What is Child-Appropriate? (Katy Perry’s Dress on Sesame Street)

I never thought I would be writing about the appropriateness of Katy Perry’s anything. I have however written about how I thought that many products directed at children are not age-appropriate (such as movie tie-ins: The Batmobile has two wheels and the Joker stole a schoolbus: tyke Dark Knight books are Two-Faced transmedia storytelling). But anything negative Muppet-bound? Never!

This is the supposedly offending video — Katy Perry singing new lyrics to her song Hot and Cold with Elmo:

The PBS odbudsman in a blog post called “Was This Show a Must or a Bust(ier)?” describes the situation as

[Katy Perry] was dressed in a short, lime-green outfit and pronounced bustier on top that was widely characterized, and seen, as low cut; not movie star low cut, but low cut….

Sesame Street is not just any other children’s program; it is an iconic broadcast, often brilliant, provocative at times, and it does exist on multiple levels with parents watching along with their children. My guess is that another inch of dress on top would have produced a slightly more modestly dressed Perry and an entertaining segment that would not have produced this embarrassing controversy.

And the video was described in the New York Times as “suggestive”. I’m always surprised by what is child inappropriate, while others items are child-appropriate (such as the KidzBop re-recordings of popular songs, such as Lady Gaga’s Alejandro).

But my present favorite “child-appropriate” example is Beyonce’s Single Ladies, which despite the fact that “it” is not defined — in a similar way to “it” not being defined in Faith No More’s “Epic”– is a song about … rejecting returned interest in a sexual relationship after a breakup. Yet this song has been recorded by children for KidzBop 18 and was used in the movie and commercials for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (MPAA rating: PG). And there is also the infamous 8-to-10 year olds gymnastics routine (no, I won’t link to it — but their parents thought it was appropriate).

But I digress from the most important issue — What makes the Muppets appropriate? They have had a wide variety of guest stars over the years, including those with careers that *are* controversial and intended for adults, like Ice-T, Amy Sedaris, Richard Pryor, and Jenny McCarthy. Especially at Jim Henson’ s birthday, it is important to remember that standards for appropriateness in childrens’ programming has changed over time. When classic Sesame Street was put on DVD, there was a warning stating that the classic show wasn’t really for today’s modern child.

Some of my favorite Sesame Street and Muppet Show clips would be considered way more controversial if they were created now — including some of my favorites: “Would you like to buy an O” and Rita Moreno’s Emmy-award version of “Fever” (also sung by Miss Piggy more recently).

But what I am the most shocked by is not a still modestly-covered (by present standards) singer singing her horrible song, but by the Sesame Street True Blood parody, also recently released. But without controversy. There is no reason why *any* preschooler/kindergardener should know anything about this very violent (including sexual violence) show.

And perhaps that is the overall message to kids complaining parents want — We don’t want our kids to know breasts exist on adult women? (I’m assuming most preschoolers have seen breastfeeding!), but parodies of violence and violent imagery is fine? After all, an allusion to Apocalypse Now was used in the halloween special for “Monsters vs. Aliens”.

And that, at least according to me, is an inappropriate use of monsters in a way this Elmo kerfuffle just isn’t.


3 thoughts on “What is Child-Appropriate? (Katy Perry’s Dress on Sesame Street)

  1. Pretty much any time we hear people arguing about “inches” of clothing what they’re actually saying is “women’s bodies are corrupting influences that cause other people to do evil things.” Which is total crap and not defensible in any way.

    Perry even said she wore “dress-up clothing” so it should be clear to the kids watching that this is a special outfit, not street clothing. Kids learn that different clothing is appropriate for different occasions very young so if anything, her annoyance that she dressed up for one game and is now being asked to do something else should reinforce the idea of dressing appropriately for what you’re doing. That seems like the sort of thing parents should appreciate since it might lead to less stubborn tutu wearing to school.

  2. In regard to TrueBlood and Apocalypse now references. I don’t believe these are directed at the childhood audience. And I agree with you that children shouldn’t know anything about them. I don’t agree with your underlying assumption that children DO know anything about them however. Sesame Street is a show that is regularly puts in references to things that will be recognized by adult audiences. This is because the creators of the show realized that children aren’t watching Sesame Street alone. Most of the time, their parents are watching the show with them. I watched a Halloween episode and Cookie Monster came on announcing “Welcome to MONSTERpiece Theater! I am your host, Alastair Cookie.” and then later The Count came on announcing “I am Vincent Twice, Vincent Twice.” I would be VERY surprised if any child knew who Masterpiece Theater was, or that Alastair Cook hosted it for decades, or who Vincent Price was. These are things not geared towards the child but their parent.

    I think that your right, that most children won’t know what Apocalypse Now is. But ALL of their parents will.

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