At least two Elmos worked the Times Square pedestrian zones over the weekend, trying to make a buck by having their pictures taken with tourists. We can happily report that during the time we observed them, before the heat got to us, they confined themselves to waving at children and offering to pose with them. Not a single vile rant came from either of them.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
You may have heard about one street impersonator of the red-furred Muppet whom the police tossed out of Central Park last week for behaving in a most un-Elmo-like manner, shouting obscenities and an anti-Semitic screed at people walking by. It was later learned that this man had once run a pornographic Web site in Cambodia (which some might see as a variation of the Tickle Me theme that is identified with his present line of work).
This is not the city’s first unfortunate encounter with Elmo. Many New Yorkers will remember how the real Elmo, cuddly though he may be, made a real pain of himself a dozen years ago when his voice was among those used for recorded messages reminding taxi passengers to fasten their seat belts, ask for a receipt and remember to take their belongings.
Cab-riding New Yorkers grew to hate those voices, and the program was finally ended. The Taxi and Limousine Commission found that some people were so annoyed that, in defiance, they purposefully refused to buckle up. Who needed to be hectored by Joan Rivers or by the ring announcer Michael Buffer (“Let’s get ready to rummmmmble!”)? Was it too much to ask for few moments of quiet?
Elmo was in a class of his own, though. His high-pitched squeal was like a dentist’s drill piercing you from ear to ear. It was enough to make one wonder if Muppet-cide carried serious prison time.
Now there’s another Elmo making a pest of himself. Not surprisingly, the Sesame Workshop has disavowed him and his brethren on the streets as being “unauthorized representations of our characters.”
It was obvious that this offending Elmo didn’t have the workshop’s blessing, if only because he removed the head of his costume to talk a few days ago with my New York Times colleague Michael Wilson. In Sesame-land, that is a grave breach of etiquette.
Back in the late 1980s, we were living in Tokyo when a movie called “Big Bird in Japan” was being made. A producer friend invited us to take our 2-year-old, Emma, to watch a scene being shot in a park. When we showed up, Big Bird was on a break. The man who played him, Caroll Spinney, sat on a bench with the top part of the costume resting beside him. As soon as he saw us approach, Mr. Spinney hastily put the bird’s head back on. The rule was inviolate: Don’t let the kids see you out of character. Even for the parents, the sight of half a bird was kind of creepy.
Elmo, by the way, is not the only Muppet to give one pause.
Cookie Monster presents a problem beyond his grammatical lapses like “Me want cookie!” Is his craving for a fattening sweet proper in this age of epidemic childhood obesity? A few years ago, the “Sesame Street” creators decided that he needed a healthier diet. Cookie Monster learned that there are “anytime” foods and “sometimes” foods. Cookies are “a sometimes food.” Not that he has gone wild with health consciousness. And mercifully, he has yet to be heard singing “C is for Cauliflower.”
Other Muppets have their own issues, to use a severely overworked word.
Three years ago, Robert Vollman, a Canadian blogger, wrote that as much as he had enjoyed “Sesame Street” as a child, he couldn’t escape a sense that some of his beloved characters had “obvious illnesses.” Ever-restless Ernie, he decided, had an attention deficit disorder, and his buddy Bert, with his paper-clip and bottle-cap collections and his fussy neatness, had “a very serious case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
So did The Count, who had to enumerate “everything he ever came across.” Cookie Monster, Mr. Vollman wrote, provided “our first glimpse into the world of eating disorders.” Grover was “quite possibly a manic depressive.” And Big Bird? He was “my first introduction to depression,” Mr. Vollman said — a lonely being with an imaginary friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus, who had “an even more serious case of depression.”
Could it be that when all is said and done, a foul-mouthed Elmo impersonator fits right in?