East Coast Bias in '80s Children's Movies

Just finished watching the 1985 Sesame Street movie Follow That Bird with my kids, and I was amazed at the Children’s Television Workshop’s horrible depiction of the Midwest. Sesame Street, of course, is based on a New York City neighborhood, with a decidedly “urban” look and feel, but random slams against the Midwest were the last thing I expected when sitting down for a nice Friday night movie with the kids. At the beginning of the movie, Big Bird is “adopted” by a family of dodo birds living in “Ocean View, Illinois,” which appears to be somewhere near Peoria.

Of course, the movie isn’t all “down with Middle America.” The cause of Big Bird’s Midwestern exile? Miss Finch, an overeager social worker who thinks Big Bird needs help finding a “real family,” whether he wants it or not. She decides Bird’s fate in a Boston board room, alongside the rest of her philanthropically-minded friends. So perhaps it isn’t Midwesterners that CTW looks down upon: just non-New Yorkers. 🙂

A quick rundown of the Dodos and their town:

  • The Dodos are idiots (as in “dumb as a…”). They fail to recognize Big Bird, even asking Bird if he has seen a large yellow bird on his plane.
  • They live in “Ocean View,” with no ocean within 1,000 miles.
  • The Dodos live in a bland suburb, with every house identical (except for theirs – it’s identical to the others, but hoisted up on a pole like a giant birdhouse).
  • The Dodo kids (“Donnie” and “Marie”) have no imagination – literally. When Bird says, “Let’s pretend I’m Snow White,” Donnie replies, “But you’re bright yellow.”
  • The Dodos are kinda racist. When Bird gets a postcard from Snuggy, they “tisk tisk” his choice of a non-bird best friend.

In other words, Dodos complete the list of Midwestern stereotypes: dull, small-minded, uncreative. Anyone with talent or tolerance has long ago flown the coop, so to speak.

Eh, who cares? It’s an awesome movie. Go watch it immediately. Here’s a small mushroom-flavored taste.


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