S is for Scandal! Sesame Street has been a mainstay of children’s programming for 50 years, but that has not made the show immune from controversy.
Here’s a look at controversies that have rocked the show:
Old Episodes Are for ‘Adults Only’
When Sesame Street released Sesame Street: Old School, it came with a warning, “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”
The New York Times asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the show’s executive producer, about what made the show unsuitable for children. She brought up Cookie Monster’s turn as Alistair Cookie in the parody “Monsterpiece Theater” which saw him with a pipe he eventually gobbled. “That modeled the wrong behavior so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
The outlet also mentions Oscar the Grouch “seems irredeemably miserable” in the premiere and takes advice from “hippies.”
According to Insider, the episodes also featured children who “played in construction sites and jumped on old box springs.”
Controversial Muppets Were Removed From the Show
Franklin Roosevelt was Sesame Street’s first Black Muppet and a popular one at that. He was the first star to get a full album, The Year of Roosevelt Franklin, dedicated to him.
Yet, he was viewed as a “harmful stereotype” according to Insider. The Hollywood Reporter wrote about the character, writing complaints came in that “the rowdy little guy was a poor role model for young black males; others thought he wasn’t authentically black.”
In 1975, he was taken off-air.
The composer puppet, Don Music, too was “evicted.” The muppet was known for his literal headbanging, hitting his head on his piano out of frustration when writing songs.
Soon the action was being mimicked by children.
“We would never do something like that now because the research shows we have to help kids with self-regulation skills,” Rosemarie Truglio, Sesame Street’s senior VP of curriculum and content, told The Hollywood Reporter. As she added, “Banging your head is not an effective way to cope with your emotions.”
Mr. Snuffleupagus Was Made Real Over Worries of Silencing Sexual Assault Survivors
Mr. Snuffleupagus was just Big Bird’s imaginary friend when he premiered on Sesame Street in 1971. The yellow bird often proclaimed he was not hallucinating, but no one believed him.
After concerns about what message could send to children, the character now affectionately known as Snuffy became visible to all.
“All this was really stemming from a specific set of incidences in the news, claims of sexual abuse going on in some daycare centers, and kids being questioned about what was going on,” Parente told Mental Floss about the motivation behind his reveal. “The fear was that if we represented adults not believing what kids said, they might not be motivated to tell the truth. That caused us to rethink the storyline: Is something we’ve been doing for 14 years—that seemed innocent enough—now something that’s become harmful?”
Fans Worried the Cookie Monster Would Become the ‘Veggie Monster’
It’s in the name: Cookie Monster. The blue muppet with an appetite for crunchy sweets turned to vegetables in 2005 to address childhood obesity.
“A cookie can be scrumptious, crunchy, sweet or yumptious, but a cookie is a ‘sometimes food,’” sang his friend. He added, “There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are healthy for you all the time.”
This prompted backlash from fans who worried he was becoming the “Veggie Monster.” So much so, that the blue man himself took to Twitter to address the controversy, tweeting, “Cookie Monster: Time to put end to rumors. YES, me eat vegetables. NO, not going to be called Vegetable Monster! Dis whole thing silly.”
The ‘Sesame Street’ YouTube Channel Was Hacked With Porn
The Wrap reported the Sesame Street YouTube channel was hacked and replaced with “hardcore pornography.” The streaming site soon intervened, removing the offending videos.
“We apologize for any inconvenience our audience may have experienced on our Sesame Street YouTube channel,” Sesame Workshop addressed the controversy in a statement. “Our channel was compromised and we worked with YouTube/Google to restore our original content. We always strive to provide age-appropriate content for our viewers.”
Katy Perry’s Appearance Was Pulled
Katy Perry filmed a segment with Elmo in 2010, but Sesame Street received complaints about her wardrobe for being too revealing.
In response, the show’s producers released a statement reading in part, “In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video, which was released on YouTube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of ‘Sesame Street,’ which is aimed at preschoolers.”
According to Insider, Perry took it in stride tweeting, “Wow, looks like my play date with Elmo has been cut short!”
Oscar the Grouch Was Accused of Mocking Fox News
In 2009, Sesame Street was accused of mocking Fox News in a skit featuring Oscar the Grouch. The curmudgeonly character ran the Grouchy News Network, in opposition to Pox News, with a character calling in to say, “From now on I am watching Pox News. Now there is a trashy news show.”
It was not a far leap for some viewers to see it as a dig on Fox News.
According to The Week, a PBS representative responded to the criticism by saying that ‘although the parody was ‘too good to resist,’ it ‘should have been resisted.’”
There Have Been Many Questions Surrounding Bert & Ernie
Speculation has long surrounded Bert and Ernie, with many wondering if the two are more than just friends.
ABC reported the root of the rumors may lie with Kurt Anderson who said, “Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.”
But, Sesame Street wants fans to know the two are simply roommates. They said in a statement, “Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”
Bert’s Ties to the Taliban
Dino Ignacio is the creator of the Bert is Evil site, which sees the muppet added into images with “notorious people and infamous historical scenes,” according to Snopes.
An image of Bert with Osama Bin Laden eventually made its way onto real signs of pro-Taliban protestors, as seen in a photo captured by Reuters. An editor from the outlet’s photo desk confirmed the authenticity, telling Wired, “It is in the original image, though I couldn’t say how it got there. It wasn’t hacked.”
“Yesterday a lot of you alerted me to a picture of a Taliban propaganda poster with Bert! Reality is imitating the Web! I am honestly freaked out! Holy s***!” Ignacio wrote on his website. He later wrote to Wired in an e-mail, “My theory is that the Taliban have Internet too. And I think Bert is universal enough to appeal to them, too.”
The Bert is Evil site is no longer live.