DoorDash desecrates a classic ‘Sesame Street’ song
Most people have reserved their limited allotment of Super Bowl commercial outrage for the Bruce Springsteen Jeep ad. But I chose to direct my ire toward a much worse offender: DoorDash’s use of the classic Sesame Street song “People in Your Neighborhood” to advertise its exploitative delivery services.
“People In Your Neighborhood” imprinted itself on my childhood as much as “Happy Birthday To You” did. My grandmother used to sing it to me as she pushed me around San Diego in my stroller. My mother sang it to me in Memphis, Tennessee, which is where watching Sesame Street taught me to read as a toddler. I sang it to my annoyed wife yesterday, a few hours before the Super Bowl, as we walked the dog around our neighborhood. That song is never too far from my consciousness.
And now, in an era where delivery apps have contributed mightily to the destruction of neighborhood businesses during a pandemic, the Children’s Television Workshop has sold out its values. And for what? There’s something to be said for being able to receive a delivery of whatever you want with one click. But let’s not pretend it’s about the “neighborhood”.
“People In Your Neighborhood” is one of Sesame Street’s oldest bits. Bob McGrath used to sing it with various nondescript Muppets to teach kids about various professions, most of them in the helper or merchant classes. There was no “investment banker” or “arms dealer” in your neighborhood. Here’s one of the earliest iterations, with a grocer, which is what neighborhoods used to have. This is notable because the grocer mentioned “kale”, which in the early 1970s was about as rare in a neighborhood as Thai food.
This is classic Sesame Street, teaching kids to respect working adults, to eat healthy, and to not take more than you need.
The People In Your Neighborhood sketches popped up periodically, and became a part of the public vernacular. Here’s McGrath singing the song during a 1988 pledge drive with Martina Navratilova, Barbara Walters, and Ralph Nader.
“The consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood” is kind of a Republican nightmare. But this is Sesame Street, what do you expect? Bob McGrath isn’t going to sing with Phyllis Schlafly.
Sesame Street long ago ceased to be a public good. Original episodes now air on HBO, not PBS. But it’s generally maintained its status as a cornerstone of humanist progressivism that also teachers its viewers how to read and to count. “People In Your Neighborhood” has changed with the times as well. In this summer’s version, Elmo, Grover, and Abbycaddaby got together on a Zoom call and sang about the “Heroes In Your Neighborhood.”
This version of the song is saccharine and obnoxious, and Grover definitely needs to wash his pots. But it’s also contemporary and well within the educational mission of Sesame Street.
That’s what makes last night’s DoorDash spot so upsetting. It removes all meaning from a song that, as recently as yesterday afternoon, meant so much to me. DoorDash is the opposite of “People In Your Neighborhood”. It encourages people to stay home, not to engage in the neighborhood. It is anti-people and anti-community. The deliveryperson drops off your goods, contact-free. By using DoorDash, you’re shorting their tips and forcing extortionate fees on the neighborhood businesses that you ostensibly love. When Daveed Diggs, who joined the Muppets last night, says he’s a “huge fan” of all things Sesame Street, he should think about what DoorDash is doing for actual neighborhoods. Cookie Monster may be getting DoorDash deliveries from the pastry boutique, but the grocer ceased being a person in your neighborhood a long time ago. They’re the people DoorDash eats each day.