My son Noah loves Elmo. Like many other toddlers, he’s infatuated with the little red Muppet who talks, well, like a toddler. I guess that’s his appeal. He’s one of only a few Muppets on "Sesame Street" that is actually the same age as most of the show’s viewers.
So, when the news came out that the man behind the Muppet, Kevin Clash, was accused of having sexual relationships with three underage boys, it made me start to think about what that would mean for the iconic character.
Clash, who worked for "Sesame Street" for 28 years, brought Elmo—originally just a minor character—to the forefront of the show, giving him just the right kind of personality that, for some reason, puppeteers weren’t able to do before. And things just clicked.
The character’s popularity exploded in the 1990s, with Elmo making the rounds in the talk show circuit on shows such as "The Rosie O’Donnell Show," "Martha Stewart Living" and "The View." And we all know about the popularity of the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll and its never-ending spin-offs.
But we never really knew much about Clash, not until the documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey" came out in 2011. The film was a hit, and all of a sudden, we got to see a whole other side to Elmo. We witnessed Clash’s lifelong passion for puppeteering, an underappreciated art that has always seemed to be just outside of the mainstream. We were able to see that passion drive his career and take him places to work on projects, meeting people he never thought possible. And even though few of us have ever thought about pursuing a career in puppeteering, Clash not only made us think twice about it, but his story inspired us to greater things.
Clash resigned from his position at "Sesame Street" Nov. 20, choosing to focus on the allegations in private, which he maintains are false (the underage part, that is, not the actual relationship). And, let’s not forget, these are all, as of right now, simply accusations.
So, what will happen to Elmo? "Sesame Street" is insistent that he will remain on the show and that Clash reportedly was helping search for his replacement.
Will Elmo be a different character? No, he won’t, not completely. There will be, of course, differences. But my son probably won’t pick up on the fact that Elmo’s voice is slightly different or that his mannerisms might be altered just a bit. After all, he is just a puppet. He’ll look just the same.
Which begs the question, does any of this matter when it comes to the characters we and our children love? Do the private lives of those behind the scenes—the actors, the puppeteers, the people who help bring our favorite characters to life—matter when it comes to the integrity of their on-screen counterparts? I guess it depends on the circumstances.
Do the values and lessons Elmo teaches my son mean any less because of allegations directed toward Kevin Clash? Not at all. Does it make Clash’s story any less inspirational for me? Not yet. Because as far as he is concerned, the jury is still out. Elmo certainly doesn’t judge, and neither will I.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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