“I was delighted to take the role of Mr. Hooper, the gruff grocer with the warm heart. It’s a big part, and it allows a lot of latitude. But the show has something extra, that sense you sometimes get from great theater, the feeling that its influence never stops”. – Will Lee who portrayed grocer, Mister Hooper on Sesame Street from 1969 to 1982.
This is a true statement of Sesame Street’s impact. I for one recall with great fondness my journey through childhood, a journey that followed a path begun by my parent’s hopes and dreams for the kind of person they hoped I would be. It wound through the dark and foreboding forests of my darker imagination, through uncertainty, through emotionally painful medical diagnoses that left me feeling as if I were a half-made boy, or a boy mistakenly assembled from flawed parts. When the journey was at its darkest, when my young life seemed overwhelming I nearly lost hope. I can’t say that my childhood was all that bad when I really think about it. The good times far outweighed the bad and my family was always there but in those moments when the world seemed to press against me and I felt alone, no matter if that loneliness was real or imagined all the good times seemed barely worth notice. Misery is funny that way; no matter how brief the visit its presence feels all encompassing. Misery blacks out everything that does not feed its own peculiar hunger. Children of abuse, children from broken homes, the bullied and the tormented, the confused and lonely all recognize this even if they are too young to fully understand it. I was one of those bullied kids, I was different, and I had this horrible thing called Tourette ’s syndrome (before it became funny and quaint and thing comedians made jokes about) that made my body do things that were not in my control. I grunted and sniffed, shrugged my shoulders until my neck ached, blinked so hard and so often I gave myself headaches. This made me a target for bullies. My family was there of course to console me and there were others to whom I turned and could always rely on so I won’t overstate the role of a television show but neither can I understate its impact on my life. Even then, in those dark moments when for some inexplicable reason I felt I could not let my mother and father know how hurt I was or how afraid, I found solace on a magical street where the monsters were not so terrible and the people all lived in harmony.
On a larger scale we all go through periods of darkness when things seem bleak. That is why such moments and such places as Sesame Street continue to be so important all through our life. It was a place that gave space for something special to flourish deep down inside. In a world that has grown banal and disinterested in things that are really important all that we have left, perhaps all that we have ever really needed is the positive influence good things leave behind. For some children a lot of the time and for a lot of children some of the time the refrain “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street” was as a much a plea as it was a call for joy. And that feeling is an influence that never stops!
- Sesame Street 1969
- Sesame Street 1990
- Sesame Street 2010