Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Did Elmo take bribes?

Thanks to Cindy Williams for forwarding this article. For those who are unfamiliar with Joel Stein, he's a humor columnist for the LA Times who mixes a little bit of wit and social satire into his mostly sophomoric pieces. He also appears on VH1's "I Love the (fill in the decade)," or as he puts it, "I Love the Decade You Tell me to Love." While his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek he has drawn fire from people who think he's trying to make a real point. His suggestion here to split Sesame Street into two shows, one highbrow and one lowbrow, will undoubtedly ruffle the easily ruffled. But to put Oscar the Grouch in the highbrow camp? For marketing "the acceptability of negative emotion?" If I remember correctly, Jim Henson put Oscar in Sesame Street because of a snotty waiter that Henson found amusing. And there's nothing more highbrow than Cookie Monster obsessing over cookies. Now I agree that there's far too much Elmo on Sesame Street, and like Cindy I'm irked by his constant of the third person, but I'm not the target audience. So I asked Clara what she thought about it.

Me: Clara, what's your favorite Sesame Street character?
Clara: Kate is sleeping.
Me: Yes, Kate's sleeping. Do you like Elmo?
Clara: Scout poddies outside.
Scout is our dog.
Me: Yes, she does. Who is better? Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch?
Clara: Where Daddy's boobies?
Me: What!?! Daddy doesn't... uh... I... Did mommy teach you that word?

But look closely into what Stein says. Let me sum up: Sesame Street was better when it was mostly humans with some monsters in the background. Stein is a speciesist! The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Monsters is going to have something to say about this!

Joel Stein: Elmo is an Evildoer

The self-obsessed Sesame Street Muppet is destroying all that is holy on children's TV.

August 15, 2006

ELMO REFUSED to be interviewed for this column. I consider this to be a supreme act of cowardice. And it doesn't surprise me one bit. Elmo is an annoying tool.

Yes, I know that children love Elmo. But children are idiots. That's why we don't let them have jobs. Could you imagine an office full of children? They'd spend all day telling dumb jokes and talking about their poop. It would be like it was before women entered the workplace.
"Sesame Street" — which still has sharp, funny writing — is being destroyed by idiot cuteness. Not only is the patronizing, baby-talking Elmo usurping most of the hour, but "Sesame Street" — which debuted its 37th season Monday — added its first new female Muppet in 13 years: the sparkly haired, tutu-wearing, button-nosed, pink-skinned fairy goddaughter Abby Cadabby. Her shaky magic skills get her in situations she needs to get bailed out of, like the anti-"Bewitched."

Plus, she's got that creepy, throaty, little-girl Lindsay Lohan kind of voice, and a Paris Hilton-esque catchphrase: "That's so magic." When I watched "Sesame Street" in the '70s, the human cast and the Muppets were quirky adults who didn't talk down to me with baby voices. Now the human cast gets almost no airtime, and the show is dominated by Elmo, Baby Bear and, now, Abby Cadabby — preschoolers enamored by their own adorable stupidity.

The lesson they teach — in opposition to Oscar, Big Bird, Grover or Bert — is that bland neediness gets you stuff much more easily than character. We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths.

I am not the only one who hates Elmo. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of MTV2's dark "Sesame Street" parody, "Wonder Showzen," think the evil red one is destroying the show.

"Elmo doesn't grow. People show him something and he laughs. He doesn't learn a lesson," says Lee. "It's the exact opposite of what old 'Sesame Street' used to do. Elmo has been learning the same lesson his whole life, which is that Elmo likes Elmo."

Chatman, who refers to Elmo as the Jar Jar Binks of "Sesame Street," worries that Elmo teaches kids to care only about themselves.

"Elmo is just a baby-voiced, self-obsessed character who is only concerned with Elmo," says Lee. "He just passively observes things: 'Elmo is looking at a sandwich. Elmo is eating a sandwich. Elmo is crapping out the sandwich and writing his name on the wall with it.' " The last celebrity to so obsessively refer to himself in the third person was Richard Nixon.

Whereas Count Von Count markets math and Oscar markets the acceptability of negative emotions, Elmo, brilliantly, just markets Elmo, leading him to be the show's cash cow, or whatever misshapen animal he's supposed to be.

I question not only Abby Cadabby but all of Elmo's associates. You may recall that Elmo testified before Congress about music education. But you may not remember who requested Elmo's appearance: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for taking at least $2.4 million in bribes. I'm not implying that Elmo has taken dirty money, but these are the kind of people Elmo surrounds himself with.

I understand that "Sesame Street" has to compete in a Nickelodeon-Disney Channel-Wiggles-Pixar universe. In fact, the new episodes start with " 'Sesame Street' is brought to you by the following … " and then, instead of gently mocking consumerism by listing letters and numbers, they actually show real spots for McDonald's, Beaches resorts, Pampers and EverydayKidz.com — the last of which apparently helps children spell only if they want to be rappers.

I desperately don't want the show to go away, so I know they can't afford to run the "Elmo accidentally drank bleach and died" episode. Instead, they need to simply take Elmo and his buddies and give them their own hourlong show for the idiot spawn. Then put Luis, Gordon and the cool Muppets on their own half-hour "Classic Sesame" for the kids who will one day actually contribute to our society.

Whichever of the two shows you watched would serve as a convenient litmus test for the rest of your life. "Which 'Sesame Street' did you watch?" will be code on college applications, Internet dating and job applications. Blue and red states will be divided not by presidential choices, but by Grover and Elmo.

If we can't save all the kids, let's at least save the ones who can master speaking in first-person. The rest we'll use for reality TV stars.

(oh yeah, that's highbrow)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a "boomer" raising our son in the midst of the Sesame Street era, I always loved Elmo and had fond memories of him. However, since your blog my mind has been tainted. At church this past Sunday there was a small boy holding a rather large stuffed figure of "you-know-who". As we were leaving, an elderly gentleman leaned way over and asked the small boy "who is your friend"? That's Elmo DAMMIT, I said under my breath!