Volume 17, Number 3, 1992
Comstock (1975) and Hawkins & Pingree (1981) suggested that where the environment does not contain information about a topic, television provides such a picture. Sesame Street, as a show designated for Canadian preschoolers who may not have seen locations in Canada outside their locality, needed to reflect the Canadian cultural reality. The CBC decided not to air the U.S. program in its entirety. Instead, the decision was made to edit the U.S. version and add Canadian material. The decision was based on Canada's desire to expose viewers to French rather than Spanish and on the necessity to reflect a different society. While the U.S. has Black and Hispanic minorities, these two groups, while present in Canada, do not form large minorities. The principle of adding Canadian content allowed writers, music composers, performers, animators, directors, and producers to practise their crafts on a show which reaches 90% of its potential audience daily. This decision to adapt Sesame Street to the Canadian culture was reached in 1970; later it would be reinforced by MacBride et al. (1980) who indicated that the cultural identity of every country had to be preserved while promoting knowledge of other cultures.
A CBC Sesame Street program, aired September 20, 1988, contained 46 segments, 23 Canadian and 23 from CTW in New York. Of all segments 25 were animated, 7 were live, 10 included muppets, and 4 contained combinations. Of the 23 Canadian segments, 14 were animated, 6 were live, 2 included muppets, and 1 had animation, and muppets. For the U.S. segments in the program, 11 were animated, 1 was live, 8 included muppets, and the other 3 contained combinations. Given the Canadian goals of showing Canada to Canadians, it is not surprising that the live segments were Canadian. Live action allows the producer to use Canadian homes, neighbourhoods, and cities as backdrops for the main action.
Another program which aired on May 11, 1991, contained 40 segments; 25 U.S. and 15 Canadian. Sixteen segments used animation (nine Canadian and seven U.S.). Muppets were presented in eight U.S. segments and four Canadian segments. The show contained four U.S. and two Canadian segments using actors. Canadian segments occupied 25% of the available time; U.S. segments the other 75%. Muppet or muppet-plus-live-people segments from the U.S. aired for over half the program. Canadian muppet segments were on for five minutes. The program also included just over six minutes of Canadian animation and five minutes of U.S. animation.
There are some interesting trends over the three-year period when these two shows were monitored. For these two programs, the Canadian share of segments appears to have declined from 50% of the segments in 1988 to under 40% in 1991. In 1988, opportunities to show Canada were available in six segments. In the 1991 show, only two live segments were available, although it is possible that the four Canadian muppet segments could show Canada. This rough comparison may reflect the budget cuts made by CBC. Live segments, are the most costly to produce (when compared to animation or muppet segments). As budget cuts continue, the effects on the program may be a reduced Canadian presence and more animated or muppet segments.
The first goal area deals with self, the child and his/her powers, pre-science goals, emotions, social units, social groups and institutions, social interactions, conflict resolution, entering social groups, the man-made environment, the natural environment, and quality of the environment. The symbolic representation goals deal with pre-reading, writing, vocabulary, numbers, and geometric forms. The cognitive organization goals deal with perceptual discrimination, relational concepts, and classifying. The purely Canadian goals will be described in more detail below.
With input from the Advisory Committee, the program's executive producer decides the season's priorities and commissions writers to prepare scripts for proposed segments. After scripts are scrutinized by production staff and selected experts, production teams in seven cities produce 100-150 segments each year. Each segment lasts between six seconds and three minutes (Caron-Bouchard & Bouchard, 1982). Some segments are animated, some are live. Most segments are filmed although a small number are videotaped. Segments include location shooting and studio shooting. The program uses all types of animation (cell, clay, beads, sand, cut-outs, puppets) and combination segments incorporating both live and animated footage. Almost all segments feature children. All segments are set to original music, composed, and performed in Canada.
The goal of introducing French words, phrases, and French conversations to children has been accomplished using a range of formats. Some segments present a French word or phrase which is linked to appropriate visuals. In some cases, the word is presented once; in others, several presentations occur. In some segments, several examples of the word being communicated are given. For instance, a presentation of the French word for glass might be linked to several types of glasses. Segments dealing with concrete objects are easy to produce. However, segments which deal with action verbs have been more problematic. Often the action verb can be confused with the objects presented.
Bilingual segments present English and French words or phrases either as direct translations of each other or as complementary phrases. The type of segment seems to dictate the format. In another format, one language is used as a question and the other is used as the answer. A recent segment introducing ``Dans ma poche'' (In my pocket) asked ``Where 'ya going to put it?'' The French answer was ``Dans ma poche.'' Strong visuals illustrate the questions and the answer so that the child will make the link between the words and the visuals.
In a relatively new format, the child is told that a word is ``French'' for a certain English word. In previous formats, the child may have been unaware that a particular word was a French word and may have assumed that an object merely had two names. In the cueing format, the producer has one of the characters say overtly that the word is French. Conversational French items usually depict an interaction between people speaking French at normal conversational speed with all local accents and wording (and sometimes errors) left intact. Part of the objective here is to point out to Canadian children who have no exposure to a totally francophone environment that life takes place in French. Some recent segments have added some English narration which breaks in to explain the sequence of events.
Program segments often include visible minorities: Orientals, East Indians, Blacks, and Native people. There is no special attention drawn to the minority person; he/she is integrated into the segment. Before 1985, few minority adults were shown but since 1985, Native, Oriental, Black, and East Indian adults have appeared in segments. Since 1986, animators working on segments began to include visible minorities as animated characters in the segments. The rationale behind including visible minorities in segments is that children who are members of these groups will see themselves reflected on television and as a result may feel legitimized by it (Berry & Mitchell-Kernan, 1982).
In another effort to introduce various cultures to viewers, producers are experimenting with ways of including musical backgrounds reflective of Canada's cultures. The rich heritage of Anglo-Celtic music and the skirl of the pipes have not yet been heard as background in segments, but recent segments have witnessed an increase in the use of instruments like the accordion instead of guitars, keyboards, and percussion. The rich lyrical styles of southern Europe, the haunting sitar ragas, Eastern melodies in minor keys, and the percussive rhythms of the Caribbean should be considered for future productions.
Another form of introducing multicultural content is to present the customs of a specific cultural group. Segments have focused on dance, food, entertainment, families, dress, and folklore. This area has been one of the most difficult to negotiate for the producers. While it is theoretically desirable to present high profile culture in a segment, there are inherent dangers. The characteristic being presented may be viewed as a stereotype of the culture. For instance, Ukrainian dancing is very popular in western Canada. A segment on Sesame Street showed young people dancing in red boots and labelled the dance as Ukrainian. To some, the segment was seen as stereotyping Ukrainians as people who wear red boots.
As the program explores cultural customs, more difficulties may arise. Some cultures segregate boys and girls, especially in play. It was recently suggested to the Advisory Committee that segments which showed boys and girls playing together might be offensive to some people. The position taken by the Committee was that boys and girls play together in Canada and that the program would continue to reflect this practice. Similarly, segments have been deliberately designed to show girls and women performing non-traditional tasks. Opposition from cultures which do not believe in equality is not likely to be considered seriously because it does not reflect the Canadian norm.
Research from the Children's Television Workshop has shown that performers singing to the camera have trouble maintaining attention. Canadian segments presenting performers have attempted to use action and other visuals to augment the singer. In a segment presenting a song about the sky, shots of the performer singing to children on a prairie were interspersed with shots including cell animation over the cloud forms. Murray McLaughlin; Fred Penner; Sharon, Lois, and Bram; and Valdy are a few of the performers who have appeared on the program.
The most significant change has been the introduction of three Canadian muppets. Dodi is a bush pilot who flies around the country in a small plane providing the opportunity to visit major attractions. The introduction of the Dodi segments has allowed producers to use footage of Canadian landmarks like Niagara Falls and the Calgary Stampede with the studio segments hosted by Dodi in her plane. The other two muppets include Basil, who looks like a bear, and Louie, who looks like an otter. Louie is bilingual and helps Basil to learn French. The three muppets have been placed in segments together and have also been linked with children, animated sections, and stock footage. The muppets have allowed producers to deal with content similar to New York segments from a Canadian perspective.
In addition to regular program evaluation, Sesame Street poses many questions for future research. One involves the teaching of French by television in the Sesame Street formats. Lewis (1983) found that segments could be effective in teaching vocabulary to elementary school students. A later study investigated the effect of formal features such as music and multiple presentations of vocabulary on comprehension (Lewis, 1984). There have been no studies with kindergarten students dealing with the question of the effectiveness of the language-teaching formats.
Despite Lavoie's comments, Canadian audiences may need much more explicit cues to identify segments as Canadian. Even if this happens, producers must try harder to identify the regions of Canada as they produce segments. For example, in some cities, major landmarks such as Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Citadel Hill in Halifax, the Ambassador bridge in Windsor immediately identify the location to many people. Audio cues could also give more generalized locations such as region of the country. In the muppet segments, Dodi's plane and her flying jacket both display the flag, clearly labelling them as Canadian. Canadian weather can also be exploited since some areas have so much winter. Segments shot in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife, and Montreal could exploit winter backgrounds for segments. Productions from both coasts could exploit the fog and rain as backgrounds.
To determine how Canada was reflected in the program, Lewis (1990) studied the 1985 production year of the program. Eleven of the 41 live segments contained cues identifying the segments as Canadian. In some segments, cues which would be familiar to residents of the city (like the clock on the Halifax citadel or the RCMP college) were presented. However, in most other segments, opportunities to identify segments with the locale in which they were shot were missed. To achieve the goal of presenting Canada to Canadian children in the best way, producers must include overt Canadian cues as described above. Failure to do so deprives the Canadian viewer of the opportunity to be exposed (and know they are being exposed) to another part of the country.
Research is needed both with children and parents to determine of they notice the difference between Canadian and U.S. segments and the types of formal features which help them identify different locales in Canada. For instance, producers need research data on whether signs are noticed enough or whether the soundtrack, which usually carries the meaningful information, should contain the Canadian cue. Researchers must also determine if viewers in a region can identify their region in the segments and which cues they use to perform this identification task.
Some anglophone producers have tried to achieve French goals concurrently with goals such as counting. These producers naturally develop the idea in English and then translate it. D'Anglejan (1986) has suggested that translation does not always work. For instance, the word ``up'' has many different meanings in English which cannot always be translated as ``en haut.'' Relational concepts like big, bigger, biggest, which work well in English, are awkward in French. D'Anglejan suggests that producers start with the French content to be taught and then design the segment around it instead of planning a segment in English and then translating it to make it work. The producers will have to seek the help of francophone Canadians to develop bilingual segments.
It is critically important that French segments continue to be produced outside Quebec. The vibrant francophone communities outside Quebec must continue to be tapped as a resource for segments, especially since they often reflect a French-Canadian reality unlike that of Quebec. However, this recommendation poses another problem. In Montreal, native French speakers abound. However, in other parts of Canada, it is more difficult to locate adult and child actors who can speak French fluently and perform the required actions in program segments. Regional wording, which sometimes contains errors and colloquial speech poses another problem because of the new awareness in Quebec about the quality of French being used in media. During a recent screening, a segment originally produced in 1976 was presented with a new soundtrack. The original contained the French phrase ``C'est le fun.'' Although this construction might have been acceptable in 1976, current thinking made it less desirable. Regional accents pose another problem. While varieties of English as spoken by Atlantic Canadians have been presented there has been a reluctance to present non-standard accents in French. If French segments continue to be produced outside Quebec, non-standard accents may have to be accepted.
It has been suggested that people in segments be seen communicating in both languages to model a desirable situation in Canada. Certain situations, like French immersion classes, lend themselves well to such communication but raise other issues. Because these programs focus on children learning French as a second language, students sometimes make errors while learning French. Producers may have to decide whether to leave the errors as is or re-dub the soundtracks. From the author's viewpoint, errors should be included. Learning a second language is difficult. Parents and pre-schoolers should see the process in action, errors intact.
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