Redheaded Sis is pissed. Don’t F@#k with my Street!
In the recent list of faux scandals we’ve heard from celebrities, none has been so damaging and so hurtful to so many people as the witch hunt of Kevin Clash. I call it a witch hunt, because I believe that like Michael Jackson before him, Americans cannot reconcile a black male as being a kind, gentle, father figure. It gets even worse when they we find out that man is also openly gay. For those of you not in the know, Kevin Clash is the voice and puppeteer for Elmo, the most easily recognizable childhood figure of the past two decades. Nobody in the Western world doesn’t know Elmo and there are very few in the East who are unfamiliar with him. Clash only came into prominence after the documentary ‘Becoming Elmo’ aired on Netflix and was a success. I watched that documentary, but it was not my first brush with Kevin Clash. I am an historian by trade and the Children’s Television Workshop is one of my areas of expertise and I can confirm that Clash is the closest thing the Muppet Workshop has had to Jim Henson since his death, and that includes Brian and Jane Henson. Clash snatched Sesame Street out of the jaws of indifference by creating a character that everyone loved and wanted to relate to. Not only did he create Elmo and all the learning franchises that came with him, but he also trained and counseled other Muppeteers, as they are called, as part of what he felt was his duty. He was trained by Carroll Spinney, Jim Henson, Frank Oz and he passed that down to the next generation. People at the Muppet workshops around the world frequently said that one day with Clash was worth two years of college. He taught people to see their puppets not as money making dollies, but rather as tools to teach with and that the puppet was never more important than the message it sent out, which is something Jim himself espoused.
I have watched throughout the years as Sesame Street became the first children’s show to be set in an inner city neighborhood. It was the first to feature not only a multi-ethnic cast, but also a multi-generational cast. Jim Henson hired a formerly blacklisted actor to play Mr. Hooper on his show, a risk no one else in show business was willing to take. Through Mr. Hooper, Sesame Street became multi-religious as well, since the actor who played him was Jewish and it was acknowledged during the Christmas episode. Sesame Street dealt with death with this character as well. They did not use euphemisms or dance around the topic, they told children the truth. They also addressed the fact that some people are richer than others, some are smarter, but none of it made anyone any better than anybody else and every person was capable of learning. Many people feel that the characters of Bert and Ernie were Henson’s way showing how same sex relationships could be a healthy part of a neighborhood dynamic. Officially, they were based off Neil Simon’s characters from The Odd Couple, but that in itself was also a glossing over homosexual relationship.
In the early 90s, when Sesame Street began to falter due to cut budgets and lack of interest, Elmo came to the forefront as the new star. He loved openly and without question. He admitted to being afraid and he wanted to help others. Clash and those close to him say Elmo doesn’t come from Kevin, he comes from Kevin’s parents. In the documentary, I saw no evidence of the typical traits of a child molester. Clash was not someone who sought the spotlight or approval, he did not enjoy fooling others and even when he visited sick children with Elmo in hand, he never tried to hide the fact that Elmo had a puppeteer. He was well respected in the workshop and had moved towards the top, but not by force or by actually being driven to be the top. He became the top because of how he was able to educate others and put them at ease. People see it as a sign of guilt that he stepped down from his position at the workshop when the allegations came forward. I think he was trying not to destroy a legacy that had helped and healed so many people.
At the beginning of this, I referenced Michael Jackson and professed my belief in his innocence. Michael Jackson is the greatest performer of our time and his peers are Elvis and the Beatles. I think it was inherent racism in our society that caused us to fully believe that a man who had dedicated much of his time to helping others was a child molester. Why do I believe this? People say if he wasn’t guilty the first time, why did he pay that family off? He was told to make it go away quickly and quietly by his team of advisors. Why do I believe it’s a lie? Because if I had been the mother of that child, no amount of money could have ever made me shut up. I would never have been able to look at myself, much less my child knowing that I had allowed them to be for sale. Also, the name of the child was withheld, but not the names of his mother and his uncle. It doesn’t take a lot for people in a community to put two and two together. Not only is that child not anonymous in his hometown, I’m willing to bet he was ridiculed and bullied for the rest of his school career, if there was one. What mother would do that to her child that only wanted justice to be served?
I find a lot of similarities in the Kevin Clash case. First there was one accuser who retracted his statement for a sum of money and then retracted his retraction. The Henson Corporation did their own investigation and found nothing. This is the same corporation who pulled their toy line from Chic-Fil-A, costing them a lot of money in the process, because of the eatery’s stance on homosexuality. Sesame Street and the Henson Corporation in general have a practice on putting morality before money. I do not believe this corporation would have kept Clash on its payroll if they had even a whiff of doubt. They are not Penn State or the Catholic Church. They also care more about their employees than their public image, hence the hiring of Mr. Hooper in the middle of the red scare and their support behind Clash. I feel it is important to note that Clash is the one who stepped down. He was not asked to, and I’m willing to bet if he wanted to return his job is waiting for him. However, like Michael before him, he wants to make the problem go away and more importantly, he wants Elmo to continue as the ambassador of peace and hope he has been for small children everywhere. That is not the mark of a selfish being, and that is what child molesters are.
Also suspicious to me is the fact that three men have come out as saying they had inappropriate relationships with Clash, but each law suit has been civil, not criminal. If you want someone to pay for what they’ve done to you, most of the time it isn’t with their checkbook. Kevin Clash is not in danger of going to jail, but he stands to lose a lot of money in addition to the reputation he has already lost. I also find it suspicious that these cases are coming to light right as we are gearing up for another Congress, another time where we will have to evaluate the budget and Public Broadcasting was already pretty low on the list of things that were going to get money. Now there’s an extra incentive to slash the budget.
Honestly, I hope that Clash fights the allegations like Michael did the second time. Michael was found not guilty because of an overwhelming lack of evidence. Yes, he was weird, yes he had some problems that needed to be dealt with, but I don’t think he was a child molester and I don’t think Kevin Clash is either. I think they are victims of a racist and homophobic society that realizes that the time of the white, straight male in a position of power is over and so there are folks doing everything they can to drag their feet and go out with a bang. It makes me incredibly angry, but at the same time, I’m proud of Kevin Clash. They wouldn’t have gone after him so hard if they hadn’t thought he was such a fearsome opponent.