Sesame Street, the longest continuously-running children's television show in the United States, has become iconic because of its characters and skits, but also for its music. For several generations, viewers of Sesame Street not only remember the music; upon hearing the songs again, they remember the conversations and revelations that they originally experienced while watching the program as children. The music recalls vividly a time they describe as having shaped their views on a variety of matters, including childhood, music, education, society, and the process of growing up. In this thesis, I explore how the music of Sesame Street functions as a site for cultural memory among young adults, based on information drawn from two focus group sessions in which individuals who watched Sesame Street as children came together to view and comment upon musical segments from the show.
The thesis is divided into four sections. The introduction provides background information about Sesame Street, the related literature, and this project. The second chapter, “Sing a Song: ABCs, 1-2-3s, and a Primary Musical Education,” explores the general academic content of Sesame Street songs and then contextualizes their impact in terms of individual stories and reactions to the segments. The third chapter, “The Count is Jewish?” A Discourse on Diversity” addresses a recurring thread of discussion throughout the two sessions—how race and ethnicity were presented in the songs of Sesame Street and how this informed the individuals’ watching of the show, both as children and as adults. Themes central to this chapter are portrayal, perception, and modern political correctness with regards to race.
The final chapter, “Shared Pasts, Shared Presents: How Memories of Sesame Street Build Community,” elaborates on the idea of memory and the formation of identity, focusing on where and how the subjects of this study encounter and experience Sesame Street in their adult lives, and how they interacted in mixed groups using the music from this television show as the central point of discussion. The chapter also weaves together the individual debates presented in chapters two and three to explore the nature of Sesame Street as a mass-mediated musical object, and how the re-viewing of this shared culture has allowed for individuals to draw their own conclusions about how this music played an active role in their childhoods and beyond. In sum, the study represents a case study of cultural memory vis-à-vis the music of a specific television show while potentially shedding light on larger issues of the relationship between individual and collective memory within the framework of a shared cultural experience.