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by Judy Mas
"I think a whole generation of us has gone through life seeking that right answer a la Sesame Street."
"As a society, it may be time for us to recognize the Sesame Street legacy is not entirely positive."
"WHICH OF THESE THINGS BELONG TOGETHER? Which of these things are kinda the same? Can you find the thing that doesn't belong, by the time I finish my song"? Sound familiar? Of course. Sesame Street. The category song. Remember? While the song was playing the TV screen displayed pictures, usually four of them. You sat on the floor watching the show. You had a few seconds to look at the pictures and figure out which three things be- longed and which one was different. It was supposed to be fun. But my memories of this game are far from pleasant. In fact, calling my youthful experiences with the Sesame Street category game traumatic would not be an overstatement. You see, I almost never got the same answer as the one given on TV. And I worried about that a lot.
The problem was I was one of those kids who was very eager to please. Now, when you're a kid, the odds against pleasing are roughly a hundred to one on a good day. At our house the only way to please was to get the right answer. The assumption being there is always one and only one, irrefutable right answer. The natural corollary to this assumption being that all games in life, including the "game of life," were to be taken very seriously. You had to play, you had to finish within the allotted time, and first and foremost, you had to know the rules. Because playing by the rules was the only way you had a fighting chance of coming up with that single, elusive, right answer.
The rules (short version): (1) listen carefully‹ be sure you understand the question (2) think hard and make your best guess at the right answer (3) check back to find out if you've guessed correctly (4) if not, be embarrassed. Resolve to try harder next time.
I think a whole generation of us have gone through life seeking that right answer a la Sesame Street. We have lived in fear of that most excruciating event possible - to be know as a person without that answer.
My friends, we've been hoodwinked. The activity to which many of us were unrelentingly exposed as kids is suspect. I will even go so far as to say that seemingly innocent category game accompanied by that catchy little tune was a hoax perpetrated on us by unidentified villains for incomprehensible purposes. The bad news is that those of us who played the category game regularly as youngsters carry lasting scars caused by the embarrassment of numerous "wrong answers." The good news? Our self respect can now be restored. There are no wrong answers. And I can prove it.
I will use an authentic example from the programme. And I am asking you to have faith enough to try it one more time. But this time, we'll use the real rules of life. Here they are: (1) take as much time as you need (2) don't worry, man, be happy (3) any answer is correct- so relax - try again. (You will need to imagine the music and the pictures.)
A baseball, a football, an orange and a tennis ball. "Which of these things belong together? Which of these things are kinda the same? Can you find the thing that doesn't belong, before I finish my song?"
Let's pause here and just out of curiosity, ask which answer you have chosen. How many of you said the orange? Congratulations! You are right! But I remind you that so is everybody else. Those who chose the baseball, those who chose the football, those who chose the tennis ball are also correct. I am singling you out because your answer is the same as that chosen by the Sesame Street people. For those of you who chose other answers and, like me, can't figure out how the orange could possibly be correct, a full explanation is included in number one below.
Correct answer #1: The orange doesn't belong. An orange can be eaten. You can't eat a baseball, a football or a tennis ball. Furthermore, you play sports with a baseball, a football or a tennis ball. In our country, you don't usually play sports with an orange. Unless, of course, you're really stuck. I once played soccer with a pumpkin. Short game. Seedy equipment.
I'd just like to add before we go on: I have no quarrel with the answer Sesame Street people provided for this particular exercise. I agree the reasoning behind their choice of the orange, while perhaps not the choice which immediately comes to mind for most people, is logical. But I do object to their randomly choosing this answer and unilaterally declaring it the only correct one. This when other equally logical choices were available. Who do they think they are? Well, the best revenge is a bunch of good alternative answers. So let's read on. If any of you Sesame people are still out there, I hope you're paying attention. And I hope you're pretty sorry and embarrassed.
Correct answer #2. The tennis ball doesn't belong. The tennis ball is fuzzy. The baseball, the football and the orange are not. Those of you who missed this answer could do with a fruit review. I missed it too, having confused the orange with the peach. An easy mistake since the two are of approximately equal size and pastel in colour. It is, however, as I recall now, the peach which is fuzzy, not the orange. Unless the orange is green and fuzzy which is an entirely different matter and simply means that if you're not going to eat that fruit you buy within a reasonable time, you should at least clean out your fruit bowl once in a while.
Correct answer #3. The football doesn't belong. The football is oval with pointy ends. The baseball, the tennis ball and the orange are round. Furthermore, the baseball, the tennis ball, and the orange are not regularly kicked, tucked under an arm or laid on by very large men. The football is.
Correct answer #4. The baseball doesn't belong. When run over by a cement truck, the baseball will likely retain a semblance of its round shape. The football, the orange and the tennis all will, on the other hand, be squished flat as pancakes. This is the most obvious answer and the one which I suppose most of you chose. Me too.
As I write this, I realize I've missed the point. The real problem isn't Sesame's answers. It's their song. Just imagine how our thinking might be different today if the song had gone like this. "Why do these things belong together? Why are these things kinda the same? Can you find three reasons why they all belong, before I finish my song?" Can you find three reasons why the baseball, the football, the tennis ball and the orange belong together? It's easy. There are lots. Here are my three. (1) They all belong to the category of things that bounce at least once when you throw them hard at the floor. (Yes, an orange bounces, I tried it). (2) They all belong to the category of things which can never be trained to answer the telephone. (3) They all belong to the category of things that are not in a box in my basement. (And this is a very small category indeed).
Sometimes the ability to identify the one that doesn't belong can be useful. But it seems to me that it is often more productive and always a whole lot more fun to find all sorts of reasons why groups are kinda the same. As a society, it may be time for us to recognize the Sesame Street legacy is not entirely positive. And overcoming that legacy might take hard work and dedication on everyone's part. Wouldn't it be great if we all agreed to sing the song using different words. And to play fair by the real rules? Just imagine! Black people, white people, rich people, poor people, thin people, fat people. Why do these people belong together? Why are these people kinda the same? Can you find three reasons why we all belong, before I finish my song? Now we're getting someplace.
Judy Mas is neither a baseball, a football, an orange, or a tennis ball.
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