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Judy Collins and the Muppets of ‘Sesame Street’

marching penguins

During a difficult time in her life, Judy Collins had fallen prey to alcoholism and was on the edge of a chasm from which there would be no return. She was saved by her friend and fan Jon Stone and the Muppets of Sesame Street. Collins was able to find a reason to keep going; she was able to find an intermittent beacon that brought her back to a safe place full of love and respect.

Collins found the Muppets absolutely convincing. The characters established a safe place for every performer but perhaps more so for Collins because Jim Henson recognized that she was an alcoholic. Kermit and the gang allowed Collins to be more playful and to be a child again. Collins was able to establish a connection with the Muppets, which she says was part of the magic of her Sesame Street experience.

This story of Judy Collins is in “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.” It strikes two chords in me. The first chord is related to creativity. Collins talked about feeling comfortable and safe with the Muppets, being able to play with them and become a child again. These are attributes that allow people to become more creative. There’s a place where they can take a risk and make a mistake without having to worry about the social or economic consequences; it’s safe. Play is the way that people learn; it allows for experimentation and growth. Becoming childlike allows people to discover the world around them and seek out answers to questions that are both simple and profound. Like the question found in the “Rainbow Connection.”

The second chord relates to our penguins. My wife makes the great penguins you see on our website. We have adopted several for ourselves. Piotr the first penguin and Perpetua the second one. We have the penguin that someone else made and my wife gave me on our second date, and a penguin that she commissioned but wasn’t exactly what she wanted. We have Patch, our black and white travelling companion, who is always telling stories, mostly about fish and Penny in her rain slicker, who started traveling with us first and always wants to fly. Recently, Checkers found himself with is forever family in New Zealand; we’ve been interacting with him on Instagram and Facebook. Of course, we have the other penguins who get hatched here and wait for a family to adopt.

Tea Party with the Penguins
Tea Party with the Penguins

Having all these penguins around allows us to play, feel childlike and connect with who we are through them. Each has its own personality, and each provides its own kind of support. Our penguins may not be Muppets, but they are a great way for us to be able to find our freedom and happiness.

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Do You Know This Reason for the Brilliance of ‘Sesame Street’?

In the late 1960s, the Children’s Television Workshop and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) revolutionized children’s television. Sesame Street was released in 1969, and it was focused on using the still relatively new medium of television to educate children. They focused on preschoolers living in poor neighbors. Because PBS was publicly funded, Sesame Street didn’t have to cater to the needs of corporations. It didn’t have to sell cereal or toys to kids or have them ask mommy about getting a new car. All Sesame Street had to do was prove that television could be used to teach children.

Before Sesame Street educational television was pendantic, boring, and colorless. People with children knew that their kids were captivated by TV and capable of learning the jingles of popular commercials. The creators of Sesame Street hypothesized that if children could learn jingles from television, they could also learn their letters and numbers. Targeting the inner city made sense because those children had the fewest opportunities to attend preschool.

Even in the late 1960s, people realized that it was important for children to see themselves represented on television in positive ways. Sesame Street went out of its way to cast women, men and children of diverse backgrounds. As the phenomenon of Sesame Street grew so did its inclusiveness. By 1979, Sesame Street had a cast that included actors who were Latino, black, Native American, and deaf. They included a child with down syndrome, whose parents were told at the time of his birth that he would never be anything and it would be better for him to be put in an institution.

Fortunately, for her son and everyone who watched Sesame Street, Emily Kingsley and her husband didn’t listen to the doctors. Instead, they raised their son and got him on Sesame Street.

“[Kids] need to see themselves, all the people who feel this sense of strangeness and separateness, who need to have that strangeness eradicated” need to be represented, said Kingsley.

That was part of the brilliance of Sesame Street. It brought people together and showed the youngest Americans a vision of what an integrated society could look like if we just have the courage to see each other as we all are – the same, even in our differences.

Source: “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street” by Michael Davis