In a touching bit of news from Sesame Street, Elmo’s father has thanked parents for doing a great job during the coronavirus pandemic. This is nice, and I think it would be tempting to say something comforting and profound, along the lines of “We’re All Elmo’s Dad Right Now.” But I can’t say that because up until this moment, I was unaware that Elmo had a dad. In fact, the revelation that Elmo was produced biologically is deeply disturbing. How am I alone on this?
In my defense, I’m fairly new to the Sesame Street game, mostly because I resisted letting my nearly 3-year-old from watching too many different shows. For a long time, my wife and I only allowed Daniel Tiger to colonize our daughter’s imagination, and then gradually allowed other shows to creep in, too. Pete the Cat has the best music, but I think Tumble Leaf is the most calming, gentle and smart, albeit a bit dull. I’m a defender of Peppa Pig because I think there’s a sly element of Monty Python-ism lurking underneath all that snorting idiocy, though I can’t actually say it’s good. The Irish Netflix series Puffin Rock has encouraged me to narrate my days in a (what I’m told) is a fairly convincing Chris O’Dowd impression, but I’m not crazy about that pygmy shrew who farts all the time. And, after spending nearly three years of avoiding Elmo, we have begrudgingly allowed a bit of Elmo’s World into our home.
And I gotta say…everything I assumed about Elmo before I really started watching Elmo as a parent was entirely correct. Elmo sucks. Elmo doesn’t do or say anything damaging, but his voice is a form of torture and the songs are just the worst. I know Elmo has been around since the ’80s, but I think we can all agree he got popular in the mid-to-late ’90s, which means, the moment the Elmo-centric coup d’etat shifted the power-balance on Sesame Street was waaaay past the time I was a little kid watching Sesame Street. The first Elmo’s World segments began airing in 1998, meaning I was a junior in high school, driving a gold pick-up truck, tricked-out with a no-skip CD player/cassette tape adapter, blasting “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies, rocking an Oasis decal on the back right above a blood-red outline of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing, driving one-handed wearing an untucked flannel shirt two sizes too big. What I’m saying is I still consider Elmo to be a “new” development and if that makes me sound old or out-of-touch, I plead guilty.
In the past I’ve compared Elmo to the Kardashians or Paris Hilton — nobody really wants to know about Elmo, but a vague knowledge of Elmo simply becomes something parents are aware of, against our wishes. Again, I’m not faulting Elmo’s overall intellectual or emotional valances. Elmo is a “good” person, I just find the aesthetics of Elmo — from the red fur to the voice to the name “ELMO” — to be maddeningly stupid. It’s like someone made a list of the most annoying toddler traits, turned those up to 11, and said, “let’s make this the most popular muppet ever.”
So, this week, when I encountered this thing where Elmo’s dad tells parents that we’re doing a great job — and that we should all take a moment to ourselves — my reaction was: THE FUCK? Elmo has a dad?
I’m sorry, I get what Sesame Street is doing here, and it’s nice. Here’s Elmo’s dad (“Louie,” I guess?) telling us that we’re doing great, and he can — phew! — relate to being stuck at home with a toddler. This makes sense, this guy has been stuck at home with a toddler since 1980. Apparently this is why I haven’t seen much of Elmo’s dad in my (admittedly very limited) consumption of Elmo stuff. Elmo’s dad has been overwhelmed with a toddler for longer than I’ve been alive. Poor bastard.
That said, this kind of breaks my conception of Elmo. First, I now have to accept that Elmo was “born,” which is gross. I don’t know why it’s not icky with Daniel Tiger (or Baby Yoda) but it just is. To me, Elmo is a weird vigilante of Sesame Street — a noir-ish character with no past and no future. Like Darth Vader, if I know too much about how Elmo came to be Elmo, it sort of makes it lame. (Or in this case, lamer.) My whole thing with Elmo is I want to know less about him, not more. So, the fact that he has this befuddled, kind of sweet dad, should make it better, but for some reason, it doesn’t. (I’ve also just learned Elmo’s parents were only created in 2006, which is a year I remember only vaguely because I was 25-years-old and wearing skinny jeans all time and listening to, and pretending I was a member of, The Strokes.)
That said, despite all my ignorance, I’m willing to concede it It may be Elmo’s World, and I’m just living in it. But, Louie’s “comfort” message notwithstanding, I’ll continue to lie to myself a little bit longer, thanks very much. I can’t allow myself to identify as Elmo’s dad, because that would mean I would have to accept that I was raising a little Elmo. And I’m not quite ready to face that. Yet.