Regular visitors to this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Sesame Street, the long-running American television show which teaches children literacy, numeracy and life-skills such as kindness, tolerance and friendship.
On 11 April I commented on the launch of a version of Sesame Street in Pakistan. Now, Big Bird and his friends have made the trek to Afghanistan in a version of the programme called Baghch-e-Simisn. This is a co-production between the non-profit Sesame Workshop and Moby Media, an Afghan company that has made a big impact on the flow of international cultural products into the country, having been responsible for importing such western formats as Idol and Deal or No Deal. The US State Department has also provided some funding.
As expected, Baghch-e-Simisn will be modified for the specific cultural context Sesame Street will encounter in Afghanistan. So scenes in which Ernie is barking like a dog and encouraging his friend, Bert, to copy him will not be shown, as a dog is considered unclean. Moreover, in trying to impart the fundamentals of health and safety, the production team had difficulty finding a building site on which the workers wore the kind of protective clothing one would see in New York.
This is the beauty of Sesame Street; it is not afraid to take risks, to change for local audiences and use entertainment for education. In Afghanistan, where the education infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, such initiatives are welcomed. There will always be the nay-sayers who proclaim 'cultural imperialism', but Sesame Street's success and its genuine apolitical agenda demonstrate that international communications and American media products may actually do some good after all. Long may it continue!