Meet the new Muppet, Lily. She’s pink, cute, and poor. Sesame Street is tackling childhood poverty and food insecurity in a special that will air this Sunday.
The special episode, "Growing Hope Against Hunger," will introduce Lily as a way to teach children about the problem of child hunger. Alison Trope, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, told Patt that Sesame Street will not only provide background information on the issue, but also give the problem “a human – or in this case, Muppet – face,” she said.
Sesame Street specially designed Lily’s face so that she would look down at her feet more, in order to show her insecurity about her situation.
Some worry that the show’s young target audience has not matured enough to handle the information. But Trope said she sees nothing wrong with using the media to open discourse on the subject.
“I think when people say that, they’re not giving kids enough credit,” she said. “Seeing a character like Lily gives something concrete, and maybe empowers children to think about [the issue].”
She argued that Sesame Street was originally set in the urban streets for a reason, so the show could educate children about more serious issues from the get-go.
KPCC's Andrea Wang contributed to this report
The episode will air during prime time, meaning the youngest Sesame Street viewers may not be tuned in. Does this kind of programming empower kids to help their peers, or make children who aren’t poor feel powerless to help friends like Lily? Is the introduction of a poor character a good way to open up the difficult topic of childhood poverty for discussion?
Alison Trope, professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication where she teaches classes on media pop culture