Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guess what Elmo's thinking about today? Wait, wait, don't tell me . . .

I'm a big-time NPR fan. "Morning Edition" in the morning and "All Things Considered" in the afternoon, "Fresh Air" whenever I can catch it, "This American Life" on the weekend, I'll even listen to "Car Talk" and enjoy it despite not knowing a thing about cars beyond getting from point A to point B. And one of my favorites is the quirky news quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". I love it all, and have given regularly to several stations over the years. Call me a latte liberal if you will, but NPR is most definitely a staple of my life. I feel incomplete unless I've played along with puzzle master Will Shortz on Sunday's Weekend Edition.

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 Denis Leary, and Sesame Street was the topic:

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.

And cue more laughter, and then they moved on.

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 Denis Leary, and might even, if pressed, admit to having a bit of a geeky audio crush on Peter Sagal, rivaled only by my other radio boyfriend, Ira Glass. I wouldn't say I'm furious about it, either - irritated, yes, but it was just a passing exchange. Perhaps it's even a bit of a stretch to call it a 'dig', maybe it's nothing more than a bit of juvenile squeamishness. I'm not calling out the lactivist dogs, asking for a boycott or even a letter-writing campaign. It's not like they're working some anti-breastfeeding agenda, it was just a thoughtless moment. But thoughtless as it was, it's also a revealing moment, and really goes to show, despite some higher initiation rates, just how backasswards we've become about it all today.

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 Katy Perry's cleavage earlier this year), and that would be only if the Buffy/Maria segment were re-broadcast or reproduced: mother nursing baby, unapologetically but still quite discreetly. Can you imagine if it were taken a step 'further', as it was in yet another 70's children's show?

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).



Hi everybody! Welcome to Elmo's World! Elmo's so glad to see you. And so is Dorothy! Say hello, Dorothy!

[Close-up on Dorothy's fish bowl. Elmo giggles.]



Nursing. You know, nursing!

[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.]


That's it, Ms. Noodle! You did it! Yay!

[Ms. Noodle sits back in a a rocking chair, happily nursing away. The shade closes.]


That was neat. She figured it out! Now Elmo wants to ask a baby. Hi baby!

[Camera pans left to a gurgling baby held in his mother's lap.]


Baby, how do YOU nurse?

[Straight to the point, baby latches on and demonstrates. Elmo laughs.]

Thanks baby! Now Elmo wants to learn more about nursing. How can Elmo learn even more?

[Close-up on Dorothy, with a statue of a Madonna and child in her bowl.]


Oh, that's right, Dorothy! We can ask the computer!

[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.]


Wow! There's all kinds of ways to nurse a baby. Do you think we can find out even more? How?

[The television starts bouncing around.]


Oh yeah! TV! Let's see what else there is to learn about nursing!

[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.]


Aww, that was so sweet. Elmo sometimes curls up with his mommy too!

[Knock on the door]


Hey, someone came to visit Elmo! Let's see who it is!

[BABY BEAR, his little sister CURLY BEAR, and MAMA BEAR enter.]


Hi Elmo! I understand you wewe cuwious about nuwsing! I though maybe my Mama Bear could answer some of your questions!


Sure, Elmo, ask anything you like!


You nurse Curly Bear?


That's right. It's really good for both of us. [Curly begins nursing.]


Is it hard to do, making milk?


It can take some getting used to, and sometimes mommies need some help from other mommies, but once you get started and learn how, mamas' bodies just know how to do it!


And she used to nuwse me, too!


But Elmo doesn't understand. Elmo's seen Papa bear giving Curly Bear a bottle!


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!


That's amazing! Elmo loves nursing.


Me too!


(delatching): Me three!

[Everyone laughs.]


Yay nursing! Hooray for nursing! Let's all sing The Nursing Song!

[The piano bounces out, and they all jauntily sing "Nurse nurse nurse! Nurse nurse nurse!" to the tune of "Jingle Bells".]


Time to go now! Say goodbye Dorothy!

[Close-up on Dorothy's bowl.]


Good-bye everyone! Bye!

[Closing music.]


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?)


  1. Wow. I can ABSOLUTELY see the episode playing out JUST like that! LOL! Now the "Nursing Song" will be playing in my head all night :)

    But I completely agree with the being irritated part when I overhear educated, enlightened people (like those of us who listen to NPR, have crushes on Ira Glass, or who would participate as contestants on Wait Wait) saying things or acting in ways that are not particularly intelligent when it comes to breastfeeding (and childbirth, and diapers, and all the rest of it) or worse yet when they do that squeamish 4th grader thing and act grossed out. If my dad (a guy who really loves to stir up a room, inspire laughter, and be a tad crass) can tolerate me being a homebirther, breastfeeder and co-sleeper with grace and without breaking into crude jokes, then surely Mr Leary and Mr Sagal should be able to as well.

  2. I heard this the first time it was on. I was annoyed then and annoyed this weekend with the replay.

    (And, I am a big Wait, Wait...fan. I even have a mug of theirs.)

    Want to get even more annoyed with the show? Read this article by one of their panelists. She compares breastfeeding in public to a man wearing a Speedo to a Starbucks.

  3. This? AWESOME. I am going to send everyone here to read this!

  4. Exactly, Justine.

    MomTFH, hoo boy, I'm-a have to save that one for tomorrow. Argh. But I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one who got peeved by that!

    Honestly, though? I still want that "Street Gang" book, though I worry that my image of the Sesame Street human residents as thoroughly kind, wholesome, loving people will be damaged. What if Bob turns out to be a megalomaniac? Or Luis an abusive drunk? I'm not sure my inner child can take it.

  5. You're awesome. I am so glad that I'm
    Not the only one who has imagined an elmo's world about nursing :) I think it's a great idea. And there's absolutely nothing risqué or nasty about it (though I'm sure others would disagree) I think it is important that children, even whose moms formula feed, are educated about nursing. Who better than Elmo to get the message out there sigh, we can always dream!!

  6. Thanks Jenn! Maybe I'll get a puppet show together to produce this for YouTube. (And then I'll REALLY get my pants sued right the heck off!)

  7. Remember the "You're My Baby" video on Sesame Street that showed breastfeeding babies? They remade the video with only bottle feeding babies. Boo Sesame Street! :(

  8. My Elmo-obsessed two year old nursling would LOVE that!

  9. Realizing this used to be the norm but would never fly anymore pisses me the hell off!

  10. Concerning the Elmo segment......wasn't it Mr. Noodle that got her in that predicament in the first place?

  11. Holy moly, that Mr. Rogers segment is amazing!!

    My crush on Peter Sagal is, like yours, still fairly healthy, but I was also irritated by "Wait Wait" when I first heard it, and MomTFH's link to Roxanne Roberts' editorial has suddenly dimmed a lot of my affection for her.

  12. Ahh yes, I remember hearing this show last year and feeling a similar outrage. (But hey--it prompted me to go and look up the YouTube video of Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfeeding her child on Sesame Street!)

    I must say, your Elmo script is just fabulous. Considering that alongside the Mad Men scene you wrote a few months back, I think that I want to see MORE send-ups from you! :-)

  13. I <3 Mr. Rodgers! Now more than ever! :)

  14. How am I just now seeing this? Gotta keep up on my interwebs. This=AWESOME.

  15. Ditto to the poster above - my 2 year old who loves nursing and loves Elmo would be positively giddy to see this segment! And I, too, can picture it in my head exactly like that. Soo cute!! <3

  16. Unfortunately, the Mr. Roger's video is now private :( I love the scene you've put together for Elmo's World!!!!

  17. Love your script! It is perfect!!! Sesame Street needs to wake up and make a change.