As Usual, ‘Sesame Street’ Teaches Us All Something – This Time, About Life and Death [VIDEO]
On Friday, as we all reeled from the horrific Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, we were torn about how to address them here. This isn't a hard news site, but at the same time, it seemed odd to ignore the situation completely.
Ultimately, we chose to carry on with business as usual and hope that maybe it provided a bit of a break from reality from those who so desperately needed it.
Then a vintage clip from 'Sesame Street' started making the rounds. And as always, our favorite children's program of yore eloquently taught us all a little something -- this time, about life and death.
Right now, we’re all trying to make sense of a tragedy that makes no sense. As adults, we're slightly better equipped to do this because we’ve seen it before. But for kids, this might be the first time they’re experiencing something that can’t just be made better with platitudes and quaint sayings.
'Sesame Street' knows. They’ve always been around to help teach the hard lessons that have to be taught, even when they're the most difficult things to teach. Best of all, they don’t sugarcoat or condescend to children. They tell them what they need to hear -- and give them the tools to start the coping process.
Thirty years ago, when Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper (proprietor of the 'Sesame Street' grocery store) died, the show could've recast the role and pretended nothing happened. But they knew that would be insulting to their audience. Because while kids may not have the comprehension skills of adults, they're not stupid. They'd notice Lee was gone.
Instead, 'Sesame Street' had the grown-ups on the show explain Mr. Hooper's death to Big Bird. And while they did it in an age-appropriate way, they avoided euphemisms like "passed away" or "living in the clouds" and told the unvarnished truth: Mr. Hooper was gone, and he wasn't coming back.
Big Bird reacted in the same way a child would. He was confused, sad and angry, and he wanted to know why Mr. Hooper had to be gone forever. The adults (clearly emotional themselves) said death is a part of life, and when Big Bird asked why it had to be that way, Gordon, one of the longtime cast members, gently said, "Because. Just because."
Sometimes there really is no explaining the inexplicable.
That episode, entitled 'Farewell, Mr. Hooper,' went on to be named one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television history. It aired in 1983, but the lessons therein are still relevant today.
Maybe even more so.