So I was surprised and frankly pretty annoyed to hear the following subtle dig against breastfeeding on "Wait, Wait" this past weekend. The guest of the moment, via phone, was
And cue more laughter, and then they moved on.
SAGAL: So we're going to ask you three questions about that landmark kid's show.
Mr. LEARY: Oh boy.
SAGAL: Taken from the new authoritative history of "Sesame Street," called "Street Gang" by Michael Davis.
Mr. LEARY: Okay.
SAGAL: All right. First question, as I'm sure you remember, or maybe you don't, "Sesame Street" was known for introducing kids to real world concepts in a gentle way.
Mr. LEARY: Uh-huh.
SAGAL: One of the notable early examples was an episode in which one of these things happened.
[Doul-la-la note: I already know what's coming.]
Was it A: Mr. Hooper's grocery store was vandalized? B: folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her baby right in front of Big Bird?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SAGAL: Or C: special guest star Elizabeth Taylor explained to Grover why she had had four different husbands?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEARY: Oh man, I'm going with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A?
Mr. LEARY: Yeah.
SAGAL: It was Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Mr. LEARY: I can't believe it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEARY: Really?
SAGAL: Yeah, she really was. She was a guest on the show for the first five seasons.
Mr. LEARY: Really?
SAGAL: They went through her pregnancy and the birth of her baby, off-screen I hope. And so she breastfed him on camera and Big Bird asked about it and eventually said, "You know, that's nice" said Big Bird.
[Dou-la-la notes: more laughter and disbelief here.]
Mr. LEARY: I can't believe Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her...
SAGAL: It's true.
Mr. FELBER: I can't believe Big Bird was okay with it.
Now really, I don't bring this up to bitch the regulars or the hosts of "Wait Wait" out. I really do love the show, I have nothing against
Here's the shocking segment:
Despite rendering Leary, Sagal, Felber et. al. shocked at the thought that Big Bird might be "okay" with observing a mammal feeding her young as nature designed, this was actually not the only time this was included on Sesame Street. The producers and writers apparently thought it was important and relevant enough to children that they included it again, years later, when principal actor Maria had her own baby, and they delivered essentially the same scene, with a child as the inquisitive party rather than Big Bird:
Now, I don't have the media archives to determine whether or not either of these caused waves of shock or outrage or anger or disgust among the parents of decades past. I've never heard of any major letter writing movement, and if a few viewers were disgruntled, I haven't heard anything about it. (That doesn't mean it didn't happen, so if anyone out there with access to Lexis Nexis wants to do me a favor and run some searches, I'd be grateful.)
But imagine that either Buffy or Maria did such a thing on Sesame Street today. What do you think would happen? How might the public react? With the advent of the internet, would the blogs and boards light up with frenzied debate over whether such a thing were appropriate? Would massive boycotts ensue? Would lawsuits be threatened and FCC fines be levied?
I would venture a pessimistic guess that all of the above would probably take place (note the furor over
Because on Mr. Rogers, there was once an absolutely beautiful segment on all kinds of animal mommies feeding all kinds of animal babies: kittens, calves, puppies, piglets, and humans. And in that segment, we not only see a human mother nursing, with the baby's head in the appropriate place, but we see her areola.
And not only her areola, but her NIPPLE.
And not only her nipple, but her nipple DRIPPING MILK.
And this happens twice!
Unfortunately, copyright restrictions have since made the video unavailable online, though one intrepid viewer managed to catch part of it. I prefer the full video, putting the humans in context with all other animals, and with Mr. Rogers' sweet introduction and closing words. But in a pinch, we at least have the most SHOCKING images, so I can at least prove I'm not making it up. Warning: aforementioned dripping nipple included:
Sorry if I've offended your delicate/momentarily juvenile sensibilities, Misters Sagal, Felber and Leary, should you happen to chance upon this - Mr. Rogers seemed 100% fine with it, in his quintessentially gentle and loving way.
Being me, of course, I wish PBS were in a position to bring these kinds of scenes back, though I realize today's kid requires a little more razzle-dazzle; say, in the form of a certain Red Menace (as he's known in our household). So, should any contemporary Sesame Street writers stumble across this, consider it a spec script for a new segment of Elmo's World (though those of you with littles know full well that once you know the format, it pretty much writes itself).
[Elmo opens the door to see an image of a human mother nursing her baby. Kazoo theme plays over montage of various mothers nursing their babies in various positions. Newborns, in slings, twins in the football hold, a mother pumping and then a baby being bottlefed the expressed milk, toddlers, closing with an image of a happy baby delatching with a milk-drunk grin.]
Elmo wants to know more about nursing. Let's ask Mr. Noodle! Oh Mr. Noodle!
[Window shade flies up to show Kristen Chenoweth in Noodle Family costume.]
Oh look! It's Mr. Noodle's sister, Ms. Noodle! Let's ask her. Hi Ms. Noodle!
[Ms. Noodle waves enthusiastically, cuddling a baby doll.]
Ms. Noodle, how do you nurse a baby?
[Ms. Noodle furrows her brow, then gets an idea. She pulls out a cell phone, makes a call, then goes to the door frame accept a pizza delivery. She takes out a piece and holds it to the baby's mouth as Elmo and his chorus of kids protests.]
No, no, Ms. Noodle, that's not how you nurse a baby! Babies need milk. Try it again!
[Ms. Noodle mouths the word "Milk?", then lights up again and exits. She reenters leading a cow on a rope, lays the baby doll beneath the cow, and begins to milk it, aiming the milk into the baby's face. Elmo and the peanut gallery protests again as the sound effect of a baby starting to cry begins playing.]
No, not like that either, Ms. Noodle! The baby wants milk from her mommy, not a baby cow's mommy! Keep trying!
[Ms. Noodle picks up the baby and tries to comfort her as she cries. In the process, the baby doll "roots" and eventually latches on. A look of happy understanding passes over Ms. Noodle's face as Elmo and the kids cheer their approval.]
[Ms. Noodle sits back in a a rocking chair, happily nursing away. The shade closes.]
[Camera pans left to a gurgling baby held in his mother's lap.]
[Straight to the point, baby latches on and demonstrates. Elmo laughs.]
[Close-up on Dorothy, with a statue of a
[Computer bounces around, and then opens up an email to Elmo from a 7 year old fan, with a shot of her riding her new bike with training wheels. She tells Elmo about her baby sister who was recently born and had to use a Lact-Aid supplementer for a little while until her mama's milk came in all the way. "It was kind of like using training wheel for my bicycle!" she says. "And now my mama can nurse without the Lact-Aid, and I can ride my bicycle all by myself." Closing shot shows the young fan riding down the street.]
[The television starts bouncing around.]
[The usual TV cartoon segment music begins playing, with the oddly brusque, matronly woman narrating. She tours a zoo, showing all the baby animals being nursed by their mommies, and ends by singing a song about all the animals sleeping with their mommies close by.]
[Knock on the door]
[BABY BEAR, his little sister CURLY BEAR, and MAMA BEAR enter.]
Is it hard to do, making milk?
Well, he does, sometimes. I can't always be with Curly, so I pump some of my milk ahead of time and store it in a bottle so Papa Bear can feed her too. That way Curly always has healthy mama's milk to eat!
[The piano bounces out, and they all jauntily sing "Nurse nurse nurse! Nurse nurse nurse!" to the tune of "Jingle Bells".]
I can dream, can't I?
* Photo of Lucy Lawless is from when she was poster woman for World Breastfeeding Week. (Can you dig the potency of Xena's breastmilk?)