17 March 2008
Oh Big Bird, you crazy yellow bastard, with your imaginary friends and effeminate ways, always annoying the crap out of old Mr Hooper. "Mr Looper, Mr Looper," you would go. And Mr Hooper would reply in his whiny gasping old guy voice, "HOO-per, HOO-per!" and we would laugh because he was old and soon to die.
But then he did die and we weren't laughing then, no sir. We were passed out drunk in the back yard. And when we regained consciousness, vowing never again to mix Crème de Menthe and Southern Comfort, Mr Hooper was gone, replaced behind the counter at Hooper's Store by David, who up to that point had always seemed friendly and helpful and nice. But suddenly with Mr Hooper gone and David in control of the Hooper Empire, Mr Hooper's demise seemed slightly sinister and somehow... convenient.
Then David disappeared for a while, possibly keeping his head down until the heat was off. But when he came back fat and smug and thinking he'd got away with it, Maria had hooked up with Luis from the Fix-it Shop. Perhaps losing Maria to the suave and swarthy Latino finally pushed Ol' Davie-boy over the edge. It has been rumoured that the actor playing David, Northern Calloway, died in a mental hospital in 1989, and we were told that David had moved away to live on his Grandmother's farm, presumably so that he could run around in her panties and masturbate into his own faeces.
When Mr Hooper died, the Sesame Street producers were very brave to deal with such a tv-taboo subject in such blunt and straight forward manner given the age of their core audience. They didn't sugar-coat it like they would today, and the grief of the other characters was open, genuine and palpable.
The decision to talk to kids about difficult subjects is not an easy one. Young children rationalise everything into terms of black and white. They don't like ambiguity and try to reduce everything into it's simplest terms. So how do you explain to your children things like pain and death, separation and divorce, intolerance and hypocrisy in a way that they can accept and understand without feeling patronised or frightened? In my experience, most times you can't. All you can do is be honest and don't try to deflect their questions. How you respond will determine how strong their coping mechanism will be when they have to deal with this stuff as they grow up, and shielding them from it now only makes it more painful later on. Kids are surprisingly resilient, and can adapt more readily than most adults, and people don't give them nearly enough credit.
There needs to be more death in contemporary childrens' television. In fact I can think of a bunch of childrens' tv personalities whom I would personally bump off. Murray from The Wiggles, I'm looking in your direction!