UPDATE (5:07 PM, 11/13/2012): Clash's accuser has recanted and now says he was an adult at the time of the relationship.
I heard the news today, oh boy About a puppet man who ... took a leave of absence:
The puppeteer behind the "Sesame Street" character Elmo has taken a leave of absence from the children's television show to contest allegations, disputed by the performer and producers, that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, the show's production company said on Monday.
New York-based Sesame Workshop said in a statement that its own inquiry, including interviews with the now 23-year-old accuser, concluded that claims of underage sexual conduct against puppeteer Kevin Clash were unsubstantiated.
Clash admits to the relationship, but maintains it was "between two consenting adults." Sesame Workshop is in New York, where the age of consent is 17. However, in NY-adjacent states such as Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey, it's 16. So it's entirely possible Clash and the individual in question had a perfectly legal thing going.
Still, ew. Clash would've been 45 at the time, and the almost 30-year age gap still carries quite the squick factor. You can talk about "love being ageless" all you want, but if it's my teenage daughter in question, you'll be pleading your case while I take a fungo to your tenders. Honestly though, it's not the age thing that's got everyone so upset.
It's because the guy is Elmo. These days, there are hundreds of kids' shows on a dozen networks, and it's easy to find kids who aren't familiar with 80 percent of them, but even now, 27 years after Clash took over the role, I don't know of a child who can't identify the little red bastard, often as close to your ear and in the highest register humanly possible.
We view it as a betrayal of sorts. Our kids love the character, so the idea that the man behind it might be a sexual predator hits us closer to home than it should. Never mind that all there are at this point are allegations, or that some of our greatest children's entertainment has been created by inidividuals of questionable repute.
Would we be having this discussion if Clash had created a non-adorable children's character? Like, for example:
Boohbah There were 104 episodes of this created, and they aired on PBS and Sprout until 2005. Someone gave the purple one ("Zumbah") to my daughter as a gift when she was about two and we sort of stuck it on a shelf in her room because we were terrified of what would it would do to us if we tried to discard it. I'm convinced the tree Hurricane Ike subsequently dropped on our house was the Hand of God destroying the abomination.
Witchiepoo Holy shit, we really would watch anything back then. I pick on Witchiepoo, but you could substitute most godawful Sid and Marty Krofft characters. The worst part of this 11 minute clip -- 11 minutes! Can you imagine 21st century kids sitting still for this? -- is that it's from the Bay City Roller Show and we never get to see the Bay City Rollers.
Wait, maybe that's the best part.
Captain Feathersword Worst pirate since that 12-year old girl sued by the RIAA.
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Mr. Horse For a brief, wonderful couple of years (1991-93, to be exact), John Kricfalusi's Ren & Stimpy Show was a subversive bit of hilarity on an otherwise largely bland cable landscape. One of John K's creations, Mr. Horse, was usually pretty innocuous. This clip, however, from the episode "Rubber Nipple Salesmen," was the stuff of nightmares.
Oobi Fine, this isn't necessarily creepy, just lazy. I mean, most of us have made impromptu hand puppets just to calm our own shrieking kids down in the car at some point. These guys just added fake eyeballs and pitched it to a couple Noggin executives who'd obviously snorted all their Blue's Clues profits. It ran for 10 seasons. Meanwhile, Jack's Big Music Show was canceled after 26 episodes. Thanks, Obama.