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The Story Of Mr. Snuffleupagus, Child Abuse, and Sesame Street's Impact on Children

Do you know Mr. Snuffleupagus? If you grew up watching Sesame Street, you'd know the answer right away -- He's Big Bird's "mysterious friend" who shows up at the wrong time!

Here's now he was introduced to the show:

Lacking a watering pot, Big Bird was delighted to see the massive, lumbering creature use his trunk to tend to his garden. The two became fast friends.

Despite the unbelief of the whole cast, Big Bird kept on talking about him. Eventually, people got curious Big Bird's friend is imaginary or not.

Martin P. Robinson (via Still Gaming: Lee & Zee Show Podcast, 2009): He was never imaginary. I say that a lot. And I say it with great strength of conviction. He was my character, he was never imaginary; he just had bad timing. He was shy, he had bad timing, and the joke was, he’s big, you can’t miss him, but adults being the way they are—preoccupied, going to work, you know—they miss those little details. And Snuffleupagus just happened to be one of those little details that they kept missing year after year after year. So he was a good, real friend to Bird; it’s just that no one else ever took the time to actually meet him.

This was like a joke that went on for a time, up until the issue of child abuse at home and in daycare center rose up and the actors desired to play off a new dynamic:

If Big Bird—ostensibly the show’s stand-in for the 6-year-old viewing audience—was being brushed aside when trying to convince people Snuffleupagus was real, there was the chance children might not be convinced adults would believe them if they came forward with more troubling claims.
Stiles: We started getting some letters from people who worked with children who had experienced some kind of abuse, and what we were told was that they often don’t think they’ll be believed because the stories are so fantastic in their minds.

That pushed the crew to look to experts in childhood development, asking, "What’s the best way to address what we want to address?"

That’s the model Sesame was founded on, with writers, producers, educators, and researchers all working together.

Read more how the story went on at Mental Floss.

Image Credit: Sesame Workshop

Image Credit: Sesame Workshop


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