Like plenty of people my age, I grew up watching Sesame Street. As a parent of kids born in 1998 and 2002, the dominance of Elmo was notable. We purchased a handful of videos and games, and regularly cycled through the videos and games at our library. I remember being disappointed that the other characters were getting sidelined to make room for more and more Elmo, whose stories skewed young. When Elmo was paired with an adult who we could see was getting visibly frustrated with Elmo, but still being patient, gentle, and firm, it was fine. But even if Elmo was temporarily frustrated along the way, the Elmo storylines always end up with Elmo getting what he wants. The better stories required Elmo to change his mind about what he wants, but Elmo’s world is all about keeping Elmo happy.
As an adult, I am thinking more and more about the life lessons I learned from Bert, who like a true introvert just wants to read his boring book, eat his bland foods, lead the National Association of W Lovers, and get a good night’s sleep. Though Bert is dutiful and plays by the rules, he rarely gets what he wants, due in no small part to the actions of his guile-less but clueless friend Ernie.
As a kid I loved the skit where Bert complains that the TV set was broken because it did nothing by repeat the letter H. Ernie pulls a hat, a hamburger, a hamster, and other “H” things out of the TV set, which now repeats the letter “I.” As I kid, I knew Bert was boring and that the “I” TV show was just as pointless as the “H” show, but I was so proud of Bert for telling Ernie not to try to fix the TV anymore because he liked the “I” show.
As a kid, and as a youngest sibling, I watched Bert trying to articulate his needs, and I wanted him to keep trying. Ernie was a good person, a great playmate, easy-going and eager to please. Usually Bert gave up and let Ernie have his way. I responded to the complex message. Ernie wasn’t being a bully, but if Bert wanted peace and quiet so he could read or sleep, or if Bert wanted his fair share of pizza, Ernie would certainly be happy to comply, but Bert needed to be patient and keep phrasing his needs in the right way.
The Elmo storylines skew much younger. This article does a good job spelling out what bothered me about Elmo.
Now admittedly, it’s impossible to get a three-year-old like Elmo to care about someone’s needs before his own, let alone ask important, deeper questions about solitude and personal safety. But that’s exactly my point; a three-year-old Muppet should not be the lead for this show. Elmo used to embody childlike characteristics that children should be moving away from. But now, he’s modeling, for four and five-year-old children, behavior they should have already left behind. The show used to recognize this and poked gentle fun at Elmo’s immaturity. But in recent times, the writers have forgotten to. —How Elmo Ruined Sesame Street