The New York Times just published a really interesting article about Sesame Street in Israel and Palestine.Â It’s predominantly a story of first attempting to create a joint show where Israeli and Palestinian Muppets interact regularly but finally producing separate shows due to the realization that the cultures just aren’t ready to promote to their children what they don’t want for themselves.
But what I found really interesting was one exec’s decision to bring in new, young writers in order to mentor their writing process: to help them learn to communicate ideas to children without using their war torn lives as the backdrop.Â How does one talk about a family member disappearing unexpectedly without bringing in soldiers?Â And can you have that family member return when, in real life, they never do?
Kuttab, a big, gentle man whose suit pants are perpetually rumpled, told me he specifically wanted to work with untrained writers like Awadallah. He knew that his head writer, Nada Al-Yassir, who was raised in Canada and has produced some short films, could on her own churn out enough Sesame-appropriate scripts, but he was pursuing a bigger goal. Developing an independent television and film industry, he said, was a crucial step in building a Palestinian state, and he told me he thought that if his writers could learn to write hopeful, engaging stories for kids, it would benefit them as much as the viewers.
In other words, learning to express oneself through symbols, allegories, movement, and interactions which can take on greater/universal meaning for an audience is beneficial not just for the audience, but for the creating artist.Â Mr. Kuttab is helping to encourage a new generation of artists who can reach beyond reality and into dreams.Â So, when they figure out how to tell the story of a missing family member (who may or may not return) in a way that is removed from reality, they begin to dream of possibility.Â And that is how one changes the world.Â It is only by reaching beyond the starkness of reality into possibility that hopes and dreams are born and someday become a new reality.
I’m not implying that Sesame Street can solve the political unrest in the world, the millions of murdered children and uprooted families.Â Or that Mr. Kuttab’s vision alone will forge for him the stabilized Palestinian state he’s reaching for.Â But this article is a nice reminder of how important art can be for the well-being of the world, and how nice it is to see art in action from a major corporation for the benefit of both children and artists.
All that being said, I hope that, eventually, Sesame Street will be able to reinvent their original concept of a combined Palestinian-Israeli Street for the children of that region.Â By continuing their work within current cultural boundaries, it gives me hope that someday those mentored writers (and their policy makers) will be willing to reach across the walls, dream a little higher, and try again.