The Sesame Street “J Train” Not Scary?

Well, I beg to differ. But I couldn’t tell you why.

As a kid I was more fascinated with the supernatural than afraid of it. I loved ghost stories, I loved haunted houses, I could swear I saw a ghost in my basement when I was five, and I was a CHAMPION “Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather” player–if one can be a champion at something like that. So not many traditional things frightened as much as they fascinated me. Instead, I was more afraid of the everyday things that probably should have been unsettling, startling, cringe-inducing or weird–but not frightening. Things like the “beep” that signaled a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Or the bathtub drain. Or footy pajamas.

Or–gulp–The J Train on Sesame Street.

I don’t know. What was so scary about this clip? Was it the sepia hued background setting an eerie tone that is in too stark a contrast with the color letter that is zooming through it? Did I wish it all matched? Was that my problem–color clash? Or was it the voice in the narration–a creepy, high pitched male voice that sounded frantic and scattered and just crazy enough to, you know, MURDER someone at any moment? Or was it that ending, where the worst that could happen happens and the train crashes himself and thus becomes junk?

Search me. But I’ll tell you–there really is something to the staying power of images or sounds or ideas that scared us as children. Because even now as I sit here and watch this letter “J” roll along and make words and sense out of “OIN” and “UMP”, I’m doing so wide eyed and with my hand over my mouth.

And for some reason, I have a very powerful urge to hide behind my chair and call my Mom.

Sass Wagon

Sass Wagon (or Dana, if you prefer formality) grew up in Pennsylvania in the 80s and 90s. She kinda needs a haircut.

Latest posts by Sass Wagon (see all)

Never Miss an Episode

Stay up-to-date on the latest from the Retroist Podcast. Sign up and receive email notifications when there's a new episode of the Retroist Podcast or when we launch new podcasts.
* indicates required

One thought on “The Sesame Street “J Train” Not Scary?

  1. Atari Adventure Square says:

    As a kid, I had a language book with similar depictions of settings: photographed building cut-outs in single colors over pop-art backdrops (like 60s animated Spider-Man eps) and cartoon people teaching each other sentences.

    I loved that book, still have it.
    But the mixture of realism/cartoon/acid trip on the pages always unnerved me, to the point that, to this day, I open up the pages and feel a queasy “this isn’t right” feeling all over again.

    That Sesame Street clip has those elements, for the reasons you described.
    I think some kids out there, having seen this, still freeze up on the “J” part of the alphabet, going “H-I…I…aieeeeeeee!” in the faces of their own terrified children.

    Then again, that weird warbles of that Grace Slick-like singer on the jazzy numbers song in 60s SS shows used to freak me out then.
    So don’t ask me to count to ten.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.