Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Sesame Street, with Electric Company

On today's cable television services in the Philippines, there are at least 10 channels devoted to children. Practically all of them transmit foreign-produced cartoons, including the now very popular Japanese anime, even translated and voiced in Pilipino.

But in pre-cable, late-'70s Philippine television, there were no channels exclusively for cartoons or exclusively for children. Locally produced shows for children were few and far between.

Two award-winning US shows, however, stand out in the memories of Filipino children (and children-at-heart).

"Impressions," TV Times, 29 January-4 February 1978


That tender feeling of suddenly becoming less than what one really is, of forcibly getting bumped off and made immobile while the whole world spins crazily out of reach, is not exactly a beautiful state of mind. But it can be the perfect setting for fantasy and imagination. And both compose the stuff on which the Children's Television Workshop feeds.

For are not flights--those flights often hardly touched by the prosaic and pressure-packed lives of elder minds and beaten hearts--the sole province of the child (and the childlike)? For one hour and 30 minutes of each day (not counting repeats), Sesame Street and The Electric Company offer a tempting threshold into a special world recommended for both young and old, perhaps more so for the last than the first.

I am not, of course, forgetting that in sheer technical ingenuity, creativity, and excellence, nothing on television today can beat both shows. A few years back, when I was still engaged in the production of public affairs programs for television, one of the men (in the production crew) came up with the brilliant idea of dubbing sequences from Sesame Street and putting them together as support footage for an episode on preschool education for one of our weeklies. Naturally, the idea was snubbed to death immediately after birth. But I can understand how the idea came about.

In local production experience, Sesame Street and The Electric Company are simply mind-boggling: perfect timing, flawless rhythm, ingenious special effects, beautiful color, inimitable syncopation. It is gloss and supergloss, seemingly straight out of the Hollywood mold but with a difference--weight, substance, what we call heavy meat for hungry minds.

Every idea is imaginatively expressed, ingeniously designed, creatively implemented. Flowers come to life, an imaginary helicopter ride becomes a great experience, bees almost sting, one wishes one could sing, and indeed one does. And while the two-year-old beside me watches with wide, entranced eyes, repeating words she could catch, her eyes looking up at me as I supplied those words she could not, I am child once again, exploring a world almost lost, half-forgotten, but now remembered, rediscovered.

The effects of the two shows on Filipino children of preschool and school age, I leave to academicians who test and synthesize, to theoreticians who evolve principles and philosophies. I shall not join the debate on whether locally produced versions of both shows would suit the Filipino child better, on whether both shows produce socially dislocated and educationally alienated children who must enter Filipino schools and learn that Bantay is no Big Bird, that Pepe and Pilar can hardly measure up to Bert and Ernie, that there is no version of the Cookie Monster in Filipino books and stories, only in Western minds. My little girl is growing up delightfully bilingual and so I am not bothered by guilt feelings about a national language, or the lack of it.

Without a doubt, when the tender feeling of being so out-of-it-all and so out-of-ourself vanishes, when I can again jump on to the feverish whirl of the rest of the world, I shall take up problematics and raise flags and causes once more, with even greater feeling. But for this one brief moment, allow me to be childlike again.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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