Don’t Eat The Pictures! was a prime-time Sesame Street special from 1983 A.M.H (After Mr. Hooper). I don’t know why I’ve gone all “kiddie media” lately, but I gotta say I was uber-psyched to find this one.
The whole thing is up on YouTube, in eight parts, and I recommend it if you have an hour to kill. It’s truly a work of art, and I’m not just saying that because they’re at the art museum, because that would be really stupid and I’m above such Gene Shalitisms. Although, come to think of it, Shalit always reminded me of some sort of Muppet.
I think it’s fair to say that there have been four main eras of Sesame Street: Before Mr. Hooper Died, After Mr. Hooper Died, After Snuffy Was Real, and Stupid Elmo. If you really want to, you can add sub-divisions to these eras like “Afro Gordon,” “Bald Gordon,” “When Sabian Glover Was On The Show” and “After Maria Tried Luis’s Guacamole and they Got Hitched.” The period of time from 1981 to 1986 or so, when I was watching regularly, was a fairly tumultuous time on the street: Gordon got bald, Miles got adopted, Maria and Luis tied the knot, Snuffy became “real” to the adults, Mr. Hooper died, and David left under mysterious circumstances, replaced by Gina. Mmm… Gina. But I digress. The point is, this particular special aired right in the middle of my Sesame Street phase, and I got to stay up late to watch it, so of course it holds a dear place in my heart.
It’s fun to watch this special today and count the things they couldn’t do nowadays. For example, I’m sure that some stupid adult would complain about the kids being dragged through the museum that late by people who were not their parents. They might, for example, be exposed to naked people (as Telly is, at one point in the opening credits – we’ll get back to that in a moment) . Why, they even make fun of various cultures at one point, when David and two of his charges mimic the funny face on an ancient statue of some kind! How dare they fail to show proper respect for the Mayans or Chinese or whoever?
Then there’s Telly, who sees a particularly angst ridden statue of half-dressed people groping each other and… relates to it. Really. Because, see, Telly’s the worry wart, and that’s okay because we love him anyway, but a) oh that’s too negative for the kids and b) they’re naked. And they’re all men! Can you say “gay agenda?”
Speaking of which, Big Bird and Snuffy got some serious slash ship noise goin’ on here. “It’s a date,” says Big Bird. They really are very close. Oh, and Cookie is in his sugar junkie phase here, before it was decided that – blasphemy of blasphemies – he would deliver that nonsensical “cookies are a once-in-a-while food” talk. Bob seriously has to hold him down at one point and stop him eating a priceless still-life. Oh, and Egyptian mythology is discussed seriously, which would of course lead the kids of today to paganism and premarital hand-holding. Although it does lead to the following priceless bit of dialogue:
Prince: “That’s Osiris! He’s a lord of the underworld!”
Snuffy: “He’s a gangster?”
The thing about Sesame Street back in the day, as compared to Sesame Street nowadays, is that it didn’t treat kids with kid gloves. It wasn’t so worried about being constantly in-your-face sweet and educational, it had an edge. Oscar featured more prominently. There were characters your kids weren’t supposed to emulate, and they knew they weren’t supposed to emulate them (well, mostly), so it was okay for Cookie Monster to be a bad role model or for Oscar to tell people to “scram,” or for Telly to be endearingly neurotic. Big Bird and Snuffy could be sweet to each other, but ultimately be just friends. It wasn’t necessarily a more innocent time or a less innocent time, it was just a time that was less afraid to acknowledge things that were not necessarily innocent. If you ease kids into the adult world in this way, the shock is less profound and they can cope better. At least that’s what I think. I’m not a parent, so what would I know?
Anyway, the Sesame Street gang gets locked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art over night while looking for Big Bird, who’s looking for Snuffy, who everyone thinks is still his imaginary friend. The reason he’s “real” now, by the by, is that there were a lot of reports of kids being molested and they thought that if children saw adults not believing Big Bird, then they wouldn’t think adults would believe them if something happened. The kids, I mean. That’s a hard sentence to write, and it’s an even harder leap of logic to make. I mean, it didn’t stop Big Bird from trying to convince Gordon and Susan and everyone that Snuffy was real. But whatever.
Okay, so they’re in the art museum, and Snuffy and Big Bird find a little Egyptian boy who’s been cursed and has to stay on Earth forever until he figures out the answer to the easiest riddle in the world. But getting there is still fun, and Oscar sings a wonderful song about broken statues, and the title song still gets stuck in my head from time to time. Like I said, if you have an hour, it’s really worth the watching, especially if you have kids.
Oh, and check out this awesome example of early 80’s special effects:
I’m pretty sure this scared the crap out of me when I was four. And you know what? I emerged unscathed and stable. Your kids can be frightened when they’re small, and not be traumatized for life. Although this might explain my lifelong obsession with another PBS show from that time period…
Never mind. You really shouldn’t let your kids watch this at all.