Elmo: you either love him or you hate him. I'm in the former camp. I mean, the scruffy red fur, the relentless optimism, the messages of inclusivity: what's not to like? I guess the shrill voice, incessant singing, and complete obliviousness of how annoying he is. OK, turns out my feelings for Elmo are a little more complicated than I had previously thought. I've pondered this way more than I should, and I've come up with some things I would say to Elmo if our paths ever crossed.
I was raised on a healthy daily dose of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. Basically, I consider Jim Henson another parent. I identified with long-suffering worrywart Bert, shy and gentle Snuffleupagus, and the always over-compensating Grover. Elmo wasn't that great of a presence when I was growing up and by the time the Elmo rose to the height of popularity, I was in high school. I do remember shaking my head as parents scrambled to get their hands on a Tickle Me Elmo, the "it" toy of the 1996 holiday season.
As a mom, I have a deeper appreciation for Elmo. He's sort of an inevitable consequence of having children. At this point, my kid doesn't watch a ton of TV, but she has several Sesame Street books she loves, and we took her to a Sesame Street Live! show. They sent us home with a light-up spinning Elmo and a magnet of his face. My toddler can't reliably say her own name, but damned if she doesn't say "Elmo" clear as a bell.
Honestly, I'm pretty OK with it. Elmo is perpetually 3.5 years old. He appeals to young children because he is just like them: cheerful, curious, and open-minded. I don't give him a pass on everything, but overall, I'm comfortable with his influence on my daughter's life. So, Elmo, I have a few things to say to you, you adorable little monster.
"My Love For You Is Deep And Abiding"
Seriously. How do you do it? You have an amazing ability to calm my screaming child down, rivaled only in tranquilizing effect by Adele's "Hello." There's actually some research behind the psychological reason kids love Elmo.
First, he's red. Bold primary colors can provide children with a sense of security. Second, Elmo speaks in "Parent-ese." You know that sing-song style of speak you find so obnoxious? It actually mirrors the baby talk parents use to get their infant's attention and, well, kids like that. Finally, Elmo is repetitious, which is exactly how the littlest among us learn.
Frankly, I don't give a damn what kind of black magic Elmo employs as long as it lets me make dinner in peace.
"That Being Said, Could You Tone It Down A Touch?"
Elmo, this article is basically a love song to you. However, even our most beloved friends can grate on us. I'm not alone. There's even an "Elmo Sucks We All Hate Him" Facebook group. No really. It's called that.
I don't hate him, but sometimes that high pitched voice makes me want to stab my ear drums. And do you always have to be so happy? I mean, a positive attitude is great, but Elmo borders on saccharine. Still, I'll take a thousand Elmo's World sketches over one episode of Caillou.
"You Are A Gender Diversity Warrior"
My admiration for Elmo was cemented with the sketch, "Dress Me Up Club." In the scene, there are two racks of dress-up clothes. One full of tutus and princess dresses is labeled "Girls" and one with swashbuckling accoutrements and a dinosaur costume is for "Boys." When Abby wants to don the superhero cape, her friends assure her such things aren't for girls, and she should play tea party instead. Enter Elmo. He reminds his friends that there are lots of female superheroes and goes on to say boys can be ballerinas, too!
Elmo has always been about dispelling stereotypes. He learned the ABC's in Spanish from Gina Rodriguez and befriended a Muppet with autism. He talked skin color with Whoopi Goldberg and Lupita Nyong'o. Elmo's a progressive badass, y'all.
"Must You Always Speak In The Third Person?"
Avoiding pronouns is one of the primary components of the Elmo brand. Personally, I've always found it kind of douchey to refer to oneself in the third person. Unless you're Jaqen H-ghar, of course. I guess the reasoning is that he mirrors the self-centered talk and attitude typical of toddlers.
Kimmie accepts this, but she doesn't have to like this.
"I See What You Did There"
One of the things I've always appreciated about the Muppets is that they work on multiple levels. Generally, there's something for adults, too. (Example: On the Muppet Classic Theater version of "The Three Little Pigs," the wolf says, "Look, a brick house!" Miss Piggy replies, "Yeah? Well, you're no junior petite yourself, mister!")
Elmo really isn't any different. When he's directly addressing children, he speaks to them in a developmentally appropriate way. But when he's with adults? He doesn't take himself too seriously. In March of 2010, he tweeted, "Someone just told Elmo yesterday was Talk in Third Person Day. Elmo doesn't know what that is but it sounds fun. Can Elmo play?"
"Can We Talk About The Relentless Merchandising?"
Hey guy, I love you and your show but I do not love all the things. If you search Elmo on Amazon, you'll get 803 results. In addition to CDs and DVDs, you can buy an Elmo teether, potty, guitar, cell phone, and toothpaste, to name just a few. Tickle Me Elmo has been updated to the decidedly millennial LOL Elmo. My daughter is a big fan of the Elmo bubble bath.
I mean, I get it. It just makes me sad that my favorite little monster is also a monster of consumerism. I just can't help but feel like it's incongruous with the educational mission and overall spirit of Sesame Street.
"Please Introduce Me To Your Friends"
I'm not talking about Mr. Noodle (dude, that guy is weird) or Abby Cadabby (who is an objectively terrible Muppet). No, I'm referring to your famous pals. Elmo has promoted healthy food choices with Michelle Obama. He sang about numbers with Feist. He cooked grilled cheese waffles with Jimmy Fallon. It's a veritable who's who of my favorite celebrities. Elmo, if you can get Ruby Rose on your show, my life will be complete.
"Winter Is Coming"
No reason. Or maybe I just want to see Elmo do that Muppet thing where they look into the camera like they can't believe that just happened.
"Take It Easy On Old Kermit"
Watch this video, and you'll realize that Kermit is all of us. And by all of us, I mean adults. Kermit is attempting to teach the concepts of loud and quiet. We watch as Elmo yells, "Elmo help Mr. Green Frog" and then sob when Kermit doesn't want his help. Kermit losing his sh*t is hysterical because it's what we all want to do when when our kids have gotten on our very last nerve. So, Elmo, could you give Mr. Green Frog a break?
"Thanks For Being A Great Teacher"
A 2015 study found that Sesame Street has lasting educational benefits to children, comparable to what preschool provides. It's not just the numbers and the alphabet, either. Elmo starred in a public service announcement to educate families about the Zika virus. He even tackled finances. There are special Elmo programs to support children in military families.
Elmo has his faults, but who doesn't? For me, this thoroughly modern, mischievous, merry little monster will always be welcome in my home.