovo, where people work
tirelessly, around-the-clock, to develop a program that communicates
their ways of life and their social issues in a way that's extractable
and meaningful for young children. Consider the staff in South Africa,
who work to seamlessly incorporate a character on Sesame Street that is
HIV positive, in order to respond to and teach kids about the AIDS
epidemic occurring in South Africa. The incorporation of the character
sparks a lot of positive reactions and incredible love from children in
South Africa, but in America, however, news outlets are calling the
move outrageous and an affront to children's Television. No, the
particular news outlet isn't Fox News, it's actually MSNBC.
Meanwhile, the Kosovo offices are looking to aspire love and generosity
in the new generation by trying to put an end to the longheld conflict
between Albanians and Serbians. The staff here are looking to try and
peddle ideas of peer acceptance and, at the very least, greatly limit
stereotypes and misinformation regarding Serbians and the frigid
relationships held between both groups of people. Finally, there's the
Bangladesh version of Sesame Street, which looks to reach to kids with
ideas about freedom, playing time, and being a kid where, in the city,
it's not uncommon for kids to start working at age five or six.
The World According to Sesame Street is evidently a low-budget
documentary, with notable amounts of film grain and static audio sounds
that don't so much as distract but occasionally remind us of their
presence. Furthermore, interestingly enough, for a documentary about
Sesame Street, not a great deal of footage from the show is actually
shown. Directors Linda Hawkins Costigan and Linda Goldstein-Knowlton
are much more focused on process rather than result here, showing the
offices furiously meeting deadlines and trying to respond to criticism
whilst doing some of the most difficult work for Television imaginable.
This makes for a documentary that, in turn, winds up a bit structurally
uneven, especially when jumping across different countries and trying
to stay focused during a great deal of board meetings.
This, however, is a real behind the scenes look at the massive amounts
of planning and work that it takes to build a children's Television
show from the ground up, especially around the world. The World
According to Sesame Street may not always be the most intriguing
documentary, at least in terms of approach and structure, but it's
nonetheless an important reminder of the impact and global reach of
Sesame Street in addition to its significance as a whole.
Directed by: Linda Hawkins Costigan and Linda Goldstein-Knowlton.
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Edward G. Christie
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