I’m just over the line of too old to have ever had any kind of serious affection for Elmo, as he wasn’t the “big thing” on Sesame Street until years after I was too old to be watching. Never the less, my heart is breaking for the GenY folks who now have to go through this: Kevin Clash, the performer who has puppeteered and voiced the character since 1984 (recently the subject of the well-recieved documentary “Being Elmo”), has taken voluntary leave from the series in order to defend himself from allegations of an innapropriate relationship with an underaged accuser.
The whole thing raises a massive amount of red flags, most egregiously the fact that the accuser and his attorneys took their issue to Sesame Workshop first rather than the police (officially, there have been no criminal charges) automatically looks like straight-up “settlement-extortion” stuff… but in terms of “guilty or innocent, this guy’s career is probably screwed” that’s somewhat beside the point.
Thus far, Clash has admitted to having been in a relationship with the accuser, but when he (yeah, I know, I’ll come back to that) was of legal age. Sesame Workshop, however, notes that he (Clash) had been disciplined for “poor judgement” regarding company email – plausible translation of that? He was corresponding with the accuser in some way when he was underage (the now 23 year-old man claims the relationship took place when he was 16) but they didn’t “get together” until he was a legal adult.
To my understanding, that chain of events may or may not be technically illegal… but it doesn’t look “good” at all for Clash (who’s in his 40s) to be skating that close to over-the-line when he’s a public figure in an industry involving children. Sesame Worskshop is merciless when it comes to ditching characters, storylines and segments at even the hint that their presence might in some way negatively effect their intended audience (the entire Snuffalupagus “everyone thinks he’s Big Bird’s imaginary friend” characterization was famously junked and retooled when it was pointed out that kids might be taking it as confirmation that adults wouldn’t believe them about… well, use your imagination) so if this thing snowballs I can easily imagine them either pushing Elmo (the nominal “star” of the series for over a decade now) to the rear or dropping him completely.
The fact is, even if Clash didn’t break any laws… it sounds like he’s made at best some questionable decisions. And given the way the media works now, just the known facts of the case right now are enough to fuel a year’s worth of outrage (are the wretched dwellers of right-wing forums already celebrating the scandal because it reflects badly on PBS? Of course they are…) and bad jokes, which will almost certainly taint the character – a beloved icon of (at least) two generations. A whole lot of kids grow up with an Elmo toy (and plenty of adults still have theirs) and it’ll likely be impossible for them to avoid hearing about this and thus impossible for this not to become one of the main things they think about when they look at them now. Something that was “pure” for a lot of people is now tainted.
And that sucks.
Now, just for the record: I would be saying that it sounds like Clash exercised questionable judgement (re: getting involved with a teenager, legal aged or not) regardless of whether or not it was a younger man or a younger woman – and Sesame Workshop would almost certainly be reading him the riot act wither way… but let’s be real: The only reason this is a scandal in the media is that the accuser is male. If Clash was being accused of being “involved” with a 16 year-old girl, well… there’d still be “jokes” but they’d be of the “Duuuuuude! Elmo’s a PIMP!!!!” variety, the story would be over in a week or two and the guy’s career would not be in the jeopardy it is right now. You know it, I know it, it’s a lousy double-standard but it’s how things are.
Either way… not enough is known yet for me to say I feel “bad” for the guy, since even the best case scenario boils down to him behaving pretty irresponsibly IMO. The people I feel bad for are the Sesame Street-aged (and maybe a little older) kids who’re having to hear “Elmo did something bad” on TV, radio, web or general conversation today; and for their parents who’ll now be forced to have very difficult discussions about what’s “going on.” That breaks my heart.