Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
Sesame Street, despite a ceremony Wednesday that suggested otherwise, is not at 63rd and Broadway in Manhattan.
It always has and always will belong to the people in the outer boroughs. The powers that be did a huge disservice by claiming Sesame Street’s location is in Manhattan. Not least of which because the actual show is filmed out of Kaufman Studios in Astoria and the majority of its recurring street scenes are in Queens.
Sesame Street is Pelham Bay and Old Mill Basin. It’s Flushing and Bed Stuy, Riverdale and Laurel Hill. Sesame Street is a tight-knit neighborhood with people (and puppets) of all colors and creeds. They sit on stoops on warm summer evenings and get yelled at by grouchy residents who live in beaten-up garbage bins barely large enough to fit them. None of that sounds like Manhattan.
Nowhere in the beloved decades-old show do you see the soulless steel and concrete high rises. If Sesame Street was set just north of Midtown, you’d have Muppets power-walking for a $12 cardboard-rivaling panini. They’d spend their 30-minute TV slot stepping over homeless people they pretend not to see as they zoom by with grim countenances in pinstripe suits or Patagonia fleeces toward drab corporate cubicles.
The dialogue would focus on who has more to-dos, and how they’re too busy to make it to their vacation home in the Hamptons, which they haven’t been to in “forever.” There’d be the episode about the one time Big Bird took an Uber that accidentally went through the Midtown Tunnel and they’d wind up in Queens and Big Bird would exclaim, “My god! Where ARE we? We’re so far from the city, we’re practically on a farm!”
Sesame Street is Jackson Heights and Mexican Thanksgiving with Rosita and her guitar. It’s crazy Mr. Noodle and his Jewish clan in Boro Park. It’s about low-rise brownstones with no elevators. And neighbors who know each other by name. Sesame Street has a BODEGA!
Sesame Street is about having to rent a Zipcar to take a ride to the country for the day to breathe some clean air and learn where our milk comes from (buzzkill: it comes from a cow’s udder). In fact, Sesame Street has a segment called “Monster Foodies” about exactly this (except they don’t rent a Zipcar, they drive a food truck, of course).
Granted, certain parts of the outer boroughs now sport more and more glass and steel high-rises, thanks to skyrocketing gentrification. Or perhaps the grand announcement that Sesame Street was named in Manhattan is just another obvious signpost along the road we’re paving to 1% hell. Sesame Street’s move of its first-run episodes from the democratizing public PBS to the premium pay channel HBO (PBS viewers can still get episodes months later) was the first indication that not all toddlers are created equal.
Those of us who had endless access to Big Bird’s social lessons and Oscar’s mercurial moods and Bert and Ernie’s love affair in the ‘70s and ‘80s and ‘90s were also the generation that had access to more of New York City, in all its glum and glory. The elite was always there, but so was everyone else, the old vets in their SROs and the single moms who could actually scrape to get by without the threat of life with kids in a transient and dangerous homeless shelter.
Mayor de Blasio, you don’t eat your pizza with a knife and fork, and you don’t look for Sesame Street in Manhattan.
Sesame Street is black and brown (and yellow and red and blue). Sesame Street is Latino and Asian and autistic and poor. Sesame Street celebrates Diwali and Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan and Chinese New Year.
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Those not from New York equate New York City and Sesame Street with Manhattan only because they know no better, and those who grew up in the boroughs claim Sesame Street is in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. The only thing everyone can agree on is that Sesame Street is not in Staten Island.
So, the next time someone asks you, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” tell them you’re not sure, but it’s certainly not through Manhattan.