There are only two things on this earth worse than an entitled, egotistical child: genital warts and Bethany Frankel. Fortunately, you’re unlikely to cross paths with either since, as a parent, you are probably not having risky sex with wart-sportin’ strangers; and Bethany Frankel run-ins will be primarily of the televised kind. The self-obsessed, ego-maniacal child, however, is everywhere – and many highly regarded educators and child behaviorists are heaping blame on the mangy, wiry shoulders of Sesame Street’s Elmo.
“Elmo has passed on this habit of speaking in the third person to millions of youngsters – essentially transforming otherwise sweet, humble children into self-absorbed, smug assholes,” said speech pathologist Margot Lichtenheld.
“Parents fail to realize the effect this kind of self-appointed power has on a child. They subconsciously place themselves on a pedestal – reaping the rewards of this newly assumed position within the household; yet at the same time they’re able to deflect blame when it suits their needs. After all, ‘Jimmy put the baby on the roof’ will register far less harshly than ‘I put the baby on the roof.’”
Elmo’s way of speaking is certainly the most damaging characteristic children have gleaned over the years, but it is hardly the only one. “Elmo’s propensity for always being happy and ‘up,’” says child psychologist Rhoda Carew, “leads children to think that being anything but deliriously, giddily cheerful is wrong or unacceptable behavior. Consider Bert, Oscar, Telly, or even Big Bird. They have off-days. They’re cranky. They get annoyed. Elmo’s inability to display any sort of downward mood swing is unrealistic and unhealthy. Had Elmo resided on Sesame Street during the time of Mr. Hooper’s gruesome suicide, he likely would have whistled his way through the sad episode, allowing absolutely nothing to penetrate his mangy, everything-will-be-OK exterior.”
Another common complaint with Elmo is his inability to sit still and his shrill, hair-raising voice. “I challenge you to locate a scene in which Elmo sits still for more than three seconds,” remarked Carew. “Those shoulders of his are always in motion, dancing up and down in time to the sound of his horrific voice.”
Although Elmo made various appearances as early as 1973, 1984 is generally considered to be his break-out year, eclipsing old-school standbys Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, the Count, and Cookie Monster – who, by all accounts, suffered the most as a result of Elmo’s presence.
“Off the record?…well, we all felt threatened by Elmo during that awful first year,” said Bert. “But Cookie Monster? Cookie Monster took it really hard, given how self-conscious he was (and still is)about his own style of speech. His ‘me want cookie!’ and ‘me hungry for cookie!’ routine sounded so…neanderthalic in the face of Elmo’s high and mighty, third-person line delivery.”
Cookie’s internal anguish became all too public in the November ‘84 issue of Newsweek, when he said, “Me think that Elmo think shit don’t stink. Me hate that bastard.” Even Elmo’s well-intended yet backhand apology: “Elmo is hurt by Cookie’s words, because Elmo loves everybody. Elmo even loves those with very small brain,” managed to ruffle Cookie’s fur; sending him deeper into despair and self-doubt…self-doubt and jealousy that simmers to this day, on Sesame Street.