Sesame Street: A Transnational History By Helle Strandgaard Jensen


In her new book Sesame Street: A Transnational History, historian and author Helle Strandgaard Jensen reveals how the American television show became a worldwide brand. Focusing on the show’s global diffusion in the early 1970s, including the backlash it met, her book contradicts much of recent years’ celebratory histories about Sesame Street.

Jensen argues that because the show’s domestic production was not financially viable from the beginning, Sesame Street became a commodity that its producers assertively marketed all over the world. Sesame Street: A Transnational History combines archival research from seven countries, bolstering an insightful analysis of how local reception and rejection of the show related to the global sales strategies and American ideals it was built upon.

Contrary to the producers’ oft-publicized claims of Sesame Street‘s universality, the show was heavily shaped by a fixed set of assumptions about childhood, education, and commercial entertainment. This made sales difficult as Sesame Street met both skepticism and direct hostility from foreign television producers who did not share these ideals. By unveiling these differences the book lays bare a cultural clash of international proportions rooted in divergent approaches to children’s television. In doing so, it provides a reflective backdrop to the many ongoing debates about children’s media.

In contrasting the positive receptions and renunciations of Sesame Street, Jensen demonstrates that it was only after a substantial rethinking of Sesame Street‘s aims and business model that this program ended up on numerous broadcasting schedules by the mid-1970s. Along the way, this rethinking and the constant negotiations with potential international buyers created and shaped the business and corporate brand that paved the way for the Sesame Street we know today.

Helle Strandgaard Jensen is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. She is the author of From Superman to Social Realism: Children’s Media and Scandinavian Childhood. She holds a Ph.D. in History from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and has been a visiting fellow at universities in the UK, the US, Norway, and Sweden. Her work has appeared in Media History; Journal of Children and Media; Media, Culture & Society; Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth; The Programming Historian, and elsewhere. She holds a shared directorship at the Center for Digital History Aarhus. She lives in Åbyhøj, Denmark, and her favorite time is spent cooking, reading, and playing video games with her family.

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