I am a big fan of the children’s TV show Sesame Street. I don’t watch it anymore but I used to watch it every day with my children when they were young and I got very fond of the characters on the show, particularly the Muppets, because the program was clever and funny. My children are all grown up now but I still watch some of the clips online where they parody popular culture
At the time I was watching, the character Elmo was a minor figure but even then I found him irritating, shrill, and generally obnoxious. It was with some dismay that he became the major figure on the show, elbowing out of the spotlight those Muppets that I liked better such as Grover, Cookie, Kermit, Bert, and Ernie.
Kevin Wong shares my dislike of Elmo and my affection for Grover but goes into the issue far more deeply, asserting that Elmo is actually harming the show not just because he is insufferable but because he is a bad role model for children.
Taken by himself, the character was lovable, but not substantial. His main job was to be unfailingly cute, cheerful, and naive—namely, to act like a happy three-and-a-half year-old. It’s extremely appropriate that Elmo refers to himself in the third person, because Elmo is the only thing that Elmo is concerned with. Other characters were more grounded and had specific, research-based reasons for being on the cast.
But Elmo only stood for Elmo—how the world would affect him, rather than how he could affect the world.
We’re a Grover family, the whole way. Now there’s a Muppet who never talked down to or regressed his audience. Grover would bust his furry blue butt to teach a lesson, even if he had to run himself into the ground to do it.
It still cracks me up. And there are so many Grover clips that I fondly remember.
It may seem silly for adults to analyze children’s shows and even Muppets. Picking on Elmo seems mean at first because it seems like you are picking on a child. You have to force yourself to realize that you are critiquing a character designed and performed by adults.
Children’s programming should not be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny that we give other shows. Just because TV programs are designed for children does not mean they are trivial. One could argue that they actually more important since they target such an impressionable age group. My children and I logged more hours of Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Square One and other public television shows than of any other shows and I feel that they learned many positive lessons from them. I would like to ensure that future generations of children get the same benefit.