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Katy Perry's Elmo duet on Sesame Street -- a revealing moment

Online commenters, I've just about had it!

Not on my behalf. On behalf of all the kids across America who no longer get to see Katy Perry performing "Hot n' Cold" with Elmo on Sesame Street. Why? She wears a tinker-bell dress with some sheer material on the top covering what commenters have described as her "ample cleavage." And it's too much for America's YouTubers -- let alone its TV viewers. Here's the clip. Don't read the comments:

True, other celebrities have managed to show up on Sesame Street without any visible cleavage. And sometimes they got pulled from the show, regardless -- look at Chris Brown. But Katy Perry was trying to play dress-up. Is it Perry's fault that the only things she has in her wardrobe are revealing, made of latex, or don't come with underwear? Look on the bright side -- what if Lady Gaga had gone on? She might have worn that Kermit coat. That would have destroyed my childhood!

As we are frequently reminded by everyone from the FCC on down, there is nothing Americans find more fundamentally disruptive to our belief systems than any kind of cleavage on television. Remember Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction? The response was so out of hand that now we have to take off our shoes whenever we go to the airport!

I understand the concerns that swirl around any appearance of so-called obscenity. Whenever I photograph the Denver airport, I have to clear it through my editor. But who listens to YouTube commenters? YouTube commenters are prone to being trolls. They toss around expletives and slurs without a second (or, in some cases, a first) thought. Some are sensible and polite -- "This is actually really sweet you people are just haters," says XfireXwaterXburnX, and Hollyanne1968 notes, "Miss Piggy has shown more cleavage." But the ones quoted on HuffingtonPost said things like "they're gonna have to rename it cleavage avenue" and "my kid wants milk now." And, so, no more Katy Perry on Sesame Street.

Imagine if the people who comment on YouTube videos got to determine the rest of our culture. That would be horrifying! Everything would be replaced with videos of cats -- falling down slides, attempting human speech, flying into walls. These are the people who say, "At 0:53, notice what happens to Aladdin's left thigh." Sure, Katy Perry's outfit wasn't optimal. But if people hadn't paid so much attention to her twin acquaintances, I doubt the kids would have noticed. Most kids are oblivious. I grew up during the Clinton trial, and I'm still not entirely sure what sexual relations consist of!

This reminds me of nothing more than the HBO series Oz, depicting life in a maximum security penitentiary. The convicts always gather to watch a show called Miss Sally's Schoolyard, a Lambchop-esque program whose host is similarly blessed in the, er, cleavage department. The show itself is innocent enough. But it all depends on the perspective of the people watching. The inmates don't watch it to learn about the letter Q or A; they ogle the screen and provide a lascivious running commentary.

They say that obscenity is in the groin of the beholder. I'm not equating the general population of YouTube commenters to the cast of that gritty prison drama, but I think in this case the cleavage is in the eye of the beholder. Repeatedly.

There's only one way to settle this. I would go out and find a three year-old to whom I could show this and ask if he noticed anything, but I think this might backfire.

"Son," I would ask after the video was over, "is there anything you feel I need to, uh, explain to you now?" At this point I would gesture awkwardly.

"What? I don't get it," he'd say. Then his parents would swoop along and try to arrest me for perverting the minds of the young.

By Alexandra Petri  | September 23, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, Reality? Television  | Tags:  Katy Perry  
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Next: Ten Celebrities who managed to appear on Sesame Street without excessive cleavage

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