A while ago I got Riley this Sesame Street alphabet album. It’s essentially the same as a vinyl LP that I had at his age, except with a token Elmo song tacked onto the beginning so they could justify putting him on the new cover art. My LP had a couple of nasty scratches in it too. But it was one of several Sesame Street albums that I pumped into my ears as often as the parents would let me for a few years.

I’ve loved hearing it again (skipping right over Elmo, hehe). The familiar songs feel mostly the same, but also my perspective is obviously a bit different now. As a kid I wasn’t yet able to really appreciate how well done the songs are, plus they were so effective in drawing me in that I wouldn’t have really analyzed them anyway. But a couple of them are pretty complex musically, and of course the whole thing is sprinkled with humor that is too advanced for toddlers. You get the feeling that Jim Henson and company were trying to keep themselves entertained along with the kids. That’s exactly what I like about TMBG’s kids music too, of course. Riley seems to like these as much as I did/do.

But thinking about the Muppets, I also realized how much it says about their relationship that Ernie has articulated hands, while Bert has articulated eyebrows instead. They’re basically doomed by phenotype into their roles in the actor/reactor dichotomy. (I’m a Bert by that measure. And by several others, I think.)

4 thoughts on “Sesame Street Alphabet

    • Oh yes, and I’m sure there’s probably a much more complete discussion somewhere of the role their physical differences play in their archetyping. This was the first time I’d thought of that particular example, though.

      Our brains seem to favor dichotomy, and I wonder why that is. I’ve been thinking about this with respect to pairs of siblings, how there’s often “the shy one and the outgoing one,” “the sporty one and the bookish one,” etc, and not wanting to fall into that trap. Bert and Ernie are definitely set up to be a dichotomy, and some of that seems intentional. But it’s kind of striking how natural it seems.

      • Our brains seem to favor dichotomy, and I wonder why that is.

        Got a theory. Wanna hear it?

        I think it’s physiological – I think that since we are so bilaterally symmetric, in some deep underlying ways, man is the measure of all things, or at least, his person is. It’s a projection outward. Since I am bilateral, therefore all of creation is. Hee! How’s that for infantile thinking?

        I think particularly damning is that the brain itself is physically bifurcated and lateralized, and in humans, one lobe is normally larger than the other and specialized to some tasks. You know, how great gobs of mankind do most verbal processing on the left lobe and tend to have better control of the contralateral side?

        I suspect, although I have no real evidence, that because in people’s personal physiology, there is a bifurcation with a slight favoring of one side, this makes bifurcation more natural and salient. Remember counting things by ticking them off on your fingers? Comparing and matching ones body to other things is something kids do, and having two hands and two eyes and two feet might make it more natural for people early on to think of the world as sets of two or essential opposites.

        So that’s my theory. That dinosaurs were very small on one end, much much bigger in the middle, and small again on the other end.

        Am I full of it? Do I need to send the estate of Sigmund Freud a royalty check for this one?

        • bilateral brain perceives in pairs: chicken or egg?

          Good point, I like that. What I was thinking was that dichotomy-favoring could be an inescapable result of consciousness in general, rather than an artifact of humanity in particular. Our brains are so wired for discerning dichotomies that we do it sort of subconsciously. But is that just because pairs are an efficient way to process? Or is it because thought and consciousness require that kind of duality by their very nature?

          At its most fundamental, no concept can exist without an “other.” Even just to be aware that you have a self, you have to learn where it ends and the rest of the world begins. What we call knowledge is really just a collection of such binary observations, and what we call intelligence is really just the ability to make them.

          By the way, my main character in City of Heroes is named Deuço, “after the word for ‘two’ in the language of magic” (as I so deftly retconned). He’s a wizard of sorts, a genius who grasped some fundamental knowledge of the dual nature of the universe and can use it to manipulate the world around him. This discussion is totally his cup of chai. Except I guess he would know the answers already, hehe.