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By staff writer Amir Blumenfeld
March 24, 2004

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The breakdown (for college people)

Muppets Bringing Peace to the Middle East

By Sasha Levy

TEL AVIV, Israel (Hollywood Reporter) – Where countless politicians and diplomats have failed, Elmo, Cookie Monster and their “Sesame Street” buddies are on a mission to promote peace and tolerance in the Middle East.

I see nothing wrong with that logic, Muppets have been known to pick up political slack since the Hoover/Snufulufugus ticket of '26.

A programming experiment using the Muppet characters was launched six months ago and was widely welcomed by parents, educators and the media. But the Muppets are not without their critics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Yes Jordanian critics have already voiced their concern over the cookie monster, calling him “Not Blue Enough.”

Sesame Workshop partnered with local producers to create “Sesame Stories,” an adventurous initiative to use new and existing “Sesame Street” characters to foster respect and understanding among children in the region. Gary Knell, president and chief operating officer of Sesame Workshop, says in an interview that producers knew that not everybody would be open to the idea of Elmo & Co. teaching Israeli kids to respect Palestinians and vice versa.

I actually read a preliminary copy of the script and things get really crazy when Bert detonates himself and murders Ernie's entire family. Though Ernie is very sympathetic and ends up forgiving Bert, who ends the play in heaven having sex with 18 virgins.

“It's a highly charged environment, and the press is going to reflect some of that,” Knell says. “Yes, some Israeli reports accused us of being lackeys of the Palestinians, while another article accused us of being lackeys of the Bush White House and charged that Elmo was carrying the will of the White House to the Middle East. A Jordanian Internet site accused us of being Zionist lap dogs.”

Jordanian Internet site? Yahoo.co.jd? Opressed.org.jd? How does a country without hot water have the capabilities to run a website (asks a really ignorant reader)? Well I SAY: THEY DO HAVE ELECTRICITY YOU IGNORANT READER!

Knell stresses that the majority of media reports about the Muppets experiment had been positive.

Not only that, but they have received a lot of excellent feedback on their new line of Tickle Me Yassir Arafat dolls.

“Sesame Stories” is now airing as three parallel productions on Jordan Television, the HOP! Channel in Israel and the Ma'an Network in the West Bank and Gaza.

Commercials are starting at 30 prostitutes per minute of airtime so get on the ball advertisers!

Daniella Hellerstein, whose family emigrated to Israel three years ago from the United States, says she encourages four young kids to watch the show.

Well when you only have 2 channels, it's either encouraging them to watch the Muppets or play with blocks.

“I like the overall message—tolerance and respect—and I support the effort 100%,” she says. But she adds: “My children don't completely appreciate the point of the characters—they don't differentiate between the Jewish and Arab characters.”

Hmmm that’s easy, the green guy that lives in the garbage can? He's probably Arab (says the same ignorant reader as before). And I respond to that by saying: YOU RACIST FUCK!

Havi Livne, another mother in the region, welcomes the show unreservedly. “Suddenly, a program is dealing with Arabs not just as terrorists. For me, it opened a window to talk with the children about something very important. And it's very important for me to know it's shown in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.”

“Also,” Livne continued “How are your NCAA brackets shaping out? Can you funking believe Kentucky lost? There goes my Final Four! Am I right??”

Ayman El Bardawil, director of Ramallah-based independent broadcaster Al Quds Educational Television, a co-producer of the Palestinian Authority version, reports that “the children are happy about it. The feedback we've been getting is very good.”

Ummmmmm…don’t you guys have better things to do than poll youngsters on their thoughts on television shows? Don't you need to… I dunno…START AN ACTUAL SOCIETY!!! LAY THE GROUNDWORK FOR A DEVELOPED ECONOMY?! FOSTER A STABLE GOVERNMENT?!?! I'm obviously kidding, continue polling.

Sesame Workshop's Knell says that there have been problems other than inflammatory media reports to overcome during the past months. Just living and working in such a highly charged environment is a challenge for the producers. “One day there was a bus bombing (in Israel), and our producers dropped everything to get to the scene because they feared their children might be on the bus.

When they got to the scene, producers were relieved that of the 18 innocent people brutally murdered, only 2 were kids, and their target demographic remained relatively unscathed.

Join us at The Satire and Humor Festival in NYC Mar 22-24!

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