In my print column in TIME this week, I weigh in one more (and hopefully one last) time on the sex scandal around Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash. (You can find my earlier posts on the subject here and here.) As I’ve said before and again, I don’t know if Clash is guilty or innocent of the allegations behind him or what the fuller story is, nor am I looking to get into a legal argument over it.
I do believe that, with rare exceptions, sex scandals around kids’ TV shows rarely pose any threat, physical or psychological, to the child audience. The ones we’re generally moving to defend are a more delicate, vulnerable audience—their moms and dads. Like me:
Like any good 21st century American parent, I came to develop a healthy loathing for the voice of Elmo at some point in my sons’ toddlerhood. He squeaked from the TV. He squealed from talking books. One Elmo guitar toy, somewhere in a bin behind the couch, would begin singing of its own accord late at night, a babyish, high-pitched wail of the damned.
So when I heard Elmo on a float in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade singing “Nothing’s gonna bring us down!” I was surprised to find myself tearing up a little. This time, it was not from sleep deprivation. For contrary to the lyrics, Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash, had just been brought down–by allegations that years ago he had sex with teenage boys. Days before the parade, he resigned from Sesame Workshop after 28 years there.
Why would I get choked up over a sappy song from a Muppet I never loved, sung in the recorded voice of a puppeteer I never knew? My kids aren’t affected by the story; they’ve long since moved on to Phineas and Ferb. In a way, that’s exactly the reason I teared up. They’re getting older. I’m getting older. …
Whatever the facts of this case—or Pee-Wee Herman’s, &c.—what’s generally at stake isn’t the well-being of the child audience but the peace of mind of the grown-ups, the need to preserve their idealized notions of childhood.
And with this off my chest, I’m hoping now I can finally move past the whole sad, sordid story. Wasn’t the whole point of raising my children past toddlerhood that I would never, ever have to think of Elmo again?