Pseudo-bi-curious and newly “Brand-ed” singing sensation Katy Perry re-made a video of her hit song “Hot N Cold” with her very ticklish friend Elmo. (Sound dirty yet?) But Perry didn’t dress the part, according to parents, and the infamous clip will only make it as far as the Internet.
That’s right. PBS staple Sesame Street, known for incorporating celebrities and making pop culture parodies, has retreated after parental outrage over Perry’s cleavage, and kicked the scantily clad neighbor out of the hood. For good? We’ll see. But let’s review what went wrong the first time.
This year marks the 41st anniversary of the street and producers are pulling out all the stops. Stars like Jude Law and Will.i.am are rumored to be stopping by to help celebrate four decades of educational awesomeness. And so was Katy Perry, until somebody remembered what Katy Perry looked like.
Sesame Street works on multiple levels, entertaining a vast audience, including grown-ups. But keeping parents sane with relevant and topical programming can sometimes cause them to act insane. Sure, adults may know Katy Perry as a gyrating California Gurl, overpowering Snoop Dogg with a whipped-cream brassiere. But the kids only know her as “Miss Katy”—Elmo’s friend who stopped by to play dress up.
Speaking of innocence, kids don’t know that breasts are sexual. Sorry parents, that’s on you. This is merely a case of one’s reputation preceding themselves. Britney Spears never visited Sesame Street. But if she had, a similar controversy might have ignited over her appearance. Just because society hyper-sexualizes pop stars and commodifies the female form doesn’t mean that children associate bare skin with sex. And if they do? Again, sorry parents, that’s on you.
What’s most disappointing is that “Hot N Cold” song was made to teach opposites. I haven’t seen a muppet remake that clever since The Beetles sang about the letter B. (Get it?) And Katy Perry is adorable. She almost upstages Elmo. Maybe that’s what this is really about?
Elmo was interviewed on CBS’s The Early Show, along with Sesame Street’s executive producer, Carol-Lynn Parente, to explain their position. When asked if she thought Perry was dressed inappropriately, Parente said this:
“If we had had a sweater on set, or maybe one of Bert’s turtlenecks, it might have changed the feedback a little bit…”
Ultimately, the producers were carrying out the will of the parents.
But that was hardly the end of it. Last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was hosted by Amy Poehler, with musical guest Katy Perry. Can we say fate? Since leaving the show, Poehler stars in NBC’s Parks and Recreation and hosts the online show Smart Girls as the Party. Both revel in feminist humor, which is why I have a sneaking suspicion that she was responsible for this brilliant sketch.
Poehler was the host of a talk show, called “Bronx Beat,” and Perry played Maureen; a teen volunteer who reads books to kids at the library. But Maureen’s having some trouble. It seems the library had asked her to wear looser clothing, because she “really developed over the summer,” emphasized by her character T-shirt, stretching Elmo’s face across her chest.
“Looks like today’s show is brought to you by the number 38 and the letter DD,” cracked Poehler.
But Maureen confesses that she’s really embarrassed by the situation, which has Poehler and her co-host, played by Maya Rudolph encouraging-- “Never be embarrassed about your body.”
Rudolph conveys Bronx-style-wisdom when she rationalizes, “boobs feed babies.”
Poehler also offers a street-smart analysis of cultural perspectives of nudity, while Rudolph publicly questions the nation’s inane practice of keeping the human body off TV while violence is abundant. Both are dead on. And hilarious.
While I am grateful that Perry had a timely opportunity to retaliate, I am saddened by the obvious hypocrisy of my favorite childhood show. Sesame Street isn’t about treating people differently or giving any weight to the way a person looks. Some of their most important lessons focus on diversity and tolerance, and just being yourself. And really parents—if you haven’t learned that yet, for the last time, that’s on you.