Now, I consider myself to be a bit of a Sesame Street purist. I grew up in a household where we weren't allowed to watch much TV at all, so SS was my escapist TV before reality TV came into existence. I remember a time before Maria and Luis got together, before Mr. Hooper died and before anyone besides Big Bird knew that Snuffy really existed. So I was one of those kids (who had probably outgrown SS by this point) that was a little annoyed when this little furry red giggly character came onto the scene 20 years ago (boy am I old).
It is a formulaic rescue device used by TV writers since the beginning of time. Introduce a cute little kid to inject life into a series. They did it on Family Ties, The Cosby Show and Growing Pains. Heck, they even tried pulling the cute new baby thing on Friends when Rachel had her baby. It usually signals the decline of the show and that things will soon come to a screeching halt. But in this case, the Muppet initially called "Baby Monster" soon became the breakout star of SS. He has his own dolls, his own segment on SS called "Elmo's World" and is the go-to Muppet for guest spots. He has approached Beatles status amongst those under 4 years of age and you see babies stop in their tracks when the theme song for "Elmo's World"comes on the TV. See what happens next time you are around a toddler watching Elmo and tell me if it doesn't look like the crazy guy from the Hale Bopp comet video.
Is it his high pitched voice? Is it his tendency to break into song? Is it his annoying predilection for referring to himself in 3rd person? Maybe it is the bright color and those great big googly eyes. I talked to one of friends from college with a degree in child development about it and she said that it is most likely the fact that he is a friendly looking version of some of the scarier looking creatures on SS and the fact that he talks like a 3 year old hopped up on caffeine and sugar. Babies and toddlers love order and routine. It is reassuring to them and makes them feel secure.
Elmo, for all his craziness, is predictable. He represents the high-energy, almost manic shift that has happened to the classic show I used to love. The Red Menace (as some call him) will carry on. I will end this post with a quote from film critic Joel Stein from the LA Times: "I know that children love Elmo. But children are idiots." Except mine who, of course, is a genius.