Big Bird tweeting about his Covid vaccine isn’t propaganda, whatever outraged conservatives claim

The Sesame Street character tweeted about getting his Covid vaccine. This is entertainment, not a manifesto, writes Clémence Michallon

Tuesday 09 November 2021 21:58
<p>Big Bird and other Sesame Street puppet characters post net to a temporary street sign on 9 November 2009 in New York City</p>

Big Bird and other Sesame Street puppet characters post net to a temporary street sign on 9 November 2009 in New York City

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You know the news cycle has taken a really silly turn when conservatives start picking fights with a fictional bird. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You spend less time on Twitter than I do. Allow me to catch you up: Big Bird, the Sesame Street character, recently announced that he had received the Covid vaccine. While the character was created in 1969, he’s meant to be only six years old, meaning he’s part of the cohort of five-to-11-year-olds who just got access to the jab in the US.

Big Bird celebrated his new immunisation with a tweet that read: “I got the Covid-19 vaccine today! My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy.” Short, sweet, educational, and to the point: you can always rely on Big Bird for quality content. But of course, it didn’t take long for right-wing talking heads to find the tweet. That’s when the discourse took a turn, as it so often does, for the ridiculous and the absurd.

Texas Senator and Cancún connaisseurTed Cruz shared Big Bird’s tweet (in another era, this would have been an absurd sentence to type, but we’ve grown used to certain things by now) and added: “Government propaganda… for your five-year-old!” Ah, yes, a measured, totally sensical reaction. Cruz wasn’t the only conservative to hop on the Big Bird train. I’m loath to give oxygen to more tweets, because this is all so baseless and performative, but you get the picture. Big Bird is doing Big Government’s bidding, we’re told. He’s advertising drugs to kids. He’s an agent of Big Pharma.

I mean, maybe! Or: maybe Big Bird is a fictional character who did a tweet. Maybe that’s all there is to it.

I suspect many of the people tweeting furiously do know that. And I know we’ve been at it for years and years, but it still amazes me that the GOP has somehow convinced its followers that their political opponents are the fragile snowflakes who get triggered. The rhetoric is so transparent, so basic. This is a party that runs on outrage, even if that outrage takes the form of shaking one’s fist at a fictional bird. It runs on faux scandals. It feasts on fake indignation for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

At least Jimmy Kimmel had a field day with this. “This is how they think: if the government says it, it’s propaganda,” he said on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “If Congress does it, it’s socialism. If the executive branch does it, it’s fascism. If the president says it, he’s a dictator. And if the media says it, it’s fake news.” He took a couple of extra stabs at Cruz, adding: “Not only is Ted Cruz vaccinated himself – Ted Cruz was born with an immunity that protects him from contracting any friends. But I think the truth is maybe Ted’s still sore about Big Bird’s most recent book: Big Bird visits Cancún to find Ted Cruz’s balls.”

Even the Sesame Street Twitter account seemed to throw a thinly veiled jab at Cruz when it shared an archive clip of Big Bird getting his measles shot in 1972. “Big Bird may have just received his Covid-19 vaccine, but as many of you pointed out, he was learning how to keep himself and his neighbours healthy long before that!” the caption reads. In other words: Big Bird has been up-to-date on his vaccines for longer than I’ve been alive. Using cartoon characters to teach children about that kind of stuff is nothing new. It’s not “propaganda”. It’s just… TV. For children. It’s all fine.

There is something kind of irresistible about Sesame Street and Big Bird’s kind-hearted, quietly resolute brand of resistance. It’s information-driven, polite, and sweet. I’ll take it any day over faux-conservative outrage.

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