A new study suggests that kids who watched “Sesame Street” performed better in elementary school than children who did not. While I accept that conclusion, I will argue this: Those of us who instead consumed a steady TV diet of “The Three Stooges” “The Little Rascals” and “Looney Tunes” were better prepared for life after elementary school, a world filled with overly officious authority figures, blustering bullies and corporate hucksters.
Published in the American Economic Journal, the study “Early Childhood Education by Television: Lessons from ‘Sesame Street’” by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine begins with this: “We investigate whether preschool-age children exposed to Sesame Street when it aired in 1969 experienced improved educational and labor market outcomes… The results indicate that Sesame Street improved school performance, particularly for boys.”
As a child, I did not watch “Sesame Street” for a couple of reasons. First, in my family’s pre-cable days (which we later referred to as “The No Cinemax after Dark Ages”) audiovisual entertainment arrived via a rooftop antenna that picked up two channels clearly and a few more not-so-clearly, including the PBS affiliate that broadcast “Sesame Street.” It was as if it perpetually snowed in Big Bird’s neighborhood. The second and most important reason was that Lil Scotty (and I promise this will be the last time in this column I refer to myself in the third person like a celebrity vehemently denying the circumstances surrounding his indictment for a heinous crime) found “Sesame Street” to be boring, oh so boring. “‘A’ is for apple? OK, I get it. Now, I bet the big yellow chicken is gonna chuck that apple as hard as he can and smash that cookie-eating son-of-gun right in the back of his head and hilarity will ensue…no?... no? Oh, come on!”
The clear channels offered faster-moving, often violently themed entertainment and hilarity did, in fact, ensue. Kids watching “Sesame Street” may have learned their ABCs and how to count to 20 without using their fingers and toes, but I learned a few lessons as well. Those included:
How to outfox overly officious authority figures.
The Three Stooges, when they weren’t slapping each other's noses, pulling ears or poking eyes, were masters at it in their encounters with cops on the beat, officers in the military and judges in a court of law.
Judge: “He’s asking you if you’ll swear to tell the truth.”
Curly: “Truth is stranger than fiction, Judgie-Wudgie.”
Meet bullies head on.
“The Little Rascals” (or “Our Gang”) had to constantly deal with neighborhood bully Butch, who was much more ornery than Oscar the Grouch could ever hope of being. “Now, what do you have to say before I tear you apart?” Butch once growled, which is a line that could never be scripted for either Bert or Ernie. The “Rascals/Our Gang” series proved the best way to deal with a bully is to smash a tomato in his face, defeat him in a talent contest or repeatedly hit him in the head with a hammer (wait, that last one is a Stooges’ move.)
Looney Tunes (as well as Merrie Melodies) shows us in vivid detail that corporations may stretch the truth – and sometimes outright lie – to push their products upon an unsuspecting public. Consider the Acme Corporation, which sold rocket-powered roller skates, giant kite kits, birdseed, nitroglycerin, detonators, glue, certified triple-strength leg muscle vitamins, artificial rocks and giant rubber bands, few of which lived up to the expectations of consumers like Wile E. Coyote.
In conclusion, sure, “Sesame Street” may have helped its young viewers perform better in school, but without my early childhood viewing habits, where would I have learned courtroom decorum, tomato-based conflict resolution and smart, non-Acme consumer choices? Not on “Sesame Street.” I rest my case, Judgie-Wudgie.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.