Sesame Street in Pakistan

It’s a good thing we’re flush with money, highly influential and well respected around the world. Otherwise, this plan might not seem like such a spectacularly fabulous idea.

The United States is funding a Pakistani remake of the popular TV children’s show Sesame Street.

In a new effort to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, USAID – the development arm of the US government – is donating $20m (£12m) to the country to create a local Urdu version of the show…

The remake will star a puppet called Rani, the six-year-old daughter of a peasant farmer, with pigtails and a school uniform, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

No word on whether or not the female child puppet will be wearing traditional garb, or how much of it, but we do know that they won’t be including Count Von Count in the cast. I’m guessing that’s because… he’s a vampire? Further, the show’s creators have stated that they’re going to be avoiding questions of religion, so I don’t know how much westernization might be taking hold from this.

So should we be dumping money into a project like this right on the heels of the bruising budget battle which just concluded? James Joyner notes that it’s not really a significant chunk of change and he might get behind the idea.

Is this an incredibly brazen waste of money? Or a drop in the bucket well spent? The second, quite likely…

I haven’t the foggiest whether a Pakistani Sesame Street will succeed in transforming the culture on matters of gender equality or literacy. But, given that we’re pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the region, I’m willing to risk $20 million to find out.

Aside from the poor optics of spending any money we don’t absolutely have to right now, I suppose I can see Joyner’s point. But there’s another question to be addressed. The areas where we really need to reach people and begin to change their way of thinking are more with the tribal groups than in the urban areas which are somewhat friendlier to western interests. And those are the areas which will have the least access to television programming. In fact, they have a hard enough time even getting electricity, given the shortages and delivery problems the Pakistanis face with utilities.

But it will get through to some, I suppose. I just hope that whole “Bert and Ernie are gay lovers” meme doesn’t catch hold over there. I don’t think it will seem quite as amusing to the new audience.

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