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Notes on UFOs, Aliens, and Psychedelic, Retro Sesame Street

A couple days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine posted an old Sesame Street segment she found on YouTube, commenting that she wishes she would have watched the show when she was young. I clicked on it, and found some other old skits and segments from the 70s. My sister and I fairly grew up on TV; I remembered all the skits very well.

Searching for some of my favorites, I realized how dark and downright creepy some of the themes and imagery were, and there were even references to the scare-factor within the strangers' comments on YouTube. The Here's Your Life recurrent skit with host Guy Smiley features freakishly over-anthropomorphized objects such as a "loaf of bread," "painting of a bowl of fruit," and "oak tree." But, it's just silly kid stuff, right? So, what then, makes it so creepy?

For me, it's the overload of emotion and nostalgia attached to such mundane, lifeless objects—there's a sense of the funereal as well—with almost archetypal fancy funeral home style curtains, and a general "life review" sentiment. There is an absurdist notion, obviously present in much of children's entertainment, but Here's Your Life seems precisely LSD-brand psychedelic in nature.

A product of its times, 1970s Sesame Street is notoriously loaded with blatant psychedelic imagery and themes—for example, recall the otherworldly landscape in which a Lost Boy on a mini Hero's Journey encounters a Magical Black Man (ok, he's actually kind of a fuchsia) who appears and disappears into another dimension using a magical tool—a yo-yo.

He guides the lost boy home, morphs into a clock, a fountain, a house, all very strong symbols, along with accompany images of a pink hippo, a fairy-like winged creature, and a fancy, old-fashioned dancing couple—all commonly reported imagery of psychedelically altered experiences.

You can view the segment here.

Yes, our last wave of toddlers had their trippy Teletubbies, but it strikes me as less organic somehow, too self-aware and purposefully cool. Teletubbies relies on its crazy visuals for its weirdness, while Here's Your Life and pre-Elmo Sesame Street skits like the Lost Boy rely on deeply psychic and universal archetypal principals to inject its visuals with weirdness.

Continuing to search YouTube for some of my favorite old segments, I was surprised to find UFOs and aliens in many of the skits. I'm not surprised such elements were used—I'm surprised I was not more consciously aware of such elements, given my longtime interest in the subject. Perhaps my favorite Sesame Street skit—an animation/ballad about "Lower Case n" included a UFO landing, from which a similar (albeit alien green) lower case "n" emerges, to serve as a companion. Although I thought I remembered the entire little skit, I had no memory of the UFO. Perhaps the ideas of Other/alienation were so perfectly exemplified in my child brain by this spaceship and alien, that it just kind of…didn't stand out.

Looking around even more, and in posting a couple of these videos on facebook, and reading the ensuing comments, I realized there were many examples of UFOs and aliens on Sesame Street. There were the recurring Yip Yip aliens—Martians—who in their earthly visits, encountered various human technologies: a telephone, grandfather clock, and later, a computer.

I could not find a case in which humans were encountered by the Yip Yips—which would logically be assumed was the entire reason for their trip. So, why no humans? Perhaps because these aliens are somewhat representative themselves of humans—young human children, to be more precise. The Yip Yip aliens are meant to be identified with by the viewer, as strange, new creatures in a strange land, learning, stumbling through and making their way in a perplexing, artificially created landscape—the postmodern, grown up world.

There are the Geefle and Gonk—a one-time, non-recurrent skit, in which two aliens on the planet Snew must learn to form an alliance and cooperate to eat tangerines, due to their fairly tragic anatomical flaws. Clearly again, there is an intention of alien identity and the young child/viewer.

Aside from these earlier, more personally relevant aliens, later, more culturally and commercially appropriated ideas of aliens are used in Sesame Street. There is a segment entitled Lunar Lounge, which is derivative of the Star Wars alien bar scene; there's a parody of Star Trek TNG entitled Spaceship Surprise. Now, there's even a UFO-themed Elmo ride called Blast Off at Sesame Place, a theme park in Pennsylvania.

Roger Ebert, in his review for Coraline, stated, "I'm tired of wall-to-wall cuteness like Kung Fu Panda." Aren't young children as well? It's all so very bright, shiny, and happy. Bob the Builder, Bananas, Barney. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, there is something to be said for adults entrusting young ones with the unpolished truth of their experience—you feel like a freak, and alone—we know, but it'll be ok.

There does seem to be a missing Shadow element for young children in current television programming and popular stories. Of course there's the enormously successful Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Corpse Bride, Coraline, The Golden Compass, The Simpsons, etc. But, those arguably are suited and geared for older children. The audiences are nonetheless often filled with and composed by very young ones, though, getting their fear-fix perhaps too precociously. Where have all the real fairy tales gone?

Coraline review, rogerebert.com,
Photo, Geefle and Gonk, Muppet wiki

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