How Sesame Street Betrayed Two Generations

“The most important person in the world is you, / And you hardly even know you. / The most important person in the whole wide world is you, / Come on, we’ll show you.”

If my memory of my young childhood is correct, these are lyrics from one of the songs that Sesame Street played in almost every episode. It is also the reason for many of the cultural problems of my generation, Gen X, and the youngest one, the Millennial.

Obsessed with trivia about celebrities, these two generations too often prefer to read gossip columns over actual news. The word diva, to my generation and the next, has stopped being considered a serious insult and is now a title that is sought after. These demographics spend the bulk of their time insulting celebrities on Twitter, posting pictures of their dinners on Facebook, and LOL-ing everything, as if any of that BS mattered. Collecting and displaying artwork, music, and movies made by other people is now considered to be a form of self expression.

Worst of all, though, is the worship accorded to the idea of Expressing My Opinion.

What? How could expressing personal opinions possibly be bad, you ask?

Let me relate a few stories to you.

I went to an arcade once, right after the way that quarters were made had just been changed. I was really into House of the Dead, and spent time there shooting zombies. When I put one of the new quarters, made of lighter metals, into the machine, it was rejected. So were all of the other new quarters. I went to an employee, and asked for some old-style quarters, telling him why. He told me that it was impossible for there to be such a problem, because the machine was designed to take quarters and these were quarters. I explained how the sensor mechanism worked (I was an engineer) and how the new alloys just didn’t have the weight to press the switch. He got upset, and almost started crying. When I asked him what was going on, he accused me of being “mean,” and felt the need to defend himself by saying that he was “just expressing his opinion.”

I used to be on one of the biggest heathen forums. It prided itself on being a place where people from all philosophies, all branches of heathenry, could come together. Yet every time that someone with non-white ancestry spoke up, they were shouted down and driven off the forum by Folkies. When I tried to defend them, I got told off by the administrators. They told me that the Folkies were “just expressing their honest opinions,” and that I had no right to “repress them.” When I told them what I thought of this idea, they Voldemort-banned me. In other words, not only am I banned, but anyone who so much as mentions my name or links to one of my websites gets banned as well.

In so many discussions, on forums and Facebook, in person and otherwise, it is now often considered acceptable to say the most egregious things. I have seen supposedly rational discussions include references to Mexicans as wetbacks, homosexuals as fags, Arabs as towelheads, and worse. Whenever confronted, these people and the passive masses around them defend these slurs as “expressions of personal opinion.”

It gets worse. Look at the whackos who categorically deny the reality of global warming, water shortage, space travel, the need for vaccinations, and evolution. Despite the universal consensus of scientists about the reality of all of these things, a huge percentage of people do no research at all, do not educate themselves about any of the facts, and yet still try to change public policy on these subjects. When confronted, they parse their struggle as a conflict between equally valid opinions.

These problems have many causes, of course. However, one of the chief causes is the cultural revolution of the hippies. You see, in their day, the national culture tended to be completely intolerant of differences, and rather harsh about enforcing social norms. So they tried to combat this tyranny by educating the young in a different way. Shows like Sesame Street were one of the tools that they used. To counter the message of “There Is Only One Right Way,” they tried to encourage children to trust their own opinions more, and to see value in many different ways of thinking.

This is all well and good. However, they went about it in the most asinine way possible. Instead of teaching children to think rationally about many different opinions, they just sold them the message that “All opinions are equally valid!” Instead of encouraging children to develop the maturity and intellect needed to develop the best opinions possible, they taught them that they should feel good just for being themselves, that their opinions mattered no matter what.

What do you get when you raise children to believe that they don’t have to actually do anything or have any introspection in order to feel good about themselves? Well, you get people with frail egos who think that being told that, factually speaking, the thing they just said was incorrect is some kind of personal attack. You get weaklings who cannot actually function in the real world, or grow up. You get a tolerance of really fu<&ed up, racist, homophobic insults, of genocidal philosophies, of mean-spirited and sadistic behavior. After all, all opinions are equally valid, right? You get people who are actually so stupid that they think that scientifically tested and verified ideas have no more weight than personal opinions. You get people who are so easily satisfied with who they are that they never grow up. You get people who never develop past childish obsessions with celebrities and entertainment, and think they shouldn’t have to, because that’s just “who they are.”

Well, let me tell you something: opinions are like @$$holes. Everybody has one. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to listen to yours.

The measure of a man or woman is the _kind_ of opinions that they have. Yes, everybody has a right to their own opinions. No one person or group should be able to force you into holding different opinions, or into making you feel bad for yours. But that doesn’t somehow magically make your opinions any good.

Fortunately for me, I always preferred The Electric Company to Sesame Street. It was more intelligent and complex. Plus, it had vampires, bikers, and Spider Man. We need more childhood education like that, and less mindless feel-good pablum like Sesame Street.


4 thoughts on “How Sesame Street Betrayed Two Generations

  1. caelesti says:

    When I was in high school I used to think hippies were cool. Then after becoming pagan, I realized it was their cultural influence that is the root of most problems that seem to plague us. They rejected norms of society, while not replacing them with anything. The (liberal) baby boomers were a little too concerned about our self-esteem- self-esteem matters, but it doesn’t have to be so fragile unless you set it up to be so. And as Deo (of the former podcast Deo’s Shadow) once said, absolute moral relativism is an oxymoron.

  2. “absolute moral relativism is an oxymoron”

    Nice turn of phrase, that.

  3. Amanda says:

    I get some of what you folks are saying, but I think you’ve got a few things mixed up.

    I’m a college professor in Texas. I teach introductory biology (including evolution) and environmental science (including global warming), so I keep up with the politics surrounding those subjects, and I can tell you, it’s not the “liberals” and “hippies” and people who grew up watching Sesame Street who deny their reality. It’s the dominant political party here who don’t want evolution in the school textbooks (or at least we’re supposed to “teach the controversy”), and when scientists from the leading universities try to publish materials about the effect of global warming on the gulf coast, the state government, which is completely dominated by this political party, sensors them saying the evidence for global warming is still not convincing enough.

    I agree with you that society has a problem with selfishness and people thinking all opinions are equally valid. I just don’t think you’ve correctly identified where that’s coming from.

    • Well, you are certainly welcome to your opinion, but I stand by my arguments. As a former resident of Texas myself, I can see why that would seem a larger part of the problem to you, I’ve seen a lot of such things when I was there. However, in my experience the problems society is faced with are the faults of both approaches.

      I find both philosophies, liberal and conservative alike, to be equally prone to denying reality, to using pseudo-intellectual rationalizations in place of actual argument, and to mistaking philosophical assumptions for logic. The philosophies seem, to me, to be equally barren and harmful.

      Conservatives of the type you mention place their religious beliefs and philosophical assumptions first, and then build rationalizations to defend them. This makes the ignorance of their arguments obvious. “Obvious,” though, is not a synonym for “worse.” In my experience, liberals tend to do exactly the same thing, but for one difference: instead of basing their assumptions on religion and class stratification, they base them on pseudo-intellectual theories about human behavior that ignore most actual facts of what humans really do. Liberal theories therefore tend to be of the type “Yeah, that would be really great and all, except for the fact that it requires every person in the world to suddenly start or stop doing things that all of history shows people never start or stop doing even in the face of death.” Then because their theories are supposedly based on “objective facts,” they tend to insinuate their harmful ideas into the public consciousness and cast anyone who disagrees with them as being as ignorant or superstitious as their conservative counterparts.

      I don’t see that either one is something to be admired. I think that both are a detriment to our society and overall human progress. The unfortunate effect of the American Two Party/Two Philosophy system is that we the public are then given the Ogre’s Choice: die fast or die slow. We can go with the conservatives, and have the appaling ignorance that their ideas are based on quickly destroy human rights, education, and the economy. Or we can go with the liberals, and make some token advancements in some areas of social justice, but then have greater injustice and stupidities based on insane troll logic become so firmly enshrined in the law and culture that we will never be free of them.

      Neither is a choice I favor. I’m in search of Option C.

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