Big Bird’s COVID controversy: New flashpoint in U.S. ‘culture wars’

Smokey Bear taught youngsters the significance of stopping wildfires. McGruff the Crime Canine warned them to not discuss to strangers. And in 1972, Large Chicken lined up on “Sesame Road” to obtain a measles vaccine as a part of a marketing campaign to get extra children inoculated towards the illness.

However when that very same iconic, 8-foot-tall youngsters’s character tweeted final weekend that he had been vaccinated towards COVID-19, conservative politicians instantly pushed again.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, grilled Big Bird for what he called “government propaganda.” Fox Information contributor Lisa Boothe described it as “brainwashing youngsters” and “twisted.”

“My wing is feeling a bit sore, nevertheless it’ll give my physique an additional protecting enhance that retains me and others wholesome,” Big Bird tweeted.

“Sesame Road” has lengthy confronted grumbles from conservatives sad with its connections to U.S. public broadcasting, which receives federal funding. But this newest fallout marked a brand new contentious flashpoint that has plagued earlier rollouts of the vaccine, simply because the shot turns into out there to youngsters between the ages of 5 and 11.

Practically 50 years in the past, when the present was in its third season, “Sesame Road” inspired youngsters to get the measles vaccine by exhibiting Large Chicken and different youngsters getting the injection. The transfer was just like different public service campaigns that used beloved characters to assist educate youngsters life classes, together with discouraging littering, carrying seatbelts and looking out each methods earlier than crossing the road.

“What Large Chicken is doing is a part of a protracted custom. However what’s totally different now, after all, is that the whole lot is political and the whole lot is contentious,” stated Thomas Doherty, an American research professor at Brandeis College. “One thing that all of us needed a 12 months in the past, the vaccine, is now this matter of nice rivalry.”

Controversy on the intersection of TV and politics has popped up right here and there for many years. In 1952, “I Love Lucy” did not use the phrase pregnant as soon as in an episode that targeted on the title character, Lucy Ricardo, having a child after executives decided that doing so could be too scandalous.

The Seventies TV collection “Maude,” a by-product present of “All within the Household,” which explored all method of political and racial points within the family of a bigoted man from the New York Metropolis borough of Queens, confirmed the character Maude opting to get an abortion. The storyline was aired a 12 months earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court docket made Roe vs. Wade the legislation of the land. A number of associates refused to air reruns of the episode.

Within the early Nineties, the sitcom “Murphy Brown” discovered itself in a high-profile tiff through the 1992 presidential marketing campaign when Dan Quayle, vp to George H.W. Bush, lambasted the single Murphy’s being pregnant as a mockery of fatherhood and American morality.

In “The Pet Episode” of “Ellen” that aired in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres made historical past as the primary prime-time lead on community TV to return out as homosexual. It was an enormous cultural second, nevertheless it additionally sparked assaults from spiritual teams. ABC later positioned a warning about “grownup content material” when DeGeneres’ character kissed one other lady in a separate episode.

Practically 15 years in the past, PBS was denounced by the nation’s training secretary after it spent cash on a cartoon with lesbian characters. The episode of “Postcards From Buster” featured two lesbian {couples} whereas the title character, an animated bunny, was on a visit to Vermont — a state on the time that was recognized for recognizing same-sex civil unions when many others didn’t. PBS later determined to not distribute the episode to its stations.

“While you get a mass medium as dominant and highly effective as tv … that is all the time going to be a battleground over what messages get on the market,” stated Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Heart for Tv and Widespread Tradition at Syracuse College.

Large Chicken’s tweet ruffled others’ feathers at a time when academic messages directed towards youngsters are beneath elevated scrutiny. Colleges have seen an uptick in heated debates from pissed off dad and mom and elected officers over how racial and social justice points are dealt with in school rooms and tutorial supplies. Most lately, Republican Glenn Youngkin received the Virginia governor’s race after seizing on conservatives’ frustrations with faculties.

In the meantime, training officers have confronted a number of conflicts on how they need to deal with masks and testing necessities throughout a pandemic. Some Republicans have pushed again towards advertising the COVID-19 vaccine on to minors.

“The entire ‘Sesame Road’ embrace of range, inclusion, being good, being attentive to folks of poverty and of various colors, that’s all a type of training directed at youngsters that most individuals would assume is a extremely good factor and an ideal contribution. Then comes the vaccines,” Thompson stated. “And now, this concept of getting a vaccine is not a celebration. It is grow to be one thing else.”

In Tennessee, the state briefly halted its vaccine outreach to youngsters and fired its high vaccination director after GOP leaders threatened to dissolve the well being company over advertising efforts to get youngsters vaccinated towards the illness. Throughout a gathering with division heads, Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky held up a printout of the advert that includes a smiling teen with a Band-Assist who had lately been vaccinated and referred to as it “reprehensible.”

The GOP-controlled Normal Meeting later handed laws banning sure minors as younger as 14 from getting the shot with out parental consent — an possibility that was beforehand out there, albeit used sometimes. The measure, which Republican Gov. Invoice Lee promised to signal this week, has solely a handful of exceptions.

“It is not shocking that the pandemic, vaccination and following public well being recommendation would possibly fall into this cultural battle or effort to leverage emotive points to your political benefit in case you’re a senator or a politician,” stated Colin Woodard, writer of ” American Character: The Historical past of the Epic Battle Between Particular person Liberty and the Widespread Good.”

“The flashpoints in our tradition wars,” Woodard stated, “are sometimes flashpoints between a person liberty and a typical good perspective.”


This story has been corrected to point out that the abortion storyline occurred on the present “Maude,” not “All within the Household.”

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