Under normal circumstances, I’m the sort of gal that can cope with the changes that our modern world brings us. I can take the heat. I can roll with the punches. I’m a modern chick. I have short hair! I use computers! But, in doing a bit of research about today’s great thing:
50. The Letter People
I found myself growing more and more frustrated by some unnecessary changes.
First, some exposition…The Letter People were born in the mid-seventies in St. Louis Missouri. Created by Elayne Reiss-Weimann and Rita Friedman, they were originally a local, low-budget project. They grew and grew in popularity and by the time the early 1980’s rolled around, they had filmed over sixty episodes. The fifteen minute shorts were broadcast both on PBS and in many a kindergarten classroom (including mine–shout out to Miss Hoffman of St. James in Erie, Pennsylvania).
A brief history and an episode guide is provided here: rickstv
It’s one a few impressive online communities celebrating the denizens of ‘Letter People Land’.
The Letter People were a hit with all the kids. One bit of clever marketing was the merchandising of things like flashcards, filmstrips, and these vinyl ‘huggables’ for the classrooms. Here’s picture of the Mr. P ‘Huggable’. Mr. P, that is–he of the Pointy Patches:
Calling anything made out of vinyl ‘huggable’ is a bit of a reach. I mean, hug too hard and you’ll pop it. Hug too long and you’ll come away sweaty and possibly with a rash. Still, the day when Mr. M (Munching Mouth) and Mr. T (Tall Teeth) arrived at our school was the closest thing I’d had to a celebrity encounter in all of my five years of life. I was manically happy and, embarrassingly, a bit too shy to get close to the plastic inflatables.
Merchandising and educational value aside, the kids loved The Letter People because they were all about the music, man. Each of the peeps had their own theme song. The styling and composition ranged in genre from Mr. Kind Kicking K’s pep club athletic anthem to the Carpenters-esque Miss A’s Achoo song to the ratpack crooning of Mr. Cotton Candy C. Naturally, being children of the 70’s, there were a couple of hip-shaking disco anthems in there as well. Check out this tribute to Mr. S. that some upright citizen put on youtube. It’s a floor-filler.
His superhero hideout is called ‘The Sock Cave’. Could there be anything more adorable? And dig those crazy beats.
My Mom taught in the same school that I attended at that point. As the fourth grade teacher, she was privy to the educational aid stash. She scored us a bootleg tape. My sister and I listened to all 26 tracks over and over and over again. Watching their library of videos on youtube (many are available) is pure and sweet nostalgia.
Anyway, the whole program was bought over by a different educational materials company in the 90’s–during the height of our political correctness. How would this transfer of ownership affect our celebrated ambassadors of Letter People Land? In what ways, you might ask, would that particular decade–one of padded playgrounds and overprotected children– mold their editorial choices? More importantly, how could a program about letters and the alphabet ever be thought of as offensive?
They found ways. They always find reasons to change things. For one, they altered what I thought was a pretty rad concept involving the five vowels and gender-typing. Y’see, all the consonants were Letter Boys and all the vowels were Letter Girls. Sure there was a ratio discrepancy, but big deal. It felt like the Old West, just with less brothels. Female-types were a rare but precious commodity. It’s indicative of how important we are! As a girl, I liked that! Now, predictably, they’re split evenly–with characters like Mr. T getting gender re-assigned to Ms. T.
Another upset is the repo of any junk foods associated with the characters. Mr. D used to sing about Delicious Donuts. Now he goes on about his Dazzling Dance. I preferred the excited fatso of my generation…not the performing arts braggart of today.
Any negative connotations were also removed. Take Mr. H for instance:
Used to be, this guy had Horrible Hair. Now it’s Happy Hair. Who got to you Mr. H? Was it Pantene? Talk, damn you!
Miss I–who used to be an Incredible Inventor has, in what I think might qualify as the most careless oversight of the century, been turned IIIIIIronically, into Mr. Impossible Inches. I mean, come on man…that’s a porn name. Are you telling me that you don’t see it? Impossible Inches! What is wrong with people today?
Still, even with all of the changes, it’s a good concept. I know they’re just trying to learn kids to read good and stuff… But, I can’t switch my allegiance. So, if you must–click here to check out the modern merchandise. Abrams and Company
If you’re a loyalist like me though, support the originals. Because donuts ARE delicious and having a cast of all-girl vowels is OK! There’s a few people that sell DVD copies of the show on Ebay. Don’t settle for less.