Comment: Sesame Street, Zari, and diversity - kids TV isn’t just for the kids

Six-year-old Zari has been introduced to audiences in Afghanistan Source: Twitter

Sesame Street's first Afghan character was introduced this week to promote education of girls. This message isn't just for kids; it hits home with parents, too.

Sesame Street added their first Afghan character to the show this week, Zari, a schoolgirl designed to teach young girls about education in hopes they’ll get excited about going to school. It’s a worthy cause: only a third of Afghanistan girls attend primary school, leading to illiteracy rates as high as 87 per cent, so it’s unsurprising that Sesame Street wants to broaden its commitment to education outside of the alphabet.

Zari debuted on the local version of Sesame Street called Baghch-e-Simsim, but sadly, the Internet’s reaction to her addition is brought to you by the letter ‘B’ for ‘Backlash’.

Islamophobia was in full swing again but the majority of the haters forget that the presence of a character like Zari is not only meant to inspire children, but adults as well.

As a parent, you are exposed to a plethora of children’s television shows that are often aligned with a little one’s attention span. They are designed to be loud, colourful, and short enough to keep young children interested. The reality is that one moment your kid is dancing awkwardly to The Wiggles singing about assorted mashed fruits, they get bored and return to using your laptop as a surfboard.

"It’s a subtle reminder that we come into this world without any hatred, and prejudice is something we learn." 

It’s the adults who are the captive, attentive audience. And not just once either; kids love repetition, so your kid starts demanding to see the shows they like the most—a curse in the age of being able to stream anything via multiple devices—so the frequency only intensifies. You’ll end up seeing everything on repeat to the point you’ll think you’re being brainwashed to assassinate the Prime Minster of Malaysia. By being exposed to so much kid’s entertainment, you can’t help but feel it wash over you or start to get reflective about the purity of the messages contained within these shows.

Kids are little sponges absorbing all the information around them but they’re not as finely attuned to the messages of shows like Sesame Street until they get much older—but the parent is there from the beginning. It’s a subtle reminder that we come into this world without any hatred, and prejudice is something we learn. These shows condition parents, as well as children, to remind us of the huge responsibility that comes with bringing a tiny human into the world. They can crush the cynicism of the adult world to remind us of sillier, simpler times. Heck, even Play School shows us that all you need is a piano, two people and a shitload of toilet rolls and pipe cleaners to have a wild time.

It’s the The adults who lash back against the inclusion of Zari on Sesame Street who need to be paying closer attention to the actual content of children’s television programming, and let the messages sink in. There’s certainly no show teaching kids how to be an arsehole on the Internet.

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic. He’s the founder of The Popcorn Junkie and can occasionally be heard blabbing about cinema on ABC Radio National. Follow Cameron on Twitter: @MrCamW.

Tune in to #thefeedsbs at 7.30pm Monday-Thursday on SBS2, stream live, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Vine.