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2blogs1topic: Sesame Goes to Gaza?

November 2, 2009

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Big Bird and his pals are trying hard to get access to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to talk about peaceful conflict resolution and carry out some Muppet Diplomacy, Sesame Street announced on Wednesday.

“We know that it’s an extremely volatile area, but we also feel that it’s really important that we take these step forward to promote self esteem for Palestinians,” said Gary Knell, president of the Sesame Workshop, the educational organisation behind the popular children’s series.

So spoke the Associated Press. Big Bird, Television and the Gaza Strip – there was no way we were going allow this gem to slip by unnoticed here at ewz. But how to interpret? Well we asked thefilthyviewer and sysh, our very own Bert and Ernie, to each give their own quick

take, in the inaugural feature of what we are going to henceforth call 2blogs1topic.

Sesame Street resists!

Sesame St. resists!


I’m sorry but this is just problematic on a number of levels.

The first problem is Sesame Street’s desire to focus on “peaceful conflict resolution.” It assumes that the Palestinians have not used such methods in the past and that if they did things would be better for everyone. Non-violent action has been part and parcel of Palestinian resistance to the Zionist colonial project since 1948. The stance of Knell (the production company) is typical of the ignorance and stereotypical perspective in that the Palestinians only resort to violence and need to be taught civility.

Sesame St: Are you sure you want that photo-op?

The notion of peaceful conflict resolution is absurd in the context of Gaza, whose population faces collective punishment, malnutrition, and violence perpetrated by Israel. Israel is the aggressor, and an ideology based on Zionism does not leave room for peaceful conflict resolution. This does not mean that Hamas’ own programs directed towards children that utilize language of resistance are correct. However, the idea of resistance is not being somehow manufactured by Hamas. It is rooted in the experience of the occupation and the continual subjugation of the Palestinians by the Israelis and no show, even Sesame Street, will ever eliminate that. If Sesame Street was truly concerned about the physical and mental well-being of Palestinian children should it not take a strong stance on the occupation?

The second problem with this project for me is its association with Fatah who are seen by many Palestinians as corrupt collaborators, and places the project into the ongoing political battle for influence playing out between Hamas and Fatah. Certain notions of resistance are becoming de-legitimized, and this seems to me, a soft form of propaganda to persuade the Palestinians to give up what tool they do have while not placing the same demand for “peaceful conflict resolution” on to the Israelis. There is nothing wrong with emphasizing cooperation and dialogue, yet cooperation and dialogue need to take into consideration power-dynamics and the basic inequality of strength.

Finally this ties in with my other issue with Sesame Street in particular. A number of mainstream news organizations reported in 2003 that the U.S. military repeatedly played the Sesame Street theme song in order to torture its prisoners in Iraq and Gitmo. For an institution that speaks of respect and dignity of everyone in its educational programs to have been silent to the fact that a part of its brand was used in such a way poses serious questions, at least for me, about the legitimacy of any of its future projects. There is a sense of responsibility that was lost in that silence that in turn weakens the seriousness of its message.

Will the program taken into consideration and be respectful of the experiences of the children living under the dismal environment of Gaza? Maybe – but probably not. Beaming a television program to an occupied conflict zone may offer a moment’s reprieve, but it is, in the end, illusory. Building the ‘self-esteem’ of Palestinians is a noble cause, but this can only hit the wall of death, despair, and destruction that is a part of basic Palestinian experience. This act is just a distraction, though it does give me an excuse like the below picture.


Filthyviewer offers us three basic arguments to oppose the good people(/muppets) of Sesame beaming their message of goodwill into Gaza, and I offer a counter to each of them, namely: (i) the fact that the US army used the theme song of Sesame Street (SS) as a tool of torture should not stand in the way of looking at SS as a valuable and educational children’s programme, (ii) the PA’s political reputation for corruption and conflict with Hamas should not be factored into their decision to want to broadcast the show in Gaza, and (iii) SS will offer perspective, escapism, and a deeper understanding of resistance through self-awareness that is sorely lacking in mainstream expressions of resistance in Gazan society.

First up, while for sure the idea of using the opening sequence of a children’s show as a mechanism of torture during war is sick, it has little to do with the show itself. The reason it was used was because the theme song is so.damn.annoying. That’s it, simple. Should SS have spoken out against the usage of their show as a tool of torture? Well, maybe in a world where SS were not concerned with its image and view-figure then maybe it should have. Unfortunately, this sort of reasoning forgets that SS has an image to protect by not saying anything that could be deemed controversial. Ultimately, it is a show for children, with the aim of edutainment.

Secondly, the PA may be a corrupt organization, but does that mean we should thwart any and every initiative associated with the PA, even if it includes trying to assist in the broadcasting of a television show to children? Let us forget for a moment that there is the question of whether anything covered by SS will be of relevance to a child in a war zone suffering from a lifetime of occupation, if the PA want to broadcast a children’s show that aims to momentarily distract kids from their experiences of oppression and merciless fighting, why exactly are we complaining?

To say that broadcasting SS will in any way contribute to the de-politicization of Gazan youth is to misunderstand the nature of resistance itself. It is not a one-dimensional equation of occupation + brainwashing = resistance. Powerful and successful resistance must have a broader grasp of the social structure of oppression, including an idea of what emancipation looks like.

And SS is a potentially emancipatory tool precisely because it offers a view of an un-oppressed childhood—something no child in Gaza has ever experienced. It shows a more complex angle, where things are not black or white but deep and varied shades of gray.

Understanding your oppressor is one step to a deeper understanding of your oppression, and can unfold a more nuanced understanding of resistance that goes beyond anti-Semitic slogans and suicide bombing, which are an undeniably part of the current mechanisms through which children are taught about resistance. can show this, and could potentially create a generation of Gazans that are well-rounded, multi-dimensional, and self-aware. But no, you’re right, I mean obviously we should oppose that.

Children don’t need lessons on the slogans of resistance, and they definitely don’t lack an understanding of oppression—in Gaza, every day is a struggle, and one is consistently reminded of the shackles Israel has placed on Palestinian hands and feet. What is lacking, however, are (a) fleeting moments of childhood, where children can relax and enjoy their youth, and (b) perspective. Both of these are essential ingredients to healthy child development. The introduction of SS into the lives of Gazan children has the potential to offer both.


So, there we are, 2blogs1topic– which side are you on?

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