Editor’s note: this post is written by Rebecca Watson and originally appeared on Skepchick.org
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Sesame Street, the public television show that has taught little kids to count, write, and tell near from far for 45 years, has just been sold to HBO. Those who don’t live in the US may be confused — you probably know what Sesame Street is, since it’s shown in dozens of other countries from Afghanistan to the UK, but you probably also know what public television is, and it’s generally not something that’s only available to people who can pay for premium cable channels.
Sesame Street’s entire purpose from the very start was to provide educational and entertaining content that was informed by scientific research and targeted toward poor, inner-city kids who generally weren’t exposed to early educational television.
So the idea that it will now be shown on HBO has a number of people understandably upset.
Since the 1980s, Republicans have often threatened to revoke federal funding of shows like Sesame Street despite its demonstrable positive effect on kids who need that kind of education the most, which has been shown in thousands of peer-reviewed studies over the years.
Because of that, Sesame Street has attempted to fund itself through multiple means, including selling toys and books and other merchandise. Unfortunately, it all hasn’t been enough, as more and more people stop watching public television and start streaming shows online.
To continue to compete, Sesame Street made a deal with HBO, and it’s actually not as bad as many people may think: HBO has 9 months to broadcast each episode, after which they’ll be given to public television for free. The funding they’re giving Sesame Street will allow them to produce twice as many new shows as before, 52 in a year. All past episodes are still able to be shown on public television without restriction.
Some people are still upset at this scenario, saying that it effectively splits children into a rich tier and a poor tier, forcing poor kids to get the rich kids’ leftovers. These people are 100% correct — that is what is happening, and on a philosophical level it’s fucked up and wrong. Our government should care enough about children’s education to fully fund scientifically proven methods for enriching kids’ lives and making better, smarter adults in the future. And in this case, there are few programs that describes better than Sesame Street.
But the fact of the matter is that our government doesn’t prioritize children’s education, because they’d rather spend billions of dollars on killing people in other countries with robots. Whatever, America, you do you.
So until we get our shit together, I’m really impressed that HBO has offered such a great solution. Sesame Street gets all the funding they need, PBS gets free new seasons, and children won’t know the difference. Seriously. Sesame Street is for kids from age 3-8, basically, and their needs aren’t like yours. I loved Sesame Street as a kid. And what would I do when I turned on the TV and saw a rerun? I’d sit there and watch it and love it, either because I didn’t even remember watching it the first time because I was 3 and I had the memory of a fruit fly, or because I liked watching things I’d already seen and loved once before.
In fact, I was surprised to learn recently that Mr. Hooper died in 1982, before I was even old enough to watch the show. I loved Mr. Hooper. He had been dead for 5 years, and I had no idea and I loved him.
And I mean, have you ever been around a kid? How many times can a kid watch a thing they love? A million times. 10 million times. 100 million times more than you can bear.
So no, no kids will give a shit that there are new episodes floating around out there that they can’t watch yet. And if they do care, you’re raising shitty kids and you should fix that.
So is this HBO deal a bad thing? Yes and no. It’s a great thing for children, but it’s an embarrassing thing for America when the rest of the world sees how little we truly value children.