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That Sesame Street Generation

By Julio R. Varela

WE are the first Sesame Street generation.

While our parents reminisced about the Beaver and Pinky Lee, we spoke of rubber duckies, talking frogs and furry, blue monsters. We sang about the alphabet, laughed like Ernie and made fun of Bert's passion for pigeons. For an hour every afternoon, from age two to eight, we sat in front of a television. Life was fun.

NOW that the first Sesame Street generation enters its third decade, we must ask ourselves: Where have we been? Where are we going? Are we confused, wishing that we could just freeze time and remain children forever, locking ourselves in the den and watching Cookie Monster chant "Me want cookie?"

Do we suffer from Post-Sesame Depression (PSD), which has altered our power to imagine and create, causing us to believe in the mediocre and pay attention to television shows such as Entertainment Tonight? Has the first Sesame Street generation turned into a bunch of unimaginative college students worried about what Geraldo or Oprah or Phil has to say every day?

As long as we get our daily dose of Rather, Letterman and Win, Lose or Draw, the first Sesame Street generation will be happy, content to remain the same. Let us accept our passivity, we say.

But passivity is for those who watch Cosby every week and believe in a kindler, gentler nation, this Sesame Streeter says.

Sesame Streeters, there is hope. We cannot let the fear of Morton Downey yelling in our ears overcome us. We must ignore Robin Leach and all his interviews with the rich and famous. No more mediocity, Sesame Streeters. The time has come to create and innovate again. To rediscover the power of imagination, every true member of the first Sesame Street generation must start somewhere.

LAST Saturday night, this Sesame Streeter--who watched his first episode of Sesame Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and visited the set of the show when he was six years old--began his quest to rediscover imagination by turning to the show that had raised him.

WGBH, Boston's public television network, broadcast Sesame Street's 20th anniversary special as part of its pledge weekend programming. By the time the final credits rolled up the screen, this Sesame Streeter wished he had taped the show. He wanted to see it again and again and again. The rediscovery was complete. This show had it all.

When the entire cast in the neighborhood staged a Donahue show with Big Phil himself, it parodied the boring, mediocre televison that has become a trademark of popular culture.

Then came the stabs against Ted Turner. Allistair Cookie, who hosts "Monsterpiece Theatre," talked about how colorization serves no purpose. Long live black-and-white films, Allistair said.

After a brilliant "Who are the People in Your Neigborhood?" skit with cameo appearances by Martina Navratilova, Barbara Walters and Ralph Nader, the show reached its finest moment--the "Ernie, Put Down the Duckie (If You Want to Play the Saxaphone)" song.

A cast of Muppets and celebrities urged Ernie to forget about his rubber duckie when he played the sax. The Muppets sounded like Louie Armstrong. The procession of celebrities was endless. First, John Candy. Then, Jane Curtin, Pee Wee Herman, the New York Mets, the New York Giants, Ladysmith Black Mombazu, Paul Simon, Danny DeVito, salsa queen Celia Cruz, etc. All telling Ernie to "put down the duckie" for a while. It was a rare treat, a scene that affirms Sesame Street's place as the most original show on television.

WE think that as we get older, we distance ourselves from the show. It is just for kids, we say. But last Saturday night, the first Sesame Street generation was refreshed. We were attracted to Saturday's show just like we were attracted to the first show that ran in the late 60s.

To be creative, informative, original, imaginative, and most important, entertaining. Only one show has done this so consistently over the last 20 years. And we are the show's first generation. Let us live to imagine, Sesame Streeters. Down with passivity.

And hope that despite the new trend in trash television, we will always have Kermit, Grover, Ernie, Bert and Big Bird. Besides, Morton Downey doesn't like pigeons, and Robin Leach can't stand cookies.

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