12 November 2009

“Trashy” is High Praise!

Today’s newspaper brought word of a silly controversy that’s just too embarrassing for the American right wing not to highlight.

Two years ago, as documented here, Sesame Street aired a parody of cable news channels featuring CNN host Anderson Cooper. Oscar the Grouch brought him on to report for the Grouch News Network (GNN), with a slime-covered logo and grumpy, bickering commentators. (I’m not sure how that last part is parody.)

Near the end of the skit an irate grouch called in to complain that GNN wasn’t disgusting enough for her, and threatened to switch to “Pox News—now there’s a trashy news show.” Thus, the skit parodied both the best-known cable news networks.

The episode was rerun a couple of times since 2007, most recently on 29 October. And these days any mention of Fox News appears to be enough to prick the delicate and humorless sensitivity of some of its viewers. They posted complaints like this one on blogs, and a handful of people wrote to the PBS ombudsman.

I think that ombudsman fumbled the ball at first, featuring the Fox fans’ complaints without either seeking a comment from Sesame Street or exercising a sense of humor. Five days later the ombudsman got around to providing actual information and balance.

An executive with the Sesame Street Workshop had to point out the obvious:

“Children who watch Sesame Street (and adults who remember what it felt like to be a kid watching Sesame Street) know that Oscar the Grouch is a contrarian. He lives in a trash can and loves everything ‘yucky,’ and ‘disgustin.’ For a Grouch, ‘Trashy’ is high praise!”
Oscar’s song “I Love Trash” was the A-side of the first and perhaps last 45rpm record I ever owned. (The B-side was “Going for a Ride.”) For nearly forty years American children have known and enjoyed the irony of the fact that Oscar and other grouches “love trash.”

I can only assume that the people who complained about Pox News being called “trashy” aren’t part of that American mainstream that’s learned about Oscar. Perhaps those political conservatives didn’t let themselves become familiar with Sesame Street since it’s on public television and presents other things they have at various times argued vehemently against, such as an integrated neighborhood and bilingual education. Or perhaps watching Fox News has simply inured them to seeing that living in a trash can and lobbing insults at people isn’t really normal.

The most devastating recent parody of Fox News wasn’t Sesame Street’s brief mention. It wasn’t even Jon Stewart’s imitation of Glenn Beck. It was the Sean Hannity program’s forced admission that it had used file footage from one Washington rally to make another one look bigger than it really was. Now that’s comedy.


Anonymous said...

When I read a short piece about this the other day, my first reaction was, "Oh, grow up!" Perhaps it should have been, "Oh, shrink down!"

John said...

Unless I misheard the short clip I saw of Hannity's admission, he characterized the file footage flap as an "inadvertent mistake." I had to look up "inadvertent" to remind myself that it does indeed mean "not deliberate." Right. Happens all the time. Someone presses the wrong button and accidentally cues up footage of a two-month-old rally.