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Brené Brown says that, oftentimes, the stories we consider most powerful are the ones we tell ourselves, “but beware — they’re usually fiction.” We employ storytelling to create order in chaos, to fill in the blanks when we encounter circumstances without explanation, when we endure pain. We create a narrative to help us make sense of it. And the reality is these stories maybe be based on some or no real information. “A confabulation is a lie told honestly. To confabulate is to replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true.” That brings us to “Blue’s Clues’” Steve, his message in honor of the 25th anniversary of the show’s premiere and why the video message has us all in tears.
“Blue’s Clues” debuted on Nick Jr. on September 8, 1996. Steve (played by actor Steve Burns) led preschoolers through a series of mysteries with the help of his animated dog Blue. On September 8, 2021, Nick Jr.’s social media posted a video message with Steve and millennials were immediately an emotional wreck.
At the 0:24 mark, Steve begins to reminisce about leaving the show to head off to college. From the 0:32 to 0:35, there’s a so-called pregnant pause where he elicits our permission to have this long-overdue chat. He went on to say his parting words — where he merely said there was a new host (“your new best friend”) — were abrupt.
And he did not explain why he left. It is very likely the millennial preschoolers who were “Blue’s Clues” viewers created a confabulation that substituted for the very delinquent explanation that Steve provided.
Reflecting on the past 18 months of the pandemic, we’ve experienced a collective trauma that left us peering into the unknown, feeling scared and powerless. Our lives changed in some irrevocable ways. While some may say that it is grim to make a direct comparison, remember these parallels exists in the experiences of 4 to 8-year-olds who are today 28 to 32 years old. Looking back 20 years, after the past 18 months, what we have traversed undoubtedly feels like a similar jolt from the given relative safety and consistency that always was.
Had it not been for Steve’s relatively delinquent message that explains a time when the millennial viewers of “Blue’s Clues” first felt a similar blow, it may have forever gone unexplained how just a little recognition, a mere mention of why, that would start the healing process. Whoosa!
Tragedies, like what we are living through, gives birth ultimately to a “new normal.” What will become of the post-pandemic new normal? Renewal is harder to accept without an understanding of the trauma itself. Steve proved that to us in just two minutes (chef’s kiss!). As for the panorama (dialectic substitution because…tired), “There is no sense of an endpoint.”
“We haven’t stabilized yet. We’re not even sure if we’ll ever stabilize, especially as new variants of the virus emerge,” says Petros Levounis, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
When there is injury, to achieve any type of recovery, there must be a healing process. At present, our focus is more on how to live with the pandemic than how to move past it. Confabulation enters the space left unoccupied when we have yet to reach the recovery stage when we are still grappling with the injury. Steve left his young, most impressionable viewers with the traumatic equivalent of an emotional open wound. The unprocessed, unpacked, unaddressed pain of his departure was merely band-aided over with the announcement of the new host. “New host who dis?”
“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” -Zora Neale Hurston
Akua Boateng, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia, said, “The worst thing you can do when you’re going through trauma is to not talk about it, is to try to push past it and not to process all the ways that it’s impacting your body and brain.”
Research shows that seeking support from others after tragedy benefits people’s mental health. When safe spaces crop up where people can share their pain, the pained seek refuge therein. While it might be harder to connect in person now, we’ve arrived at the place where we acknowledge if it is worth doing, then it is worth doing — even virtually.
“We do not enter into the truth without having passed through our own nothingness.” -Simone Weil
In an instant, Steve’s words were a revelation, which created instant community. The disruption of the healing process, the long lingering trauma, and the ensuing confabulation which to the place of a true resolution was a wave ridden as a collective. So yeah, cue the tears. We felt seen.
Boateng performed relief work near Ground Zero. There, she saw strangers helping people find family members and hugging others who had broken down in tears. “Human empathy and emotion were so palpable,” she says. “It’s just the natural order of who we are.” Clinging to moments of humanity has also helped Boateng cope with the pandemic, not unlike it did post-9/11.
Clapping for healthcare workers and the cottage industry for crafting DIY masks had us find a way to move through the pandemic. It’s a physiological tenet that engaging in acts of kindness is healing. Dr. Boateng continues, “…[helping others allows you] to see the possibility within your pain.”
Renowned television children host once Mr. Rogers said, “…his mother responded to scary news by telling him, ‘Look for the helpers.’” In his message, Steve added that he was thankful to “us for being there for him back in the day,” and says the help we gave him then is still helping him now. Dang it, Steve. These allergies…
When Steve crept upon us, most of us were having a really hard time moving forward. Dr. Boateng says, “It’s actually very appropriate for you to need time to get your bearings.” The last year and a half have made us hyper-aware that tragedies like the pandemic can negatively affect our mood, productivity and dampen your capacity to plan for the future. Normalizing and recalibrating takes time. Dr. Boateng and Steve both agree, “…you’re doing the very best you can, and that’s enough.”
As an additional swag, Steve said in the conclusion of his message — after stepping out of frame, doubling back, and looking straight to camera — “You look great, by the way.” Thanks, Steve, we sincerely needed that pick me up. A chuckle at the end of that soul sagging you just delivered.
Steve’s departure from “Blue’s Clues” was an indelible mark in the childhoods of many millennials, and his message delivered in honor the 25th anniversary of the show’s premiere has punctuated this chaotic moment of adulthood, addressing something we were all experiencing but couldn’t quite put our fingers on. 10 outta 10, Steve 10 outta 10!
Tameka Brewington, MS, LCHMC, LCAS, CCS, NCC, CCMHC
Tameka Wade Brewington’s clinical expertise consists of working in mental health and substance abuse for the past 25 years. Her past experience includes adolescents, young adults, and working professionals with their mental health and substance use issues.