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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: A Cleavage Among Viewers

Maybe because the rest of the news these days is so grim, it became a very big deal all over the media last week, including even the ombudsman's column, when it became known that Sesame Street had cancelled a planned segment featuring pop singer Katy Perry wearing a low-cut dress. A video of the segment scheduled for a future program had made its way onto YouTube and the story was suddenly everywhere. Producers of the iconic PBS show for preschoolers said they were surprised at the volume of disapproving comment they got from viewers. I was surprised that they were surprised.

That was last week. This week, mail to me is running heavily in favor of Katy and her dress and against those who were disapproving.

Here Are Some Letters

Having reviewed the Katy Perry/Elmo video on YouTube, I agree with all the outraged parents: Elmo needs to put some damn clothes on. Seriously, Perry's outfit is no more revealing than bathing suits my mother wore when I was a kid. And I am 50.

Lex Alexander, Greensboro, NC

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I think that this is just stupid. Did some religious group get to you? I know that kids watch worse and her dress looked like something out of the 50's. If she "Jiggled" too much then she is a real girl, I jiggle. You have lost your mind.

Kim Adkins, Huntington, WV

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I cannot believe you people are offended by this. It was catchy, clever, and decent. Get a grip, prudes.

C. R., F, KY

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Sesame Street should NOT have pulled the segment. I have seen bridal gowns in the last ten years that are cut as low as Ms. Perry. It is also a matter of the overall effect. Ms. Perry is petite and not grossly endowed. Her costume looked like "dress-up" which is what the segment was about. I would like to let the viewer who whined about dress-up "with boys" know that my three boys all played dress up when they were little; they tended to dress up as characters (pirate, etc.), but as "brides" and such on occasion. They are all happy and well-adjusted men today, the eldest a father of three (who also play dress-up). Sesame Street should not concern itself with the views of a few noisy cranks. They have withstood the test of time. Personally, my children never watched television as toddlers, but they did see some very scantily clad women in various books, magazines and supermarket checkout displays!

Janet Camp, Milwaukee, WI

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I am completely appalled, and saddened, in the choice you [Sesame Street] have made to cancel the appearance of Katy Perry in a 'duet' with Elmo. You should know better that this is not the first guest you have had — not to mention a character — that has the indecency you are referring to as showing too much cleavage. Please go back in time and recall and appearance by the legendary Raquel Welsh doing a duet with Miss Piggy. Both had on very low cut tops! And while we are on the topic, Miss Piggy constantly dons low cut attire! How hypocritical can your company really be? Children love these celebrities, and it is very unfair to Ms. Perry. The least you could have done is forewarn her of her choice of attire and try to be proactive instead of embarrassing Ms. Perry AND PBS.

Janann des Garennes, Murrieta, CA

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That does seem to be a video about sexual relations complete with a push to move boys into a feminine role, by using dress-up clothing. This is just like that program to push the socially progressive approach.

Brent Pieczynski, Fairbanks, AK

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Only in the USA would opposition arise to the Sesame Street broadcast (Katy Perry). When are the religious nuts in this country turned out on the street where they belong. Why should a bunch of right-wing religious zealots be able to cancel a program. Kids don't notice cleavage and if they do so what. This censorship is why we have sex crimes aplenty in this country. I will no longer contribute to PBS until the show is reinstated in its original form. I just got back from Germany and had a discussion with a family man that had some Americans that lived down the street from him. He said that there was a swimming pool in the vicinity and some of the little kids swimming were naked. He further went on to say that the American families refused to let their kids swim because of the few naked children. I understood completely. I told him the U.S. is screwed up in that regard!! I wish someone with backbone had stood up against the complainers. I can guarantee you they had strong "religious backgrounds". This is why stem cell research has been held up. Same ignorant [expletive deleted]. America is full of them.

Brian Hagen, Hereford, AZ

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Regarding the Katy Perry/Elmo controversy: I have a better memory of my childhood than most people. I was pretty clueless about sex as a child until I had that dramatic manifestation of sexual maturity that all boys get around age 12, and what interest I had in girls' bodies — like a lot of little boys, I would have liked to see their privates — was strictly confined to girls my own age. I would have thought of Katy Perry as a "pretty lady," a phrase which for my childhood self lacked all connotations of sexuality, and to my childhood self, the video would have been totally unrevealing. I think adults tend to project their own feelings rather than seeing these things through the eyes of kids.

David Holzman, Lexington, MA

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