Many of us were questioning the morality of the world when reports broke via TMZ that Kevin Clash, the beloved voice behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, was accused of having sex with a teenage boy. In a quick turnabout, the man who “blew the whistle” on the award-winning puppeteer now says they had a consensual relationship as adults.
The man (who has yet to identify himself) released his statement Tuesday through the law firm Andreozzi & Associates, and it leaves us all wondering why he even made the accusation in the first place. Most of us grew up loving the PBS network’s Sesame Street, learning life lessons and memorable moments from the Jim Henson-created show throughout our lives into adulthood.
Those memories were brazenly interrupted during this year’s hotly contested presidential election, when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney threatened to “fire Big Bird” and cut PBS’s funding. The back-and-forth political ad campaigns showed both sides debating the right to public access education, and became a hot-button topic on the political talk show circuit and websites.
Think about it: if Elmo was forced to “resign” or be acted out by another puppeteer, the magic would be gone. We, as a public, would be forced to admit that even our children aren’t safe, and nothing would be held cherished or childlike in this new age world of dotcoms and real-time news feeds.
While Clash, responding in a statement, may be “relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest,” a lover’s quarrel has now led to a change in public perception of a beloved character and its handler. What does this say about our society, where a lie can now command more prime-time attention than the truth? Being Elmo, the 2011 documentary on Kevin Clash, showcased his talent and commitment to give back to the community he was once apart of, and it essentially placed him among the legendary ranks of Frank Oz and Jim Henson. Yet, we've all heard about the scandal, few about this documentary.
Choosing to keep his life private while entertaining millions of kids around the globe was Clash’s right. As we embark on the 3.0 digital age, we are an exposed nation, quickly ready to “spill the tea” or inundate one’s news feed with the latest gossip—all for clicks, comments and traffic gains. This private matter between Clash and his unnamed former lover was put on the public’s radar without any second thought of the damage that might result by putting Clash’s life on blast.
Worse is the implicit tie between Clash's sexuality and the accusation of impropriety. We know that child molesters come in every stripe, but the fact that Clash is gay led to a rush to judgment. In a statement made directly to NBC News, posted via EBONY.com, Clash confirmed his homosexuality, saying, “I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.”
It is upsetting to know how we as a society are keen to put someone on the firing range, but quickly move on to the next salacious story once it’s been proven untrue. None of the talking heads who already called for Kevin Clash’s resignation, or for Sesame Workshops to outright fire him after the word “pedophile” was made viral, have recanted their own statements or offered a public apology—which is insulting to the storied career Clash has had since 1984.
The public sentiment shifted, in real-time, from adoration of a character created and portrayed out of love to the loathing of a sexual sycophant who has relations with underage teens. Except it wasn't true. Before this Elmo, as voiced and puppeteered by Kevin Clash, was a symbol of joy for many families around the globe… but now what?
Will the legacy of Elmo be forever tarnished? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter (@EBONYMag).