A pro-vaccine tweet from Big Bird ruffled Ted Cruz’s feathers, but it is not the first time a Republican has been anti-muppet.
Anti-Sesame Street fervor is not exactly new. People had a problem with everything from Bert and Ernie’s sexuality, that time Cookie Monster tried to eat healthier, and the introduction of an HIV positive muppet named Kami. Apparently not everyone was on board with the company’s mission to help kids grow “stronger, smarter, and kinder.”
Ted Cruz affirmed his party’s anti-muppet stance recently after Big Bird tweeted, “I got the COVID-19 vaccine today! My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy.”
Cruz is not the only one who thinks the educational program is sinister. When Elmo and his father discussed racism in the wake of protests for George Floyd in a CNN town hall for kids, Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized the children’s television show, saying it was telling children that America is a “very bad place” and it was their fault.
The funding of Sesame Street has always been politicized. When Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, he promised to cut federal support for public broadcasting, which led Obama to mock Romney for going after Sesame Street instead of Wall Street.
Airing for the first time 52 years ago, Sesame Street’s roots are in the civil rights movement. With a groundbreaking diverse human cast and an array of colorful muppets, it was a trailblazer. In early episodes Grover even learned about civil disobedience from a hippie.
More recently, Sesame Street aired a special episode to address discrimination against the Asian American community in light of the surge of hate crimes during the pandemic. In one segment, Analyn, a child who was bullied about her eyes, is comforted with a song.
Sesame Street is unique in its genre in that, unlike other children’s television shows, it does not suspend reality for its millions of tiny viewers. In addition to racism, the show has tackled real issues like living with a disability, coping with the death of a loved one, and poverty with the introduction of a homeless character named Lily.
In 2018, conservative America took a collective gasp after former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman said he wrote the characters Bert and Ernie as “a loving couple.” Sesame Workshop eventually surrendered in the debate and issued a statement declaring the rainbow sweater-wearing Bert and Ernie were not in fact lovers, but rather nonsexual best friends who happen to live together.
Big Bird’s recent vaccination tweet wasn’t the first Sesame Street led a nationwide immunization campaign. A video from 1972 has resurfaced online from an episode that shows the 8 ft yellow muppet lining up for his measles vaccine – hardly controversial at the time.
It is not just Republican politicians who are cold on Big Bird – their voters are too. After Romney tried to cut funding a Vanderbilt/Yougov poll found that while 85% of Democrats had favorable views of Big Bird, only 55% of Republicans did.
Unedited portions originally published on The Guardian as They’re puppets!’: why the US right loves to hate Sesame Street