Accusations against Elmo actor Kevin Clash show why we need Sesame Street

Kevin Clash resigned from Sesame Workshop today after a weeklong drama involving allegations of underage sexual abuse, recanting and today — a second accuser. In a statement, Clash explained the reason for his resignation: “Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer.”

I do not care about Kevin Clash; I care about Sesame Street. I am sad thinking of the damage this could do to my most consistent childhood companion. As Elizabeth Jensen and Brian Stelter wrote in their New York Times post, “… the repetition of claims about underage sex in the same sentence as a beloved children’s character may impact the 'Sesame Street' brand in ways that remain to be seen.”

Sesame Street is an American institution. The television show taught me to read before I went to kindergarten. It taught me to count, in multiple languages. Sesame Street showed me lives different from my own and fostered a lifelong, if highly romanticized, love of New York City. Once I had children of my own, Sesame Street got me through long days with a baby and a toddler. It was Sesame Street we intended to watch when we flipped on the television to see a plane crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

As a grown-up I know that there are regular flawed human beings behind the media images, the pedestal-worthy personas, and the puppets. I know these people are subject to massive failures and grave lapses in judgment. And as a mother I am acutely aware that the more media our children consume, the more they need to be educated that media—television, radio, internet— can be pretend.

But Sesame Street? Is nothing sacred?

While I am grateful Clash resigned to help protect Sesame Street, I know others would have preferred he stay.

In this case, the truth only matters to a few. The rest of us are damaged no matter who is lying. Whether it is the accused or accusers, the ugliness remains the same. Which is all the more reason we need the Sesame Streets and Elmos of the world.

Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA, and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? Her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies. 

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