Rest in peace, Bob
On the pinball count, the "Sesame Street" mission, and how to honor the life's work of children's performers by trying to make adults better through television
Bob McGrath, known by most simply as Bob from Sesame Street, has passed away at 90 years of age. Like so many of the cast members of the beloved children's show, he served humanity well by faithfully doing his job. And what a work history: Starting with the launch of the show in 1969 and remaining with it all the way until 2016.
■ "Sesame Street" may be a secular show, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to characterize its work as sacred. From it, children learn cognitive skills, like how to count to 12. But they also learn character traits like empathy and gratitude. A well-balanced life is, of course, a combination of both.
■ The open secret of Sesame Street's success is that, even from its beginnings, it has never tried to swim against the tide of children's attention. Instead, it has delivered good and valuable content using some of the same techniques that keep audiences interested in commercials. Even commercials for beer.
■ By focusing on a child-based mission, "Sesame Street" has been funded and supported for more than five decades and has achieved meaningful commercial success in its own right. But kids aren't the only ones who could stand to learn, growing both cognitively and emotionally.
■ It's an oversight worth correcting that we don't seem to have adult programs in the same mold as "Sesame Street". American adults, on average, watch an unfathomable 4 hours and 49 minutes of video per day. And much of what is viewed is either pointless or expressly detached from reality.
■ It is good, just, and right that we commit resources to creating good programs for children. To put on a show genuinely worth children's time takes good production work, talented performances, and above all, strong writing. But we ought to value adults' viewing time in the same way.
■ Learning ought to be life-long, and so should the quest to become more gracious, honorable, and decent towards one's fellow human beings. That's a process that doesn't end at preschool. We ought to have full faith that it's possible (and necessary) to put on the same quality and tenor of programming for adults that we expect out of the Sesame Workshop and its productions for children.
■ Just as "Sesame Street" makes it effortless for kids to learn and grow, so should at least some programming do for grown-ups. As Bob McGrath observed, "The kids we were meant to reach, I think we've reached. They've grown up." But they're still watching television, and they still have room to grow. It would be a fitting way to honor to his memory if some of the spirit he embodied in his performances for little people found its way to influencing big people, too.