Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sticky Ideas

When I visited Karen Traviss last month Karen forced on me a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about how memes start and change the world. Now, if Karen, not known for an enthusiasm for reading, tells you you have to read a book, you do. And in search of anything that wasn't work I started reading it today.

Naturally, being me, who seems to be able to see interesting links to my own work in the natty arrangement of scales on a salmon, I have found something I want to share. There is an entire chapter in the book on Sesame Street. It has lots of discussions of child psychology and what was learned in the process of making the series and I'll go back to all of that (the book is now bristling with bookmarks) but here is the bit I wanted to share:

...when the show was originally conceived, the decision was made that all fantasy elements of the show be separated from the real elements. This was done at the insistence of many child psychologists, who felt that to mix fantasy and reality would be misleading to children. The Muppets, then, were only seen with other Muppets, and the scenes filmed on Sesame Street itself involved only real adults and children. What Palmer found out in Philadelphia [the test area], though, was that as soon as they switched to the street scenes the kids lost all interest...
Henson and his coworkers created puppets who could walk and talk with the adults of the show and could live alongside them in the street.., What we now think of as the essence of Sesame Street--the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults--grew out of a desperate desire to be sticky.

(Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, Abacus 2001, 105-6).

Later there is a discussion of Blue's Clues which in arguing for rigid mimesis as even more attractive to small children ends up contradicting this--I think this is because it isn't what Galdwell is interested in, he is much more interested in the mechanisms which also fascinate me and I need to come back to them--but it does give me something to chew on.


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