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Justice for Elmo: Keep Him Out of Kevin Clash’s Sad Saga

It is funny, in a sick way, clever and downright erroneous.

When allegations emerged that puppeteer Kevin Clash, best known as the voice behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, was accused of engaging in sexual activity with underage male teenagers, writers had a field day.

Teasing to a story on Atlantic Wire that a third accuser had come forth, The Daily Beast started off with: “Elmo is having a bad month.”

By the end of the actual story on Atlantic Wire, however, it was clear Elmo wasn’t having a bad month, a retail expert said Clash’s legal problems had not put a dent in the Elmo brand or in sales of the puppet or related merchandise.

Elmo is Elmo. Kevin Clash is Kevin Clash. Most children understand that or don’t draw a connection between the two.

Some adults – or adult journalists, at least – aren’t letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

True, Clash and his relationship to the warm and fuzzy red puppet, have been more highly publicized than some of the other puppeteers for the iconic children’s program. Clash wrote a popular autobiography, My Life as a Furry Red Monster (2006), and was featured in the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011).

Still, all sides of the alleged relationships have not come out. Three men have come forward and said they met Clash on a gay chat line when they were teenagers and engaged in sexual relations with him. It is not clear, though, if Clash knew the men were underage before they met, if he found out and pursued relationships with them anyway, or even if the allegations are true.

The first accuser recanted his accusation and said he had reached the age of majority when he and Clash became involved. Later, he said he was pressured into changing his story.

Most recently, a 29-year-old man came forward and alleged he became sexually involved at age 15 with Clash, that Clash used an alias when they met online but that he realized who Clash was after they met at the older man’s apartment. He said he realized who Clash was when he saw “Elmo dolls, an Emmy award, and photographs of Elmo with movie stars.” His lawyer said that his client started writing a book about the experience in 2009.

If true, that is a tawdry and sad episode in Clash’s life. But no matter how closely associated he is with Elmo, Clash is not a puppet. He is a man who may have made some seriously bad choices; he may have been the target of some people who sought an easy payday by threatening to tarnish a not-hiding-but-not-really-openly gay man’s professional reputation.

Earlier this year, Clash acknowledged he was gay as stories surfaced questioning his sexual orientation, but said he had not revealed it earlier because he didn’t want to discuss his private life.

Elmo may have made Clash famous, but linking the puppet to alleged inappropriate sexual behavior, especially when there seems to be no evidence that Clash abused the character’s persona to pursue a relationship, is unseemly.

If Clash had been a truck driver or letter carrier, his occupation probably would not be linked to his purported deeds. Yes, Elmo made Clash a public figure, but he did not cause Clash’s fall from grace.

The reporting should make the distinction clear and insipid puns should be held in abeyance until all the facts are in.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

What people are saying

5 thoughts on “Justice for Elmo: Keep Him Out of Kevin Clash’s Sad Saga

  1. Anonymous says:

    "Elmo is Elmo. Kevin Clash is Kevin Clash. " Normally and with most other characters I would agree but Elmo is different. After the Documentary Being Elmo it became very clear that Kevin Clash was Elmo. He created the character, he infused it with character based on his life experiences, he formed the way the character moved and acted. And with the documentary Kevin Clash stepped out from behind the character making his presence further felt. This doesn't mean that Elmo needs to go away. But we cant pretend that Elmo is somehow different from the man who created him. But what's worse is that if these allegations are proven true then we have a man, Clash who used his standing with young people through Elmo meet young boys.

  2. I think that what the writer is trying to imply is that children could care less about the whole situation with Kevin Clash and the alleged accusers. And I think the writer is right, my daughter that is about to turn one couldn't care less of is happening with Kevin Clash, she loves Elmo and is constantly wanting watch his music videos, and when he comes out he stops everything she is doing to watch him. Children don't understand what is going on, and the people who are going to make a big deal are the adults and parents of the children. The people who watched that documentary are the adults, and not the children, when I watched my daughter did not understand what was going on, she would get excited just when Elmo came out other than that she did not care and did not understand the whole documentary of Kevin Clash. Like Kevin Clash said once children look past him, and see elmo as an independent person, even though he used to work elmo, they see elmo as an independent person or monster. They don't relate elmo to clash regardless if he is the one working him. And that is why he has not stopped being like by children, and really don't think it will affect Elmo in any way. I still buy stuff for my daughter of elmo, I'm actually just doing her birthday party and guess what it's going to be about, Elmo…:)

  3. Ian Hardwick says:

    I dont believe any ofthe accusers. Story keeps changing, never filed criminal charges, and demanding millions to go away.

    Pure and simple, they are hustlers.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Not to worry, we will be getting a new Elmo. Kevin Clash had a understudy. Take Miss Piggy for example her voice actor was replaced around the early 2000 and nobody seems to care. People play characters, they can easily be replaced because they are not real.

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