Sesame Street's most disturbing bits

Drtooth

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Okay. Ground rules. This is NOT the "what sketches scared you as a kid" thread, this is not the "this sound or something bothered me and still does" thread... this is the "this sketch is surprisingly disturbing in its subject matter for a kid's show" thread. I'll start it off.

Now, when I was falling asleep the other night for some bizarre reason I had the faint remembrance of a cartoon where some little girl doesn't want to get up and play and has talking legs. I decided to check it out for myself a few minutes ago and was pretty disturbed to see how dark this sketch was. It's essentially scared straight for weight loss, bordering on thinspiration.


You'll notice the girl starts out with the thinnest, longest legs that are clearly not of a little girl (unless she's exceptionally tall). Kinda disturbing, but I'm not going to go on about that. By the end of the sketch, the girl doesn't so much have cankles so much as soolnds (for those who don't follow Homestar Runner much, they're what Strong Sad's elephant feet are called). So to make a point about exercising, Sesame Street actually showed a cartoon where a little girl gains like 200 pounds in 57 seconds. Not "she grew up to be fat," she grew disgustingly fat before the eyes of 5 year olds. Imagine how horrifying this would be in less stylized animation. And yeah. Her knees "fell asleep." Yeah. Talking body parts essentially died. So yeah. There's that. Morbid obesity and death of whimsical characters. Funny little skit you have there.

Think about it this way. When Sesame Street started that initiative about healthy living years back, it may have been anvilicious. It may have been incredibly obnoxiously overboard with its message. But NEVER has it once said anything about gaining weight. It took the gentle approach of brainwashing kids to eat veggies (which people would actually like eating if they cooked them properly) and telling them to go out and play (something kids should do naturally). This cartoon was made all the way back near the beginning when they had the buffet style of educational approach, so clearly they felt instead of many little friendly reminders to eat veggies and get out and play they dropped a freaking scare tactic with a loud thud. To put it this way, know those "The Real Cost of smoking" commercials where they rip their skin off and teeth out? Imagine that during a commercial break for Sophia the First. THAT'S how bad this was.
 

mr3urious

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What also makes it disturbing is that unlike other cautionary tale segments on the show, it has a downer ending. Wanda never gets exercise and will lead to a future of washing herself with a rag on a stick.
 

Drtooth

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And it would work had it at least been played for laughs. For the most part, Sesame Street knows its audience and knows how they'd react. Other cautionary tales, even at their darkest manage to have humorous exaggeration. Even Wee Willie Whimple had a great Mad Magazine-esque "YEEEEECHHHH!" at the end of the segment to alleviate the message.

But this... and the dissonance of it being a Bruce Caynard cartoon. His stuff is usually light and wacky (with that exception of the girl who's pet died, even then he changed his usual style to something slightly more serious). There's nothing wacky about this level of grotesque weight gain and a narrator saying how hard it was for her to move. It's pretty much one of those German fairy tales about kids who suck their thumbs and get them cut off somehow. In Bruce Caynard Sesame Street form.

For an extra level of disturbing, I accidentally caught a second of one of TLC's shockumentaries about an incredibly obese 20 year old girl...with legs as thick as the cartoon girl. This isn't "if you don't exercise, you'll gain weight." This is "exercise right now or you'll immediately become a mutant hogbeast!" Remember how I said a while back that if you were to explain the premise of some old Sesame Street skits, they'd sound like Creepypastas? This is a good example.
 

Luke kun

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It does look very Shel Silverstein-ish. But that's not the point. WHY WOULD THEY AIR SOMETHING LIKE THIS ON SESAME STREET?
 

Drtooth

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Now that I think of it, know what that reminds me of?

"HEY KIDS!!! If you don't exercise with Binky, you'll grow up to be WORTHLESS!!!!"

And the episode of South Park about "A Million Little Fibers." Almost wonder if Trey and Matt saw this skit as inspiration.

This sketch was posted before, but I'll post it again here.


Notice. It's not the giant rabbit or the tree troll. Again, this isn't "this sketch is scary," it's "these skits are mindblowingly disturbing given their venue."

Sesame Street is no stranger to abstract animation. The Jazzy Numbers series had some slightly jarring images that came off strange. Nothing I'd say really creepy. Some stuff (Twin Washington Busts!!) incomprehensibly weird, but overall fun and wacky in an artsy kind of way.

But what makes this sketch disturbing and not just scary is how pinpoint accurate in its LSD bad-trippiness it is. Everything about it manages to hit a creepy button.
  1. The lack of music gives this an eerie tone. The only sound being a strange "VVvhhhhhhoooooohhhh" which makes the thing even creepier than needs be. If a wacky music track and a wackier sound effect had been placed instead, it would be creepy, but not oddly upsetting.
  2. A cartoon segment about body horror. Much like Wanda's rapid 400 pound weight gain, showing a body morphing like that without comedic effect in a venue that's not about mutations (TMNT, Toxic Crusaders) is downright mindboggling. Let alone this could play at any time after Big Bird sings a fun song about sharing or what have you.
  3. The visuals are an uncanny valley of realistic and stylized. The woman has a pinhead and dead eyes. Even if her face didn't mush around like Clayface, you have to admit that's a creepy looking drawing. Even for the 70's.
  4. The pacing is just so Nightmare like. Intentionally so. So you're pretty much purposely inviting this into kid's night terrors. Way to go. Terrify kids with something so horrifying that even their wildest imaginations can't manifest.
  5. There is no educational value or reason for this to be seen outside of an animation festival. This animator clearly trolls Sesame Street with creepy cartoons, sure. But even just a voice over or tie in to "everyone looks different, but we're all the same" would have saved this from being a disturbing, nightmarish skit to something creepy but with a purpose.
Why was this on a kid's show, especially one that was extremely thorough on what can and can't be on the show?
 

fuzzygobo

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I was never too receptive to "We All Sing With the Same Voice". After years of stressing how unique we are as individuals, to be lumped together as we are all the same (especially the same adenoidal whine), seems a little... creepy. At least Smurfy-creepy.

Even the one dissenting line "Sometimes I get mad and mean" sung with a singalongish voice with a kid flashing a big toothy grin... strains for credibility a little bit.

I guess the one part that I can't get past, while I appreciate the sentiment of tolerance, equality, respect (now that these kids are all grown up, I hope in today's world they can practice what they preach), I feel rubbed the wrong way that these kids feel they will grow up in a world where they will NEVER encounter any conflict. It's a nice ideal to strive for, but not realistic. Even when the grown ups on the street occassionally disagree, they will strive to resolve their differences.
But as peaceful as it might seem to live in a world with no conflicts or differences of opinion, it will also get very boring after a while.
 

Luke kun

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I thought that face morph skit taught kids about noses...
 

Drtooth

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I was never too receptive to "We All Sing With the Same Voice". After years of stressing how unique we are as individuals, to be lumped together as we are all the same (especially the same adenoidal whine), seems a little... creepy. At least Smurfy-creepy.

Never liked that one either. On the one hand, it's a little ham fisted and clumsy in its message. There's that old chestnut of a message that kids shows usually give about everyone being special, then you have to tell them that everyone's essentially the same. Both are hard messages to delver at the same time without contradicting each other. Then there's that whole disillusioning reality about how essentially everyone is a cog in the machine (office jobs and such)... but I won't go into that because it distracts from the point. There's many more careful ways to say that "we're really all the same and our outside differences are merely atheistic and our beliefs have common ground, yet we can all be our own individual person." They just didn't find that sweet spot with this one.

Then there's the fact that it is indeed disturbing, even on a very unintentional level. I get what the filmmakers are trying to do here. Problem is, the message gets botched because of this whole Children of the Corn/The Borg execution. The lyrics have some poorly worded choices that can be taken the wrong way, sure. But add in the visuals and the message becomes less "we're all the same" to "ASSIMILATE!" And not in a "conform to society's norms" kinda way. A "Resistance is USELESS!" type way. Good catch on that one.
 

GonzoLeaper

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As someone who gets somewhat amused by both the kinda disturbing and scary skits on Sesame Street, I can appreciate this thread. (But I more than likely would have been freaked out by a kid.) By the way, the Borg's quote is "Resistance is futile!" (Sorry- the Trekkie in me had to point that out- lol.:fanatic::concern:)
 

fuzzygobo

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Another one that didn't sit well with me was Ernie borrowing Herbert Birdsfoot's vacuum cleaner. It was so out of character for Ernie (only second season, still trial and error) to go from easygoing pal to raging psychopath.

I gather they were trying to teach (if they could never enforce) don't jump to conclusions or let your imagination run away with you. I think the subject was better handled a number of seasons later when Ernie misses Bert, then imagines Bert being kidnapped by monsters.

Here we get Ernie ripping poor innocent Herb a new one. I never found it funny, and the final shot of Herb's reaction, plus that "TOOOOIIIINNNGGGG!!!!!!!" used to push me over the cliff.

I can watch it now, but when I was little I'd turn the TV off. Not out of fear, but being put off by it.
 
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