Everyone likes Sesame Street and even critics of television give Sesame Street support. Like many of you, I grew up watching Sesame Street, however, I remember the traditional characters of Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, and Snuffleupagus, making a bigger impression on me than Elmo. My first real Elmo memory is from college, when I got the Special Edition Tickle Me Elmo as an audience gift on the Rosie O’Donnell Show. At that time though, Elmo symbolized the chance of winning $200,000, rather than educational children’s television.
I have allowed N to watch Sesame Street multiple times, but it has yet to capture his interest. Whenever on TV, he points at Big Bird and shouts “banana,” obviously leading me to believe he wasn’t really following this show. With minimal exposure to Elmo, you can imagine my surprise when at Barnes and Noble he pointed to a stuffed version and shouted, “Elmooooo,” in that classic falsetto preschooler tone. How did he already have character recognition for something to which he had less than 20 minutes of cumulative television exposure?
Elmo is everywhere, that’s how. Exhibit A: Elmo is on the fruit pouches he eats on a daily basis.
Exhibit B: Elmo appears on so many articles of clothing that in any given week at least one classmate is wearing Elmo paraphernalia.
Exhibit C: Elmo loves to party. He shows up in the party décor and cupcakes at 75%* of birthday parties for kids under the age of 3 (*this is a fabricated statistic, but I’ve been to enough baby parties to make a pretty good guess).
Exhibit D: Elmo is a party pooper. As I was working on writing this piece, I was doing a diaper change and N pointed to his Pamper shouting “Elmo” and lo and behold that little red rascal is on our diapers too. I hadn’t previously realized that I wrapped my toddler in Elmo every day.
And yes, sometimes my support of Elmo is more volitional. When an Elmo character arrived at a party, I rushed to hand over my baby to this costumed stranger for the sake of a good photograph.
There are worse characters on television for N to recognize and enjoy, so I’m not discouraging his interest in Elmo. It makes me more aware though of the influence of television characters on children and their presence in children’s lives beyond television.
I am amazed that despite the recent negative Kevin Clash publicity, Elmo’s image is going strong in the kiddie product market. I imagine I’ll continue to run into him at school, the grocery store, and parties for years to come. Maybe the next time I see him, I’ll ask who does his marketing, because that’s someone who deserves some recognition!