Ethan Gilsdorf

Geek Pride

Sesame Street as Psychological Primer

The characters on Sesame Street suffer from many disorders in the DSM-IV.

Posted Oct 25, 2012

Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Kevin O'Kelly, a writer whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe and the literary journal Alligator Juniper.

When Mitt Romney said he would "fire Big Bird" in the first presidential debate, he was threatening to cancel a show that has been proven crucial to the education of American children.

Or as a college roommate of mine put it: "Sesame Street is nothing less than a window into madness."

Let's start with the obvious: Cookie Monster has an eating disorder and Count von Count is OCD. Grover, who sometimes thinks he's a superhero, has some kind of delusional disorder.

Ernie and Bert present more difficult cases. Most amateur psychologists on the Internet believe Ernie has a case of Attention Deficit Disorder, which accounts for some (but not all) of his bizarre behavior. Remember the time Bert couldn't sleep because of the sound of a dripping faucet, and Ernie's response was to turn on the radio to drown out the faucet?

I suspect some profound mental disability.

The contrasting personalities and behaviors of Ernie and Bert also serve as an introduction to Freud's concepts of the id and the superego. Ernie is all impulse; Bert is overly concerned with following rules.

There's no consensus on Oscar the Grouch. Some say Anti-Social Personality Disorder. But the author of the website A DSM-IV Look at Sesame Street disputes this diagnosis, making a compelling case that Oscar suffers from Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

By now I'm sure you're wondering what psychological disorders the rest of the cast of Sesame Street illustrate. Don't think too hard about it. As Freud might have said, "Sometimes a muppet really is just a muppet."

Kevin O'Kelly lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in the Boston Globe and the literary journal Alligator Juniper.