Helle Strandgaard JensenApr 26, 2023
A Transnational History of Childhood
Oxford University Press 2023
In Sesame Street: A Transnational History (Oxford UP, 2023), author Helle Strandgaard Jensen tells the story of how the American television show became a global brand. Jensen argues that because the show's domestic production was not financially viable from the beginning, Sesame Street became a commodity that its producers assertively marketed all over the world. Sesame Street: A Transnational History combines archival research from seven countries, bolstering an insightful analysis of how local reception and rejection of the show related to the global sales strategies and American ideals it was built upon.
Contrary to the producers’ oft-publicized claims of Sesame Street’s universality, the show was heavily shaped by a fixed set of assumptions about childhood, education, and commercial entertainment. This made sales difficult as Sesame Street met both skepticism and direct hostility from foreign television producers who did not share these ideals. Drawing on insights from new histories about childhood, education, and transnational media, the book lays bare a cultural clash of international proportions rooted in divergent approaches to children's television. In doing so, it provides a reflective backdrop to the many ongoing debates about children's media.
In contrasting the positive receptions and renunciations of Sesame Street, Jensen demonstrates that it was only after a substantial rethinking of Sesame Street’s aims and business model that this program ended up on numerous broadcasting schedules by the mid-1970s. Along the way, this rethinking and the constant negotiations with potential international buyers created and shaped the business and corporate brand that paved the way for the Sesame Street we know today.
Peter C. Kunze is a visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University.