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COOKIE MONSTER SHOULD BE ABLE TO EAT IN PEACE

"Sesame Street" has just started its 36th season on TV, and this year "O" is for obese.

America's children have apparently become such roly-poly couch muffins that even the fun-loving Muppets can no longer turn a blind button eye to the expanding problem.

The statistics are so scary that Count Von Count would wince. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents battling the bulge has doubled since 1970. Today, 15 percent are straining the scales, and some experts say that number could grow to a whopping 30 percent before we know it.

That, say the producers of the world's most famous children's show, is why Cookie Monster will curb his craving for carbs this year. Instead of scarfing every platter of treats he sees, the googly-eyed big mouth will learn moderation. Or at least try.

In an upbeat attempt at re-education, Hoots the Owl will sing the new song "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food" to the munch monster in hopes of steering him away from overindulging in his favorite chocolate chips. Is this what things have come to?

TV's Muppet makeover makes me wonder what would happen if the words to older kids' favorite pop songs were nipped and tucked for temperance.

Instead of singing the lyric "If I was a rich girl," would Gwen Stefani be shaking her booty to the strains of "If I earned just enough to be comfortable while setting aside a reasonable 10 percent in a Roth IRA"?

What about Kelis' sexually charged tune "Milkshake"? Would, as the lyrics say, "all the boys come to the yard" for a fruit smoothie (no sugar added)? "The Sopranos" theme song might be changed to: "Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun after the required waiting period and detailed government background check."

And the saucy soul man Prince might find himself speeding into lustful overdrive in a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius Hybrid instead of a little red Corvette.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not pro-gluttony, or a cheerleader for recklessness. Except when it comes to chocolate. I strive for moderation in most things. Housework, in particular. And I'd love to see young people paying more attention to exercise than Xboxes.

But honestly, does Cookie have to become a furry fuddy-duddy to accomplish that? He's a monster, for goodness' sake. I can't recall Godzilla, Dracula or the Creature From the Black Lagoon practicing self-control.

There's nothing wrong with preaching the virtues of fruits and vegetables, but it would make more sense for that job to go to the street's more saintly characters, like Big Bird or Snuffleupagus.

Plus, once Cookie cuts back, what happens next? Does Oscar the Grouch take an anger-management course? Does Count Von Count get pharmaceutical help for obsessive-compulsive disorder?

I liked it better when "C" just stood for cookie -- calories, carbs and all.

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