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Sesame Street’s Karli, the Muppet whose mother is addicted to opioids, is a good first step

It’s time children grew up and learned the harsh realities of life. Shoot heroin, smoke crack, eat your neighbour, never shower and watch Sesame Street.
Warren Frisbee Montreal, QC

Sesame Street has introduced Karli, a puppet whose mother is addicted to opioids. I applaud them. For too long, children’s shows have been bright, happy, colourful and filled with problems that can be easily resolved. It’s time we saw the alleys and overflowing gutters behind the buildings of Sesame Street—the suicides, prostitution and addictions that run rampant after the sun sets. It’s time children learned about real life. It’s time children learned about flesh-eating diseases, absent fathers, and the unforgiving cycle of life. That their heroes are frauds and everyone dies, including their favourite pets and all their hopes and dreams.

It’s time children learn why people are drawn to heroin in the first place. That life can be so crushing and hopeless that the only other answer is death. It is time children learn that although on the outside the heroin addict may look sick, miserable, terrifying and disgusting, inside they feel better than you will ever know. That the feeling is so good inside, the addict forgets about the vessel and the outer part of the body slowly begins to slip away. From the outside it is hard to watch a heroin addict slowly deteriorate, and even harder to imagine how someone could let themselves fall into that state. But inside they feel perfect. Religion, spirituality, and gurus have often spoken of finding inner peace and joy, and there is no peace within as perfect as the high of heroin.

It is a feeling so good it makes parents neglect their children, as in Karli’s case. A feeling so good the user forgets everything—everything bad, and everything good. It is better than the feeling of accomplishing goals, of success or love. It is perfect—that is until it fades away. So, you chase that perfect feeling for the rest of your life, getting close, but never quite attaining it again. You chase forward, day after day, as everything around you slowly slips away, your youth, your family, your hopes and your dreams.

But it isn’t all bad. I hope Sesame Street strives to show the positive aspects of having a drug-addled mother. There is a certain freedom that is gained when your mother is constantly on the nod. The freedom to do as you please. To watch what you want to watch, eat as many cookies as you wish. If there are no cookies in the house, just steal them, and if you get caught, blame it on your strung-out mom. Blame everything on her, and do as you please, until finally, while she sleeps, half on the couch, half on the floor, you find the needle that brings her more pleasure than you, her child, ever could, and you try heroin for the first time, and for the first moment in your life, everything makes sense.

But why stop there? There are so many other stories to tell. A child bit in the face by a pit bull? Yes, please. Drunk Driver Dan, veering through the streets? Definitely. Doug the Absent Father? Not absent from Sesame Street I hope! What about Stabby Sam? Serial Cannibal Sue? Barfy Brett? Stink Breath Syd? Give me all of them!

These are the types of stories I want to see on Sesame Street. Let’s pull back the sewer lid and let the rats run free. Let the ghost of Hubert Selby Jr. guide us through Sesame Street. It has been too long the soft, lotioned hands of the puppeteer have painted this unrealistic look at city life.

It’s time children grew up! It’s time children learned the harsh realities of life. That the birds do not sing, they cry. The world is going to burn anyway, as the climate threatens to extinguish our existence. Shoot heroin, smoke crack, eat your neighbour, never shower and watch Sesame Street.

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Warren Frisbee
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