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Abby Cadabby Makes Me Crabby: Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

We're delighted to bring the humor and perspective of Lenore Skenazy to MomTalk. Check back often to read her new columns.

Oscar the Grouch got it right. The world is a grasping, craven, scrap heap of greed -- and the street he lives on is no exception.

How else to explain Abby Cadabby, the "Sesame Street" muppet debuting Monday (Aug. 14), one of just a handful of female characters this supposedly enlightened show has managed to come up with in 37 years? Abby is pink. She is pretty. She has wings. She's the Gisele Bundchen of the pre-school set. And just like Gisele, she's a marketer's dream.

"Abby is a Disney character with a PBS twist," says Susan Linn, spokeswoman at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. "The last thing girls need is another girly-girl fairy. Disney does that already." But since Disney has made a mint pushing that particular take on girlhood, Sesame Workshop decided to copy 'em.

Of course, it won't admit that! Would you, if you wanted parents to plunk their kids in front of your show every morning? "Get your sex roles here, then go buy the gear!"

No, the official company rationale for Abby is that, as a fairy in training, she comes new to the neighborhood and must learn how to make friends -- Lesson A -- even as the old gang learns irreproachable Lesson B: They must accept someone who is different. Not so different that she is black, or fat, or tall for a girl, 'natch. Just different in that she's adorable and sparkly and tends to accidentally take flight when she's happy.

You know, just like a guy would. Right?

Puh-leese. Even Elmo isn't that silly and he giggles for a living. In pop culture, guys -- even guys with ping-pong balls for eyes -- are grounded. Girls?

"They're always given magical powers," says Sharon Lamb, co-author of "Packaging Girlhood." "Abby isn't getting her power from being competent or knowing a lot. She doesn't get a sword. All her power comes from fairy dust." At this rate, says Lamb, she'll grow up to be "I Dream of Jeanie" or maybe Samantha on "Bewitched" -- women who succeed thanks to magic. In fact, "That's so magic!" is Abby's catchphrase. If you can't imagine a doll chirping that while batting her lashes, I dearly hope you are not a buyer for Toys "R" Us.

Now I know all this may sound like a tempest in a T is for Teapot. After all, we're just talking about one little puppet on one little kids show, right? But think of what "Sesame Street" has represented for almost two whole generations: an earnest effort to teach kids not just to read, but to respect everyone's differences. It was the first TV show to have an integrated cast. Now it's sliding into stereotypes.

"PBS is supposed to be different," says Diane Levin, who is writing a book, "So Sexy, So Soon." "They're not supposed to be selling out." But the company plans to start marketing Abby books and then, if these do well, Abby toys, videos, accessories and eventually, probably bags of overpriced fairy dust.

Poof! Another aisle in the toy store goes pink and little girls are taught to dream of becoming pretty princesses.

That's magic, all right. The marketing kind.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Daily News (lskenazy@nydailynews.com)

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