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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
Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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Next: Ten Celebrities who managed to appear on Sesame Street without excessive cleavage

Comments

Alexandra,

I think you're analysis is absolutely on the wrong topic. This is not about cleavage or her twins bouncing around on screen. kids don't notice that, adults do.

Kids, and specially my daughter, watches sesame street, imitates the characters and wants to be like them, elmo is her favorite. Is this the kind of dressed up doll image i want to infuse in my child's brain? Sesame street is all about educating toddlers, please share with me the education in this song? On that note, i have a lot of issues with other sesame street stuff but this is not the character i'd like to see my daughter imitating.

You're also forgetting the great big world that still exists outside the U.S where a great many cultures and religions exist where sesame street is aired and has a huge following in kids? What kind of message are we passing on through them?

Please dont argue about "extent of cleavage" when that is not even the issue. This is all about fundamentals...

Posted by: enlightened_joe | September 23, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Score 1 for the prudes. "Oh no, women have breasts? Hide them from the children." /eyeroll

Posted by: brickerd | September 23, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

"I think you're analysis is absolutely on the wrong topic. This is not about cleavage or her twins bouncing around on screen. kids don't notice that, adults do.

Kids, and specially my daughter, watches sesame street, imitates the characters and wants to be like them, elmo is her favorite. Is this the kind of dressed up doll image i want to infuse in my child's brain? Sesame street is all about educating toddlers, please share with me the education in this song? On that note, i have a lot of issues with other sesame street stuff but this is not the character i'd like to see my daughter imitating. "

I think that her analysis is dead-on, but that the people who are complaining would never admit it. They're biyatching because Katy Perry puts them to shame. Period.

Posted by: tokenwhitemale | September 23, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Sesame Street has always been programmed for children and adults. Barney is programmed only for kids and it will drive you clean out of your mind.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 23, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"enlightened_joe", I assume you don't appreciate the irony of your chosen username. Your analysis is not about "fundamentals" as you assert but rather fundamentalISM. Let's just ban women from Sesame Street altogether so 2- and 3-year-olds won't have to be exposed to the notion that half the human race has breasts.

Posted by: beckley1 | September 23, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

So sad that we still have such a Puritanical attitude toward the human body - in the year 2010. People, lighten up.

Posted by: DWinFC | September 23, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

First of all, I hope that airport/shoe comment was a joke. Second of all, Chris Brown? Really? You can't think of something he might have down to warrant him getting pulled off the show? I think enlightened Joe is right on the money with this one. Kids are going to want to dress up like this. It's bad enough that every 13 year old girl tries to show off their non-existent cleavage; do we want younger kids doing it too? I don't think so. I do agree that this was blown out of proportion. Parents are always gonna blame someone else for their shortcomings. For God's sake look at what they did to cookie monster. If you're fat kid wants to eat more cookies, tell them no. End of story. That being said, I do feel she should cover up a little more. I know as a kid I definitely would have been staring.

Posted by: Alhenriq1 | September 23, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

note sent to my PBS station

I think it is wrong to censor this clip. Katie shows nothing more then what children see at the beach/pool all the time. I guess prudes don't take their kids to the beach anymore either.

Katie took the time to shoot this clip for PBS. I have much greater respect for her than her troubled peers Loan and Hilton. Just goes to show no good deed goes unpunished. I urge you to push PBS to reconsider and run this clip. I can tell you my own 2 kids 5 and 7 love Katie Perry's music. We won’t let them watch the video for California Gurls because that is inappropriate for kids but there is nothing inappropriate in this video.

Posted by: joejoe2000 | September 23, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Oh the Humanity...
who is in charge of Sesame street content anyway?? After decades of producing successful, engaging, and funny shows, why second guess K. Perry? C'mon S Street producers, just ignore the trolls.

And what's the fuss anyway? I watched the viddy and there is nothing inappropriate in it. The prudes have always repressed sexuality and have always shown disturbing tendencies toward authoritarianism.

Posted by: roboturkey | September 23, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I think I was a teenager before I realized that Donald Duck ran around bottomless.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | September 23, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Might as well make sure the kiddos don't watch figure skating or ballerinas... I bet those same kids get to stare at the TV screen on Sundays watching football with daddy while he drools over the cheerleaders... hypocrites...

Posted by: mimo1 | September 23, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

It is a good thing they don't make Sesame Street in Mexico. The women there display twice the clevage as in the United States.

I've always maintained the USA is the most puritanical society in the world. The first English speaking colonialists in America were puritans. American police stay up all night trying to entrap people on the internet looking for a good time.

In the future, if women appear on Sesame Street, they will need to wear a burka from head to toe to protect our children from breasts.

Posted by: alance | September 23, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's the outfit, parents don't want their kids to know that Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it, that would create chaos in the space time continuum.

Posted by: Potter2 | September 23, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Bunch of prudes.

I see way more than that at any public beach.

Posted by: WillSeattle | September 23, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

She has a great rack. I don't think society is going to suffer because she can't put it on display on Sesame street. There are about 10 zillion other ways to view her assets on cable and the internet.

Don't fret now.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | September 23, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Ugh. I'm glad they pulled it, not because of her clevage, but because it totally sucks. C'mon. I know its geared toward kids, but this is crap. Her facial expressions are so annoying. And she is kind of whiny, too....Gross.

Posted by: itsme1 | September 23, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Please - this clip is positively benign. The kids see worse things when they think Mom and Dad aren't paying attention.

She's got everything covered that's pertinent, and what she's doing doesn't run into double entendres or suggestiveness. To me, she's wearing a prom dress.

I've seen much worse out in public.

Take a look at the opening shots of Petticoat Junction. Green acres had some moments there. And don't tell me no youngster hasn't watched Baywatch.

Can we all grow up and join the rest of the world?

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | September 23, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I took my 3 yr old granddaughter to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden where she laughed heartedly at a male nude sculpture because he had what she called "a hanging body". She was an only child and hadn't ever seen a male in the nude, so she was bemused, figuring the sculptor was making some kind of abstract expressionist joke.

I laughed along with her and that was the extent of her interest in male genitalia for several more years.

Posted by: loyalsyst | September 23, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

The bowdlerization of America marches onward.

Posted by: Left_of_the_Pyle | September 23, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Why pull that hussy off Sesame Street you ask? Well we're trying to protect our young children from you progressive socialists who are destroying our country. And to show you I am no prude I want you,Alexandra,to know I give wonderful facials.

Posted by: IamWright | September 23, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Let's teach censorship to the kids. Video is benign but it's important for the young ones to know the Orwellian world we inhabit.

Posted by: davemarks | September 23, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

For God's sake, let's get our women into burqas quick. Our children might learn that women have breasts. Another win for the American Taliban/Religious Right.

Posted by: billyvw | September 23, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

What's shocking is that a 26-year old doesn't have the innate sense to realize that we wear different clothes for different audiences. Believe me, I'd LOVE if my favorite tee-shirt-and-shorts attire served all purposes. But it doesn't. If I were to show up for a party of Alexandra's at an upscale club, I'd bet she wouldn't be too happy if this were my choice of wardrobe. Does Kate think this marks her as sophisticated? A style-setter? Grow up, people, and get over the I-do-what-I-want-and-wear-what-I-like-at-all-times attitude. You're not interesting enough to pull that off.

Posted by: farhorizons | September 23, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that there is anything wrong with the video... As people stated above, there are way worse things that children are exposed to regularly. My children wouldn't have noticed all that because that is not what attracts them. They would have been dancing along with the song shouting "ELMO!" and carrying on, not making a big controversy over Katy Perry's cleavage.

Posted by: shantiboog | September 23, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: loyalsyst | September 23, 2010 5:38 PM

"I took my 3 yr old granddaughter to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden where she laughed heartedly at a male nude sculpture because he had what she called "a hanging body". She was an only child and hadn't ever seen a male in the nude, so she was bemused, figuring the sculptor was making some kind of abstract expressionist joke.

I laughed along with her and that was the extent of her interest in male genitalia for several more years."

Ouch, so your grandaughter started wanting men genitalia by age 6...glad you aren't my kids grandma/sloot. OO = U

Posted by: donaldtrump1 | September 23, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

This is a "non-issue." This is not some siliconized adult film star shakin' her stuff, nor even the full-figured & lovely Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men." This is tame, this not racy, and is a pretty natural looking woman dressed in a old school pre-Jackie O dress singing a song with puppets.

Get your minds out of the gutter America. I am part of the conservative segment of America, and this was neither provocative, nor cleavage at its finest. Just let it go.

I will say this that Katy Perry got a few minutes of free publicity out of the deal, so somebody played their cards right.

Posted by: jjmfe | September 23, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad they pulled it. She knows what she's doing, and wanted the exposure (no pun intended). Almost everything aimed at kids is sexualized as early as possible. If she came across as less narcissistic, it might not have been a problem.

Posted by: nyctuber | September 23, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Who the hell is this Petri person and why is space wasted on her drivel?

Posted by: skscottkeyes | September 23, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I find hard to believe this error of decision wasn't intentional on the part of the Director of Costume Design! Costumes are thoughtfully designed to be just that -- the costume. Why NOT a long tapered bib or collar of flower petals or leaves? Why instead choose to reveal the breasts in a sexualized way? The breasts aren't dressed up and adorned for breastfeeding, so why showcase them in Las Vegas-style contrast with the costume's fundamental design? Creepy-deepy.

Posted by: fair1 | September 23, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Cleavage isn't OK but showing a kid with two dads is no problem. Go figure.

Posted by: dapandkwp | September 23, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

I think these censors are nuts, and have way too much time on their hands. I looked at the video and saw Elmo and a young girl singing. It makes me wonder if they have to flatten the scoops of mashed potatoes on their plates, or make square pancakes so no children get the wrong idea. Do they cut their carrots differently? Are bananas outlawed? Really!

Posted by: nihao1 | September 23, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: dudevlogger | September 23, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: dudevlogger | September 23, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

A breast is one of the first things you have shoved in your face when you're born.

Nothing obscene about a breast.

Posted by: wolf808 | September 23, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

If Americans would have no other problems I would be amused about the debate.
But I am not.

Posted by: modar | September 23, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Alex, you slay me. The folks on here who are writing these earnest diatribes about your comments are hilarious! Keep it coming girl, you rock!

Posted by: GovFlack | September 23, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

This has to do with what is appropriate for children; how we want our youngest children to understand the world.

There is a place for propriety. I would not expect my child's kindergarten teacher to dress this way, and I think for the role, she should have dress appropriately.

This has nothing to do with suppressing the greater culture. This has nothing to do with censorship that will ham society. This has to do with what is appropriate dress on a children's television show.

Posted by: krush01 | September 23, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Well, obviously we can't let children watch Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty. [rolleyes]

Posted by: MadamDeb | September 23, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

the puritans must protect children from cleavage. Must protect....must hide...put them in a plastic bubble away from the dangerous cleavage......

Posted by: Socialistic | September 23, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

My goodness - they pulled this for "cleavage" complaints?! I've seen more cleavage from Latte moms dropping their kids off at preschool. How ridiculous - I suppose that people would be more comfortable if she had worn a burqa - that would have been a great example for our kids.

Posted by: fwillyhess | September 23, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Cleavage? For God's sake! Elmo is running around with nothing but his furry red birthday suit on!

Posted by: TracyCM | September 24, 2010 12:26 AM | Report abuse

Apparently Katy Perry's dress showed off her Bert and Ernie. http://www.onelineheadline.com

Posted by: marblenc | September 24, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

Like Stephanie Voldeng, I try as I might to look at the humurous side of life when I can: sometimes I take life too seriously. Last week a woman sports journalist in a National Football League locker room was dressed in an outfit that highlighted her physique enough to result in a nation-wide media event. Maybe this Sesame Street woman has a future in sports reporting...lol. On the serious side: could the frustration due to the state of the American economy be causing us, beneath our level of consciousness, to express that frustration via targets that are known as scapegoats? Women have frequently been such targets. Hmmm????

Posted by: DarylAtamanyk | September 24, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

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