Monday, November 12, 2012

Childhood's End

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.

This sucks.

  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.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

well.. that's...
Only really know Elmo and Sesame Street from the Tickle Me Elmo and other toy ads, so not really all that affected myself either.

but wow, it's got to suck for those that do / did have a strong conection with Elmo.

TheDVDGrouch said...

I guess its true you can never really know a person. There was actually a really great documentary made about Mr.Clash called "Being Elmo"

Like you Bob I was to old for Elmo when he came around but my heart goes out to the kids who Elmo was part of their childhoods.

Looking Down The Crionics said...

Sucks. Tickle Me Elmo singlehandedly saved our economy in the 90s.

The Mason said...

This REALLY sucks. While elmo wasn't really a "thing" when I watched Sesame Street, I DID watch the documentary about Clash the second I could get my hands on it, and found it ruthlessly inspiring, reinforcing the notion that you CAN, in fact, achieve your dreams by working hard at it and not bowing to anyone's lack of belief in you.

And yeah, it REALLY, REALLY sucks that his orientation, whatever that may be, will sink his up-to-this-point incredible career in childrens entertainment.

Papa Z said...

I'm just barely over the hill enough to have missed out on direct experience as a child with Elmo, but I love Sesame Street as a program and believe in it wholeheartedly. The documentary on Kevin Clash called "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" really illustrates the incredibly positive and loving nature of Elmo as well as the kids' adoration for him. Clash always seemed like a genuine and warmhearted man and I can't get behind the angry reaction this has stirred up, but I guess I can understand it.

Regardless of what happens, I am absolutely crestfallen about this. Going to have to stomach a lot of tasteless "Tickle-me Elmo" jokes now.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that he was necessarily being irresponsible.

The age of consent is 16 in many places in the world (including my place). Also, he claims to have followed the letter of the local laws. So it seems morally above board to me.

Anonymous said...

Wait wait wait...So this guy, who is now 23, is saying that at age 16 he was involved with Clash...And now this is somehow exlusively Clash`s fault? The hell, man? As far as i can understand, any involment they had was consentual from the younger persons side. At age 16, you have enough god damn personal autonomy that you can be held accountable for choosing to get toghetter with a man much older than you. For crying out loud, in most states they would trust this kid to drive a car at age 16, but he cant be held responsible for his own sex life? Thats some bad logic right there.

PS: I come from norway, where the legal age is 16, so maybe this collours my perceprion.

Steven said...

Sesame Workshop, however, notes that he (Clash) had been disciplined for "poor judgement" regarding company email - plausible translation of that

Wrong Bob the e-mails were not on company equipment so apparently his contract w/ the company binds him to the company's internet usage policy 24/7 & allows them to discipline him for legal personal internet activity, outside working hours, not using the resources of the company, and having no relation to the company in any way!

The Mason said...

@Steven:

If that is accurate, then it's really dumb. The emails Clash sends when NOT wearing a cute red puppet on his arm are not CTWs concern, nor should they be.

I'm sure it is in his contract or whatever, but that is still really shitty, saying there is no disconnect between his personal and professional life.

O.G. said...

Dude if you think this would all be "ok" if it was a 16 year old girl, you'd be dead wrong. There's no double standard here. In fact, he may have been chastised by feminists who would have put it out there that he was using his whole character as a way of picking up girls.

It would not fly either way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

Man...

Elmo's world fucking raised me.

Michael Maverick said...

"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."

I...do not know?

Help me out here, comment-section dwellers. Is Bob reaching again in his jadedness, or is America really THAT kind of a shithole? The MEDIA wouldn't give it that much attention? Fucking seriously? Even with my level of disillusionment and cynicism, I have NOT expected this.

El Pibe Progre said...

..."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"...

I doubt that, Bob.

If anything, that would make Clash much more terrifying (for some reason) and "predator-like" instead of just the "lol he wus havin gay secks lol hes gaaay" that we can expect.

BTW, this also sucks to the gay community too, that now will have to endure more of the moronic religious right-wing stigma that "homosexuals are pervert/rapists".

Cyrus said...

A few thoughts:

1. Yes, it really sucks if making pedophilia jokes about a Sesame Street character becomes a thing now.

2. Until Clash is found to have broken the law, the media should refrain from any moral grandstanding whatsoever ... which of course would only happen in fantasy land, hence I have to pragmatically agree to the "poor judgement" bit, given the man's position and body of work.

3. I'm not sure gender matters all that much when a forty-something children's television personality starts texting a 16-year-old, followed by a barely legal relationship. That's always plenty smutty in the eyes of people who stand to profit from it.

4. If this gets sufficiently ugly, just recast Elmo. The Snuffleupagus issue was, after all, tied to something problematic ON the show.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Really? Fucking REALLY?!

No Bob. No they wouldn't. Not even close. Jesus...I don't even know how to APPROACH responding to something so removed from common goddamn sense...

biomechanical923 said...

@Bob

"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."

I really don't know what to say to this. Do you seriously think this, Bob. Let me tell you, if a 40-something year old man was trying to seduce and manipulate a 16 year old girl instead of a 16 year old boy, it would still not be okay. It's called "grooming" either way, and it's a characteristic of sexual predators.
The fact that you're trying to take the story of a pedophile and twist it into something else to support your "pet cause" of a gender-based double standard... this just reinforced the fact that you've been indoctrinated by RadFemHub

Adam Meyers said...

Yeah, I kind of have to agree with what some others have said.

Yes, I know some people will blow this out of proportions for being gay, but in my neck of the woods, an older guy having a gay affair with a possibly underage man is just another "Yep, he got married, had kids, found out he was gay/bi, and had a fling."

An older man having an affair with a possibly underage woman is "He's a rapist who coerced a defenseless young woman into horrible acts and should be drawn and quartered." Or at least that's what, from experience, I would expect my feminist friends to say.

So yeah, I've got to disagree with you Bob. If anything, the fact that it was a gay affair is probably going to shield him from the worst of the accusations. I'm curious what your experience is with people that you think it would be regarded as ok if it was with a girl.

Adam Meyers said...

In fact, as I understand it he's already divorced, and released a statement confirming he's gay, so I at least haven't seen anyone make a big deal about that. I must say I really don't see how this is supposed to be somehow be worse for him being gay- so far I've observed quite the opposite.

The Saarai'ari said...

Having been born in the mid 80's, I did watch a bit of Sesame Street and other Jim Henson shows like Fraggle Rock. Don't remember much of my Sesame street days, along with the kid shows I also watched like the Elephant Show and Fred Penner's place, and in all honestly I remember Ghostwriter and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego on PBS far better than Sesame street. Regardless though, I love all that Sesame street and Jim Henson brought to the people, and I respected the Elmo era. Still know a few friends of mine who are in their twenties who love Elmo and have Elmo toys. Hearing all of this without a doubt is terrible, and I hope they don't put Elmo to the side or get rid of him completely due to this scandal.

Andrew Eisen said...

"If Clash was being accused of being "involved" with a 16 year-old girl... the guy's career would not be in the jeopardy it is right now."

I don't agree with that at all.

Anonymous said...

Bob, the only time when pedophilia is brushed aside as "ignorable" is when an adult woman seduces a young boy. That's where the "pimp" and "it's every boy's dream!" jokes come into play. In fact, a man seducing a girl is taken way worse because of the potential for pregnancy.

Aaron said...

It looks like most of your readers missed Elmo's major introduction, but he was the main character of the show when I was watching. This whole thing makes me a little ill, both that a major part of my childhood may die like this, and that Elmo probably will be the target of the homophobes and bigots on the far right.

Zac Malm said...

This REALLY sucks, especially because it's a distinct possibility that Elmo will take that same aweful place in Middleschooler's minds that Micheal Jackson used to fill before he died and it stopped being funny.
Kids saying that Elmo is dumb because he's for kids is OK.
Kids saying that Elmo is gross because of his actor became infamous for underage homosexuality, weather it was or wasn't a crime at the time, is not.
And what's worse, he'll probably fade away shortly afterwards, with most Gen Y's kids never even knowing he was a thing.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Clash will is Ninja Turtles Movie Splinter to me.

I remember the "difficult discussion" about what Pee Wee Herman did.

This wouldn't have been a scandel if it was a 16 year old girl? Really? Come one.

Nixou said...

"in my neck of the woods, an older guy having a gay affair with a possibly underage man is just another "Yep, he got married, had kids, found out he was gay/bi, and had a fling."
An older man having an affair with a possibly underage woman is "He's a rapist who coerced a defenseless young woman into horrible acts and should be drawn and quartered.""

That's only a very recent development: I'm old enough to remember the time where "folk wisdom" claimed that every gay was secretly a child rapist who targeted young men only because they did not dare go after the children they "really" lusted after.

And at that time, the dominant comments about a guy wanting to have sex with a very young woman were more along these lines: "He wants a flat belly and boobs that don't sag" or "he wants to relieve his highschool crush" or "when he was 16, he wore braces and had zit all around his face, he's just catching up with lost time", etc...

Bob is correct: the cultural zeitgeist has been historically much more favorable to heterosexual ephebophiles, and any change is very recent and very fledgling

***

"Bob, the only time when pedophilia is brushed aside as "ignorable""

Beeep: wrong answer: even assuming that the accuser had been involved sexually with Clash at 16, he was already too old for it to be considered as a form of child molestation.

One of the most infuriating thing about the US laws regarding consent comes from the fact that they are built upon a completely twisted mythology of sex, where teenagers are these strange schrĊ“dinheresque creatures which are at the same time these pure-innocent-fragile flowers and these sex-crazed-hormonally-imballanced-self-control-lacking dogs in rut, who therefore cannot have any form of sexual agenda of their own and must be "protected" from the world around them and from themselves.
Unless one suffers from some reallygrave mental trouble, a 16 to 18 years old youth is neither a kid to small to dare say no to an adult not a moron who would jump at the first dick without thinking.

It's absolutely possible that Clash took advantage of his position, or made his accuser drunk, or harrased him until he submited or any other trick from the rapist arsenal, but this would make it a case of an adult sexually assaulting another adult.

Anonymous said...

@Nixou
"Waahhh I don't like the law so it shouldn't apply here"
That's not how law works, pal.

Sylocat said...

This sounds horrible, but... I wouldn't be terribly crushed if this means they finally stopped letting Elmo hog the entire spotlight.

Jason McKenney said...

Sorry Bob. This is not a double standard and this would not go away as fast as you'd think.

Where's Roman Polanski? That's right. Still not in the United States, his career surviving thanks to international freedom. And let's not forget To Catch a Predator which was popular for a minute that had pretty much a 90/10 split when it came to guys looking for females/males. They got in a lot of trouble and that can certainly happen here.

If there was proof of this and it was with a female, Kevin Clash would be in just as much trouble. The only difference between it being with a male or a female is that with a male this can be used to rail against homosexuality.

This to me sounds like the relationship between Kevin and this fellow ended badly and that this is supposed revenge. I understand some cases, but waiting so long to say something really damages your credibility.

Jason McKenney said...

One other thing...

I wouldn't worry too much about Elmo's fate at this point. Even if this does turn out for the worse, Elmo wouldn't be heading anywhere to quickly.

They film way less more shows than they did years ago due to cuts in public funding. They rely on repeats a lot and considering about half of the episodes probably available for reruns are from the Elmo era it would take years to phase him out.

Nixou said...

"Where's Roman Polanski?"

What is he accused of?
Oh yes, he is accused of raping a 13 years old girl after druging her and forcing her to go drunk
So far, Clash accuser does not claim to have been so young when the intercourses happened, AND none of the disgusting details of Polanski MO have been associated with Clash (yet).

Also, Polanski's career is not merely surviving: he's still a succesful and well respected movie-maker

Sofie Liv Pedersen said...

Erh.. no.. if Elmo seduced a twenty year old woman, he would be a cool pimp.
If it was a twenty year old guy, same story.

Eighteen year old, it's starts getting sharky.

Sixteen.. regardless of Gender.. no.. just no.


But, what I am left to question here is how much did the media blow it up?
Was the guy a 23 person whom Clash just happened to vaguely know when the kid was a sixteen year old, and they then started relation-ship way later,a after the young person was 20 years old.
If so.. what the hell is the problem.

Yes, starting off an affair with some-one you actually knew when that person was sixteen and you were middle-aged is questionable, but if he hadn't known this person when he was sixteen, or if they were both the same age having known each other since they both were sixteen years,there wouldn't have been a problem.

Shess, as a life-long muppets fan, and remembering Elmo, this sincerely sucks!

Joe said...

I have to agree with the other commenters--if it had been a teenage girl Clash would still be in hot water because of who he is and who he works for. It might be a little bit muted and there might be some reprobates engaging in victim-blaming ("well can you blame him with the way these girls dress these days?"-type of bullshit), but there would still be outrage.

The double standard would come into play if Clash were a middle-aged woman in a relationship with a teenage boy. That's when the boy would be called a "pimp" and the media would be throwing around "hot for teacher"-style jokes. Hypothetical FemClash would still probably lose her job in that case, but the mass media would be more likely to treat it with amusement than horror.

Anonymous said...

Really? The reason you think this story "sucks" is because it makes you think of sex abuse when you remember one of your old childhood toys? You people need to grow up and get outside of your pathetic little sheltered, self-centered world view. You have absolutely no empathy for the accuser whatsoever, and are engaging in a very stereotypical victim-blaming, victim-shaming, rape apology. "why didn't he cut off the relationship?" "why didn't he report the abuse sooner?" "Why is this mean, mean, man reporting his rape, doesn't he know this will ruin my memory of elmo?"
The fact that your first response to reported sex abuse is apprehension and accusation of the victim being a "party pooper" reinforces rape culture. Check your privilege.

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for his wife. That's just terrible.

Dave said...

I don't agree that this is going to be devastating to Elmo fans. A character isn't the same "person" as the actor who plays him. Elmo is still Elmo in Sesame Street "canon" regardless of what Kevin Clash did. And if you're young enough to still watch Sesame Street, you probably have no notion of who Clash even IS. It's an absolute pity that someone I thought was unambiguously an awesome guy turned out to be something a little too much like a sex predator for my liking, but this doesn't "taint" the character of Elmo in any way.

Mads said...

In Denmark, a 34 years old member of the danish parliament had sex with a 15 years old girl from the youth part of his party, after having attended a congress of them and given a speech.

They disappeared together after fraternizing and drinking at a party for the youths. He was there as a mentor and protector. He acted against his better knowledge - and against the code of conduct of the youth party.

He's still a member of the danish parliament. During the last election, he drew a massive amount of votes from his district.

So - ok - he doesn't work in childrens television, and the girl - now 19 - has had no public complaints about the whole thing, except for being devastated by the following media circus. But otherwise, the two situations are pretty similar....and a mere 4 years later, he has been completely forgiven. In fact, he was forgiven with the year.

What it comes down to, in the end, is that the girl _was_ 15, which means noone has any legal obligation to treat her like a child anymore. The politician in this case didn't, but since he wasn't obligated to, people ended up accepting it.

They might think he was a pig - I know I certainly do - but at the end of the day, it was noones business since she was 15.

In the case of the elmo guy - they didn't do anything illegal, so far as we know. The kid was 18 before they entered into a relationship. The same thing is probably going to happen there - I certainly hope it will.

What it comes down to, to me, is this. Is a 15 years old kid responsible? Is he or she responsible for his or her own actions? Should they be held accountable by society if they do anything bad, or should they be given a free pass?

If someone is responsible for their own actions - and if we're willing to punish them if they behave irresponsibly - then how come they don't get to assume responsibility for their own sexuality?

You're old enough to ruin your life and go to prison for 2+ years if you commit robbery or battery, but we still want to protect you from a bad sexual experience because you're not responsible enough that you should have to handle the concequences of that?

Give me a break. Either something is seriously wrong with the kind of responsibility we expect 15 years old kids to adhere to, or they're old enough to deal with whatever trouble they get themselves into on account of bad judgement on their part.

Anyway, I guess time will tell whether there's a double standard going here. I for one highly doubt this would be any better with a girl instead of a boy, but I'm not ruling it out.

Themilo said...

Um moviebob did you make a mistake because no if the accuser was a girl this would still be a big deal the only difference is that now religious fundamentalism can use this to claim that all gays are evil boy seducing satan worshipers even the ones that seem nice which could potentially cause people to be more wary of giving roles to gay actors.

The only way double standards would come to play in this event would be if clash was a woman.

Anonymous said...

@ Mads
Just because Denmark condones pedophilia, doesn't mean that the rest of the world needs to accept it also. I really wouldn't place too much faith in the judgment of somebody that's not even old enough to be trusted to drive a car.

Anonymous said...

News is coming out that the accuser has recanted his initial claims and says it was a consensual relationship when he was of legal age. Regardless, I hope that Clash files a countersuit against this guy for libel.

Nixou said...

@Mads

Several differences here:

First, Denmark as the age of consent at 15, so according to the laws of the country, no statutory rape happened. (Which makes more sense than puting the age of consent at 17-18 like so many american states, which is one of the reasons stuff like this happens)

Second, The girl did not accuse the politician of sexual assault.

As I wrote above, treating this story like child molesting is a fine exemple of America's hypocritical sexual puritanism. But if the accuser tells the truth, it remain a case of an adult raping another adult, which last time I checked is deemed wrong and deserving punishment not only in the US but in the civilized world as well.

Mads said...

@ Anonymous
Either you're old enough to take responsibility for your own actions when you're 15, or you aren't.

Society clearly believes that you are when it comes to anything that might harm _other_ people - so why should you be especially protected from yourself in ways that infringe on your rights and freedom? It makes no sense.

I mean, that's the reason we have these laws. We don't have them to prevent middle aged people from comitting disgusting sex acts; we generally condone that, so long as they do it with adults. They can do whatever disgusting thing they can think of, generally, and we'll be completely happy with them.

We have them to protect young people from their own bad judgement at ages 12-through-15(or 18, or 21, depending on location)...at least when we're discussing statutory rape laws.

Children younger than 12 are generally covered under anti paedophile laws, and under child sexual abuse laws, which is distinct from the statutory rape laws used to protect adolecents and young adults from themselves.

But you're right, just because Denmark has laws that _make sense_ doesn't mean the rest of the world has to...still, the ethical dilemma is the same. Was this person responsible for what he did, or was he seduced? And honestly, come on. You're 15. You're not a god damned child. Even _if_ you had done something while underage, that's your decision. Why should society get involved?

@Nixou

So long as it was consensual, I agree. That's the big thing. If it wasn't consensual, there's a big issue, but I've read the coverage here by bob, and the coverage Ars Technica did on this case, and neither mentioned sexual assault.

If that was part of this, I would not be writing here to defend this man. It also seems the victim has been recanting his story. Whether or not that makes it less true - who knows. Maybe they reached some type of settlement.

But regardless - I wrote under a different presumption.