Kevin Clash, the performer behind the ubiquitous Sesame Street muppet Elmo, has resigned after a second allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor was filed in federal court. It will be interesting to see how Sesame Workshop and its licensees deal with the issue over the coming months. In addition to consumer products, Elmo has also been licensed to museums, live tours, and theme parks around the world, including an upcoming land at Universal Studios Singapore.
Disney has had a very direct approach to such issues, subtly removing immediate connections between the company and stars caught in scandals. In 1991, Paul Reubens was arrested in a Florida adult theater for lewd acts. Disney immediately removed a video on the Disney/MGM Studios tour where, as his character Pee-wee Herman, he explained how voice over tracks were accomplished. But, at the same time, they allowed his voice over as Rex, the wayward robotic pilot on Star Tours, to remain. The majority of guests were unaware it was his voice. More recently, the company has silently removed ties with High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens and Cantopop group Twins over nude photos hitting the net.
Others have a wait and see attitude. In the UK, the country is being rocked by a sex scandal involving deceased BBC star Jimmy Savile. Alleged to have inappropriate relations with over 300 minors, the former Top of the Pops host was given accolades around the country for years and even keys to childrens wings at NHS hospitals that he had generously contributed to. Allegations began to arise as early as 1990 as to his conduct, but it was not until the airing of an ITV documentary in October 2012, a year after his death, that the extent of his conduct became public.
Shortly after the ITV broadcast and the opening of police inquiries, the National Media Museum in Bradford, the city where Savile is buried, removed a “Jim’ll Fix It” medal from public display. The medals were handed out by Savile on a BBC show that ran from 1975 to 1994. On it, children wrote to Savile with their wishes, which he then “fixed.”
Upon removing the medal, the Museum released the following statement:
“In light of the recent allegations relating to Sir Jimmy Savile, the vandalism of another object on public display elsewhere, and his family’s decision to remove the headstone from his grave, we will be removing the Jim’ll Fix It badge from display in the museum.
“We will make a decision on the future arrangement for this item in due course.”
Now imagine if Bob Keeshan or Fred Rogers been implicated in a scandal. The results would have been disastrous. The real lives of performers like these are too intertwined with their fictional personas. But there is a distinct difference between Kevin Clash the man (who did perform for Keeshan on Captain Kangaroo) and Elmo the character. Clash was not the first to perform as Elmo and he will certainly not be the last. The character has become such an important and endearing part of the Sesame Street lexicon that to remove it would be detrimental to the franchise.
In light of Clash’s resignation, Sesame Workshop released the following statement:
“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us wants, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street.”
As for Elmo’s future – as Elmo once said on Sesame Street: “Elmo is Elmo!”
ORIGINALLY POSTED 11/20/12 ON THEMEDREALITY.COM