Since I was born in 1968 I am just a few years too young to be considered a Baby Boomer. Demographers have referred to my generation as Baby Busters (because of the plummeting birthrate between 1961 and 1981), Generation 13 (because we are considered reactive, nomadic, and somewhat mercenary), and Generation X (because demographers have an utter lack of creativity in naming groups and they view us somewhat suspiciously). We far exceed the education levels of our predecessors and yet ours heads of household have less individual earning power than their fathers did at the same age, thus demonstrating a massive shift in historical trends. We came of age after Vietnam and grew up during times of relative peace for our nation. However, our memories of historical events begin with things like Watergate, include the recession of the 70's and the shift away from nuclear families to huge growth in single parent families and a generation of latchkey kids who were instructed to hide inside the house until a parent got home. Our coming of age occurred during the unchecked greed of the 80s. We recall the Iran-Contra affair and raising our own young children during times when the US President was getting blow jobs in the Oval Office and his incompetent successor was massively expanding the powers of the Executive Branch while stomping around the Middle East for no good reason. Then the demographers label us a bunch of cynics and slap a few derogatory names on us. Pfft.
I beg to differ and I suggest an alternate title on this 40th anniversary of the show my generation grew up with, the Sesame Street Generation. All you Boomers can go ahead and laugh at us if you want but I think it highlights something more positive and hopeful. It's a show that broke the mold in the way it respected kids for who they were and didn't talk down to them. It gave them credit for being able know the difference between right and wrong (Yes, we understood that Cookie Monster had terrible table manners and that a diet entirely of cookies was not a good idea. We also understood that he was a made up character [How many of us know living breathing creatures covered in blue fur and with eyes that spin? Seriously now, folks.] and made up characters get to break the minor rules kids dream of breaking and still be ok. That's one of the beauties of imagination. I respectfully suggest that today's producers of the show aren't giving kids enough respect by turning Cookie Monster into a vegetarian. Ok, this parenthetical has taken on a life of its own now...). It celebrated imagination. It showed us the fun in playing with language too and let us laugh at mistakes. We knew mistakes weren't the end of the world.
Sesame Street presented a multicultural neighborhood where everyone got along and people looked out for each other. It showed us different personalities finding a way to have enduring friendships. It showed country kids the fun in the city. It showed city kids the fun in the country. It treated our sadness gently when Mr. Hooper died and showed us it was ok to cry but that there is still happiness to be found. (Ok, let me also ask my peers who among you felt a little gut punch when Jim Henson left this world at too young an age?) It also celebrated silliness and was just plain fun. And who didn't love seeing the famous people goofing around with muppets who sometimes got the better of them.
It gave us an example of something to aspire to in terms of unity and community. Laughing and singing together, learning new ways from each other, and giving each other support in sadness are great ways to build community if you ask me. We certainly preferred enjoying the show a second time around by sitting down to share it and a few giggles with our own kids rather than having to process certain news events with them. So demographers might prefer to highlight our more negative traits and influences but I'd rather hang on to the more positive influences and the things we once hoped for which now seem more commonplace.
Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!