I, like many other kids, grew up watching Sesame Street. The brightly coloured characters with distinctly different personalities has made the television show a staple in households across the world for decades. What I recently learned is that a large part of their success is due to their approach. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the show; rather, the show reflects the current needs and issues of the period and context. Several co-production teams have been put together to first understand the context of a nation and then tailor the show based on the country in which they will be broadcasted. For example, in the Bangladesh production, called Sisimpur, the show depicts village life and is physically centred around a Banyan tree surrounded by familiar shops (e.g., sweet shops) rather than the street lined with North American version with brownstone townhouses. Further, a key focus of the show is to promote girls’ education; Tuktuki is a 5-year old character who has a deep love for learning.
Most recently, Sesame Street North America has introduced a character Julia who is their first character with Autism. In a CBC article, the puppeteer for Julia commented on her hopes Julia’s character:
My hope is that kids will understand some autistic behaviours a little bit better and they won’t be at all concerned or worried about them, that they won’t be scared of them, that they’ll see a child in their own community who might behave like Julia, or have some of the characteristics that Julia has, and they’ll see that as just another kid.
And they’ll be able to go up to that child and go, “Oh! That kid might be a little bit like Julia, and Abby [another Sesame Street character] plays with Julia and I can play with this kid too.”
I applaud Sesame Street for continuing to reflect our communities and approach issues head on.