A decade ago, the big Sesame Street scandal involved Cookie Monster eating vegetables. The character’s Twitter account was forced to actually respond to the news, admitting that he ate vegetables but would remain the Cookie Monster, not the Veggie Monster. At the time, this scandal made national news and was a very big deal. Today, the long-running series faces a much more serious controversy as the details of their latest partnership have come to life. In particular, fans are outraged as it appears the puppet-led show is partnering with a company that profits off the nation’s prison system, specifically, charging poor parents exorbitant fees in order to speak to their children.
In early August 2021, Global Tech Link (GTL) issued a press release. It was mostly ignored at the time but has recently gained the attention of parents. The press release says a lot of things that sound very positive and in line with the marketing of GTL and Sesame Street. GTL summarized their own news by saying: “As part of Sesame Street in Communities, the new resources will be designed to foster connections between children and incarcerated parents and provide support and comfort for families.”
Support and comfort for families with incarcerated parents sounds like a very kind thing. That sounds like a partnership Sesame Street would be involved with. The show has done specials on unique circumstances for children in the past, like their episodes and resources for children in foster care. As it turns out, the company in question isn’t known for actually supporting incarcerated parents, but charging them huge sums of money in order to speak with their children. Much of this was initially brought to life by a Twitter thread from Alec Karakatsanis.
More of the pain and realities caused by GTL’s business model was revealed through letters from parents currently incarcerated and suffering under the system. While much of the problem with GTL is that they charge large fees, they also have faulty service according to many who’ve been forced to try and work with the company. The below Tweet shows some of why parents are angry at the Sesame Street partnership.
Sesame Street has been around for a long time. Many of today’s parents grew up watching characters like Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird. They’re familiar with the marketing and messages of the series. The show is one that proudly promotes the kind of experience GTL is claiming to support: helping children with incarcerated parents deal with that experience and stay connected to their families. When Sesame Street says they’re partnering with GTL as a company doing that, fans want to believe Big Bird, who they’ve grown up with. When evidence of how the company actually works comes to light, showing how GTL profits off the country’s poorest citizens and keeps families from being able to communicate, the message from Sesame Street’s partnership becomes an even deeper betrayal to parents who now want answers. The result is a very angry internet.
For now, Sesame Street isn’t addressing the issue, and it doesn’t seem like they’re likely to.