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Sesame Street's HIV positive Muppet
July 11, 2002 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Sesame Street's HIV positive Muppet The next season of the South African version of Sesame Street will feature a female muppet who has HIV.

We want to show that here is an HIV-positive member of our community who you can touch and interact with.
posted by Foaf (34 comments total)

 
But Bert and Ernie aren't gay.

Liars.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:36 PM on July 11, 2002


[snarky mode]
I suspect most of the "40 percent of women of child-bearing age [who are] are infected with HIV" aren't gay either.
[/snarky mode]

I think this is a good idea. I wonder how well such a character would play in the States, given the recent ranting over gay children characters by religious zealots.
posted by MJoachim at 4:55 PM on July 11, 2002


Given the number of kids who are now infected or are likely to be infected from birth, this is an excellent idea. It's horrifying and heartbreaking to think that it's necessary, though.
posted by Dreama at 5:06 PM on July 11, 2002


Really?
Will we get to see the muppet die because it can't afford the life sustaining drugs held just out of it's little felt hands by the greedy pharmaceutical giants?
That should go over well.
"Today's Sesame Street has been brought to you by the color black, the stench of ozzing kaposi's sarcoma pustules, and the number 8,000... as in south african AIDS deaths per day."

Next on Blues Clues, we visit the Catholic church, where Archbishop Tim has some... apologies he'd like to make.
posted by dong_resin at 5:10 PM on July 11, 2002


Wow... what's next?
posted by nath at 5:13 PM on July 11, 2002


I wish the government would stop funding such a partisan group. Could you imagine the furor over funding of a conservative radio network?

Whoops, sorry. I meant to comment on the NPR post.
posted by Oxydude at 5:36 PM on July 11, 2002


I don't think I've got much to add to Dong's comment.

It's kind of interesting, though, from a cultural perspective. I'm willing to guess that there's probably not much chance this would have started in the US, even if there were a comparable number of infected people.
posted by Su at 5:58 PM on July 11, 2002


Are we also going to see the puppet getting aids as a result of being rapped while it's underaged since the assumption by the males in the community is that it must be safe to have sex with it? I mean, Isn't there a freakish fetish subculture that gets into seeing people have sex with stuffed animals?
posted by willnot at 6:40 PM on July 11, 2002


So there is no room for compassionate examples on children's television, Dong Resin? Life is rough, you get fucked by the people in power, you'll die a painful and horrific death, but that's certainly no reason for being treated like a human being? My words, not yours, but your comment is unclear.
posted by G_Ask at 6:44 PM on July 11, 2002


A sad sign of the times. But, needed nonetheless.
posted by Jessy at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2002


Why stop there? I'm sure there's also a market for cancer-ridden or tuberculous characters.

AIDS is awful, to be sure, but I think a lot of people have forgotten that there are a lot of other diseases around.
posted by clevershark at 7:13 PM on July 11, 2002


mr_c_d: isn't that a non-sequitur? What the... this is surreal! I'm actually discussing the health & sexuality of ... muppets.

Time for bed.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:28 PM on July 11, 2002


G_Ask: I don't think Dong objects to the character, but rather to the things that will very very likely just "not be spoken of" in regards to it. Like the incredibly expensive medication that's a simple fact of infection, if it's even made available to the person.

Clever: Yes, and somebody* might have Pityriasis Rosea right now, too. You're completely ignoring the sheer number that HIV represents where this character is originating. Are you aware of any other place where almost a full tenth of the population has the same(consolidating strains) disease?
posted by Su at 7:36 PM on July 11, 2002


Surely the muppet has MIV, not HIV.
posted by kindall at 7:37 PM on July 11, 2002


Clevershank, very good point. It is amazing the amount of money spent for research per infected person. Imagine if the same amount per capita was spent on cancer research or heart disease.
posted by Oxydude at 7:43 PM on July 11, 2002


It is amazing the amount of money spent for research per infected person. Imagine if the same amount per capita was spent on cancer research or heart disease.

The standard answer here is that AIDS is a communicable disease, and a large part of the money spent is used towards preventing the spread of the disease (through education, condoms, etc).

We now return you to your muppet-ational thread, already in progress...
posted by turaho at 7:58 PM on July 11, 2002


Oxydude -

In sub-Saharan Africa (where this show will be aired) AIDS is the leading cause of death. So, fine to work on cancer or heart disease, but that's not the #1 problem, AIDS is. Here's a good World Bank summary of the current problem.

If this show was being aired in the US, perhaps they'd have a heart disease Muppet (I think thats still the leading cause of death in the US). But in South Africa, it's AIDS.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:59 PM on July 11, 2002


Su did indeed more clearly state my whole feelings.
Thanks, Su.

Actually I was just using the muppet thing as an excuse to be annoyed with the whole issue of how AIDS patients are treated as "customers".
Sort of tangently concerned to the topic at hand, really.
posted by dong_resin at 8:21 PM on July 11, 2002


[snarky mode]
I suspect most of the "40 percent of women of child-bearing age [who are] are infected with HIV" aren't gay either.
[/snarky mode]

I knew as soon as I typed it that someone would read it like that.

That is not what I intended, but I left it anyway just to see who'd be the snark.

MJoachim, you win a case of TideĀ® and a chance at a new Chevy Lumina.

What I did mean was that I think it's ridiculous that a muppet that's supposed to have HIV would be part of the show before a muppet that's supposed to be openly gay, unlike Bert and Ernie's closet love. That sends the signal to me that being HIV-positive is more socially acceptable than being gay, or at least it's more acceptable to show to children.

Maybe it is, and I'm myopic. I don't know. What I clearly did not intend was to imply that only homosexuals are infected with HIV. I'd hope anyone who's paid any attention at all to my posting history would know better. Not that I expect everyone to be familiar with everyone else's posting history. I'm only up to memorizing the first 5200 users and everyone on the thread that must not be spoken.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:58 PM on July 11, 2002


That sends the signal to me that being HIV-positive is more socially acceptable than being gay, or at least it's more acceptable to show to children.

Well, um, yeah. Millions of dollars have been spent spinning the disease to distance it as much as possible from homosexuality in order to make it more "socially acceptable." This is news/surprising?
posted by rushmc at 9:22 PM on July 11, 2002


This actually turned out to be a pretty interesting discussion, with relatively little of the joking that could have developed, but I just want to say that I choked loudly at the "MIV" line. Thank you, kindall.
posted by yhbc at 9:27 PM on July 11, 2002


Millions of dollars have been spent spinning the disease to distance it as much as possible from homosexuality in order to make it more "socially acceptable." This is news/surprising?

It is to me, rushmc. I wonder if it's a function of geography. Here (Utah, for those keeping score), HIV is pretty much synonymous with gay. Picture the rest of the country, but with the clocks set back 20 years, and you're there. Remember the Eddie Murphy AIDS jokes in the concert film, mid-80's? Raw, I think it was called? Those jokes still go over big here.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:37 PM on July 11, 2002


I think this is kind of odd..... sure, some people have AIDS. And it's great and all that Sesame Street wants to show kids that AIDS victims are normal people.
But, on the other hand, even though it's a fact of life, you never see a Muppet say something like "Boy, are my hemorrhoids hurting today!" or "That's just Bobby. His daddy beats his mother with a tire iron every night." or "hey, look! There's good ol' Charlie, he lives in a cardboard box and shoots heroin under his toenails!"

Sometimes, kids just need to have fun and enjoy the show instead of having to deal with an issue like this. Sesame Street is about learning, but it is also entertaining. AIDS may be too complicated an issue for the target audience.
posted by bradth27 at 10:29 PM on July 11, 2002


bard, I think the AIDs character is to show that you aren't suppose to be afraid of AIDs infected people. If you're a kid and like 40% of your population has AIDs, then you hear about it a lot.

If you're a kid and have no idea how AIDs is transferred, then you probably thing by touching a person with AIDs or something similar could lead to contraction.

This is especially important if one of their peers has AIDs. Can you imagine not only living with AIDs as a 5 year old kid but also having all the other kids in the neighborhood be afraid to come near you?
posted by geoff. at 11:10 PM on July 11, 2002


Millions of dollars have been spent spinning the disease to distance it as much as possible from homosexuality in order to make it more "socially acceptable."

On what have these millions been spent, and by whom, rush? I don't know that I've ever seen the spin you talk about. The figures make clear the connection, or rather lack of one, between the current AIDS epidemic and homosexuality: new infections are predominantly acquired through intravenous drug use and heterosexual contact, and of the ~5 million people to acquire HIV-1 infection last year 2.8 million were women or children under the age of 15 (references: detailed and brief).
posted by sennoma at 2:22 AM on July 12, 2002


sennoma, maybe this is wandering far afield of the original thread, but I wonder if the US prison system is acting as an incubator of sorts for AIDS, especially among African-Americans. They have a higher incarceration rate, and there's homosexual behavior going on behind bars among men who otherwise wouldn't consider themselves gay. I hypothesize that these "situationally homosexual" men, who don't as a rule emphasize safe sex (from anecdotes I've heard about the SC correctional system), get released from prison and go on to infect female partners in the larger community.

I got totally dissed on plastic.com for bringing this up a year or two ago, but that's something I've been wondering about -- especially since I've got a relative who's currently in the joint.
posted by alumshubby at 6:27 AM on July 12, 2002


Mr. Crash, I got the joke, it's just... just... I dunno, that's an awful lot of death in that part of the world. I was in the frame of mind that homosexual behavior is less of a statistical factor than it used to be, and I wonder how many kids really think Ernie and Bert are gay. I always thought that was more of a snicker for adults. The smart-ass retort just flowed from my fingertips before I could stop myself....

I think it's a good idea based on what Geoff said, education is key, separating myths from facts. If you have a population where literacy or access to the classroom are obstacles, try to deliver the message through television. If this generation is damned by the new plague, at least try to teach the next generation some tips on prevention.

Dong did raise a point too, malaria, for example, is also a killer, where does it end? Are tv producers knowledgeable enough to determine public health initiatives? They could just skip the whole idea, but perhaps they'd be missing an opportunity to use the medium for something useful.
posted by MJoachim at 8:55 AM on July 12, 2002


It would be interesting to see a breakdown of SA Sesame viewers with HIV vs nonviewers with HIV.
I remain upbeat about the addition of this character. This very well could inspire more tolerance in future generations. Most of all, a new generation that will eventually lead the next, have the power and influence to make positive medical, financial, political, social contribution.
posted by G_Ask at 9:05 AM on July 12, 2002


It is amazing the amount of money spent for research per infected person. Imagine if the same amount per capita was spent on cancer research or heart disease.1

it is amazing the amount of money spent for research on upgrading razor blade technology. developing the gillette mach 3 turbo is apparently more important than curing any of the previously mentioned diseases.
posted by mlang at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2002


Well, that's not too surprising, mlang, given that the population directly affected by beard growth and shaving is far larger than that directly affected by any of the diseases (although, of course, far less seriously). Marketing is about numbers (and the Mach 3 research only exists to support the marketing of the product).
posted by rushmc at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2002


I don't know that I've ever seen the spin you talk about.

And then you proceed to repeat it. My point is that these figures have been packaged and presented ad infinitum since the late 80s (by both governmental and private sources) in the specific attempt to disassociate AIDS from homosexuality in the mind of Joe Average American so that his bias can be overcome and appropriate levels of funding can be acquired.
posted by rushmc at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2002


i actually wrote about this on my site earlier today... here's an edited version:

On one hand, I love this idea. that Sesame Workshop is stepping in and trying to reach kids and parents with a destigmatizing message about HIV, in Africa no less, is definitely progressive and a good sign the Workshop's hearts are in the right place. What's a little disturbing, however, is that the character exists only as a press release right now, and her origin is going to be highly charged politically. We all know how focus-group designed characters can go: they're going to have a rough time making this new muppet an individual with her own personality instead of a symbol, and avoiding stereotypes is going to be difficult as well. There's a reason that there's no "black muppet," "special needs muppet," or "ADD muppet" -- the muppets with all their different shapes, colors, and number of heads already work as a metaphor for diversity without directly mapping to the real world.

What's even more disturbing is the thought that, apparently, muppets can contract HIV now. Now I don't want to think too much about this -- we're talking about muppets here -- but they previously always floated a little bit outside the rules of the world. Sure, Bert or Ernie would get a cold every once in a while, and we all know they like to take baths, but we've never before, at least as far as I know, been introduced to the implication that muppets can contract viruses associated with terminal illness, or that, in general, a muppet can die. Can they age as well? Reproduce? Do we really want to think about muppets this way? This kind of transgression on previously undiscussed aspects of muppet life is exactly what made an old "Kids in the Hall" sketch ("what's this delicious blue meat?") so insanely funny - in our minds, muppets never get eaten, and they don't ever die.

Another way they could have handled this was to deal with a human problem with a human character, rather than trying to soften (no pun intended) their handling of it with a furry monster. I still remember when Mr. Hooper died as a child, and the way Sesame Street handled it was a big deal for a lot of us - though I was a little too old for the show by then, it helped me and a lot of other kids learn about coping with death in a much more powerful way than, say, Big Bird dying would have. I mean, we were eating birds for dinner... Similarly, couldn't they have introduced a human cast member who was HIV-positive? Or had an existing cast member contract the disease? Granted, this wouldn't create an iconic new character the South African government can easily use in educational materials, but it might be a more responsible way to treat the issue in the long run.
posted by moth at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2002


i actually wrote about this on my site earlier today... here's an edited version:

On one hand, I love this idea. that Sesame Workshop is stepping in and trying to reach kids and parents with a destigmatizing message about HIV, in Africa no less, is definitely progressive and a good sign the Workshop's hearts are in the right place. What's a little disturbing, however, is that the character exists only as a press release right now, and her origin is going to be highly charged politically. We all know how focus-group designed characters can go: they're going to have a rough time making this new muppet an individual with her own personality instead of a symbol, and avoiding stereotypes is going to be difficult as well. There's a reason that there's no "black muppet," "special needs muppet," or "ADD muppet" -- the muppets with all their different shapes, colors, and number of heads already work as a metaphor for diversity without directly mapping to the real world.

What's even more disturbing is the thought that, apparently, muppets can contract HIV now. Now I don't want to think too much about this -- we're talking about muppets here -- but they previously always floated a little bit outside the rules of the world. Sure, Bert or Ernie would get a cold every once in a while, and we all know they like to take baths, but we've never before, at least as far as I know, been introduced to the implication that muppets can contract viruses associated with terminal illness, or that, in general, a muppet can die. Can they age as well? Reproduce? Do we really want to think about muppets this way? This kind of transgression on previously undiscussed aspects of muppet life is exactly what made an old "Kids in the Hall" sketch ("what's this delicious blue meat?") so insanely funny - in our minds, muppets never get eaten, and they don't ever die.

Another way they could have handled this was to deal with a human problem with a human character, rather than trying to soften (no pun intended) their handling of it with a furry monster. I still remember when Mr. Hooper died as a child, and the way Sesame Street handled it was a big deal for a lot of us - though I was a little too old for the show by then, it helped me and a lot of other kids learn about coping with death in a much more powerful way than, say, Big Bird dying would have. I mean, we were eating birds for dinner... Similarly, couldn't they have introduced a human cast member who was HIV-positive? Or had an existing cast member contract the disease? Granted, this wouldn't create an iconic new character the South African government can easily use in educational materials, but it might be a more responsible way to treat the issue in the long run.
posted by moth at 3:56 PM on July 12, 2002


My point is that these figures have been packaged and presented ad infinitum since the late 80s (by both
governmental and private sources)


Rush, I haven't done the research myself so I can't say that what you claim is impossible. What figures I have seen come from the Australian HIV-positive community and so are not representative of the global situation (though they do reflect the trends in the figures I linked above).

We do know, however, that the primary modes of transmission are unsafe sex, particularly any sort of sex which is likely to lead to bleeding, and needle sharing between IV drug users. Anal sex and rough or insufficiently lubricated vaginal sex are the most "efficient" sexual means of transmission, so it seems to me that the HIV-1 pool among female sex workers is likely to be as strongly associated with the spread of AIDS as the virus pool among homosexual men. In other words, you seem to be assuming a stronger link between homosexuality and AIDS than I think actually exists, which is to say that I don't think there is quite the need for spin that you do.

Without reviewing the raw data, I guess we will never know. If the aim of the spin is to prevent Joe Average American's bias from limiting AIDS funding, the figures would look the same no matter which of our views is closer to the epidemiological reality.

I have to say, though, that I am very impressed with any conspiracy that can silence an entire scientific community (AIDS epidemiology and related research). Similar data can be had from the US Natl Institutes of Health, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, etc etc, and these data represent collations of studies carried out by dozens of individual labs. An idea or discovery that originates in a single mind or lab is probably easy enough to control, but data that is being generated by dozens of independent teams seems to me to be pretty difficult to falsify/misrepresent in the way you indicate.
posted by sennoma at 12:16 AM on July 13, 2002


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