The World According to Sesame Street -- an early look
The PBS series Independent Lens kicks off its fifth season on October 24 at 9 p.m. with The World According to Sesame Street, an in-depth look at how productions of the long-running children's series are created in other parts of the world. The special looks specifically at productions in Bangladesh, Kosovo and South Africa where the simple moral lessons of Sesame Street must somehow permeate cultures rife with political conflict, genocide, disease and starvation. This seems like a wild leap from the American version, and it is, but it's also worth pointing out that the original Sesame Street was subtly geared towards the poor and disenfranchised, taking place on an actual urban inner city street rather than some mystical far away land. The guiding ethos of Sesame Street has never been complete escapism, but rather making children better understand the world around them, and changing the scope of the series as time goes on in order to remain relevant. When the South African version of Sesame Street introduced a character with AIDS, some groups found it distasteful, but in a country where the number of people with HIV and AIDS has reached epidemic levels, it would make less sense not to bring in such a character.
The introduction of the AIDS character is a great example of how Sesame Street and the CTW approach their productions abroad. They do not simply recreate the same characters we grew up with and produce the same show in a new language. Each country has its own production team with a producer from the American Sesame Street to make sure the series teaches all the Sesame basics, but otherwise countries are free to create a show that best fits within their culture, designing entirely new puppets and sets. Certain countries do use the same characters found on the American version, though they're encouraged to create everything from a fresh perspective. Being a long time fan of Sesame Street, what touched me the most about this documentary is that creating these productions in other countries isn't so much about expanding the Sesame Street franchise, but about teaching basic human values in places where it's most needed.