When people ask me what my future career goals are, I have a very simple answer. I’d like to go back to school and get a PhD in Muppetology. Yes, the study of Muppets.
I have had a long time interest in not just collecting Muppet memorabilia, but also researching the history and impact of the work of Jim Henson.
Documentarian David Van Taylor’s “When Muppets Dream of Peace” (which has been in production for a while) is apparently hitting the press rounds, though the movie isn’t due to come out until next fall.
The movie follows the production and collaboration of three of the Middle Eastern Sesame Street shows, known together as Sesame Stories, and aimed at Israelis (Sippuray Sumsum), Palestinians (Hikayat Simsim-Palestine), and Jordanians (Hikayat Simsim- Jordan).
They are separate from the series that were limited to local audiences, such as the 1980s Rechov Sumsum, which is familiar to many American Jews. They are also distinct from the Rechov Sumsum-Shara’a Simsim joint show for Israeli and Palestinian children, which had to cancel productions after the Second Intifada.
As Sesame Workshop describes the cooperative effort:
Sesame Workshop and a dedicated group of Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian co-production partners have joined together to create Sesame Stories, a multimedia project that promotes messages of respect and understanding to young children in the Middle East. The three separate versions have some unique and some shared elements so that Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian children view specific segments formatted to address their specific cultural and linguistic needs. The Israeli production has a special emphasis on the Arab population within Israel. (MORE)
But this is far from the first time that Muppets have been used to try to promote peace, tolerance, and understanding globally.
In 1989, Fraggle Rock became the first Western show to air in the Soviet Union. It is no coincidence that the show centers around three classes: the working Doozers, the giant and powerful Gorgs, and the Fraggles, left in the middle to help the other two groups get along. Many Muppet scholars speculate that the show was a calculated attempt bring American democracy to the youngsters of the USSR, with the hopes of inspiring them and showing a different way of life.
Sesame Street, today shown in more than 120 countries, shows a group of diverse inhabitants (Muppets, monsters, and humans) who have their differences, but in the end find a way to live together in peace. No one character is more important than any other.
It is the hope of the show to share this kind of society with children across the globe who many not live in countries where this is a reality of life. By planting the message of democracy into the growing minds of children around the world, one can be wishful and hopeful that a new generation of world citizens, conscious of the possibility of a peaceful world might emerge.
Muppets aren’t just child’s play. Trust me on this one.