• Wed, Nov 14 2012

Kevin Clash’s Accuser Recants, But Parents Might Not Forgive Elmo

elmoKevin Clash and the producers of Sesame Street breathed a nice, big sigh of relief last night. The man who accused the voice of Elmo of having an “inappropriate relationship” with him when he was just 16 years old has now recanted his claim. The young man’s attorney told the press,  “he wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.” The statement added, “He will have no further comment on the matter.”  The accuser might not be commenting anymore, but that doesn’t mean that the scandal will be completely over for Kevin Clash, or that parents will forget that it ever happened. In fact, I have to wonder if we’ll ever really forgive Elmo.

There was a huge media reaction to the discovery that the actor behind a beloved children’s character might have had sex with an underage boy. There was a barrage of inappropriate Twitter humor. The scandal forced Clash to publicly admit his sexuality, something he had never done before. While fiercely denying the allegations, Clash explained in a press statement, “I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.”

For me, as a parent, I couldn’t care less whether Kevin Clash is attracted to men or women. His sexuality is a non-issue. However, I can’t help but imagine if he were a grown man who dated a teenage female almost 30 years younger than him. Even if that relationship never occurred until the girl was 18 and of legal age, I would still have serious questions about him as a person. There is a lot of judgement that surrounds a 47-year-old man dating someone who can’t enter a bar yet. And whether that young person is male or female, I don’t think the judgement changes too much.

Of course, I am aware that people can fall in love at any age. And I hesitate to draw too much conclusion from a large age gap between partners. My grandmother was 16 years younger than my grandfather and they were happily married until the day my grandpa passed away. I realize that for some, ages don’t mean much of anything. At the same time, it’s hard to think about what exactly draws together an 18-year-old and a 47-year-old.

One can argue that as long as it’s not illegal, Kevin Clash’s personal relationships shouldn’t matter at all. He may voice a children’s character, but that doesn’t mean that he owes us all some form of explanation for perfectly legal behavior. The problem is that parents now know this information. We were made aware of Clash’s private life. And that’s not something that many people will forget.

I don’t want to vilify this man. He’s been through enough this week. I don’t want to pretend that he’s incapable of continuing on his work as a puppeteer. Who he dates has nothing to do with Elmo’s ability to teach our children about friendship and being kind and the importance of learning. The problem is that none of us will look at Elmo the same, either. We’ll see a toy in the store and we’ll pass it by. We’ll hear that Clash’s documentary Being Elmo is on PBS and we’ll turn the channel. One of the sweetest children’s characters around will no longer feel quite as wholesome to us.

Elmo’s brand is changed. And I’m not sure there’s anything Kevin Clash, Sesame Street, or any number of lawyers could do to fix that.

(Photo: WENN)

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  • Lawcat

    Maybe for you, but please, please don’t ever speak as if you are the voice for the majority of parents. You’re not.

    This was a ploy to expose someone to get a payoff, plain and simple. Because the internet can’t be wiped, this will be attached to his name for the rest of his life while his anonymous accuser issues a “my bad” and slinks away unscathed. His name should be released.

    What do a 18 year old and a 47 year old see in each other? Probably the same thing your grandparents did the first time they met. My friend just married a man 20 years her senior. Did I wonder what they saw in each other? Sure. Am I going to forget them or boycott them from social occasions? No. I don’t care to dwell on it that much. They make each other happy at this moment in time and that’s what matters.

    For all you write on not judging other moms, apparently everyone else is fair game. Why don’t you quit the “no judging” charade and let your true colors shine.

    • alice

      While I feel bad that Clash’s ex boyfriend exploited him like this, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that Lynsey – or anyone who followed this story – hasn’t a right to feel squeamish about a 47 year old public figure having a relationship with a teenager (a 47 year old public children’s figure, no less)

      “hey, if they’re both consenting adults, then who cares?!”

      Well. A lot of people.

      And it doesn’t make them assholes.

      A healthy adult relationship isn’t measured in terms of consent. When large age gaps exist in relationships, and one person is a teenager, or a barely legal consenting adult, there are always concerns about the health of the relationship. About what has psychologically drawn these two parties together. About whether the younger party can possess the same adult understanding of risks and
      consequences as the older, more experienced, party. About whether the older party has shown good judgment.

      These concerns are rooted in basic psychology. Sure, it’s not society’s place to go around investing potential unhealthy relationships and trying to fix them.

      But it does NOT make me judgmental if I question why a woman stays with an abusive man, or why a 50 year old pursues a relationship with a teenager, or why a teacher has sex with her student.

      None of these questions are magically dissolved by “oh, the heart wants what it wants!”

    • alice

      should say *investigating* potential unhealthy relationships…

      and i wanted to add: the word “judgmental” has become so hilariously warped and overused. as if there’s now a competition for “least opinionated person”.

      as you said yourself: you wondered what your friend saw in the other person. JUDGY ALERT! ZOMG! you’re not going to boycott your friendship? no shit.

      that’s not even close to the same thing as questioning Clash’s ability to be a public children’s icon while simultaneously having a relationship with a teenager.

    • chickadee

      I notice that your second to last paragraph lumps Clash’s entirely legal situation with two that are illegal. Your credibility is questionable if you truly do not see that one of these things is not like the others.

    • alice

      whaaat? im not lumping him with illegal situations. im lumping him with other potentially *unhealthy* relationships. not all student-teacher romances are illegal (christ, i’m not talking about high school kids!)

      you said below that i must have some “issues to address” if i saw a potential problem with a 47 year old pursuing a relationship with a 17 year old. really?

      so, in your opinion, most therapists would NOT see potential red flags with that situation? most people would NOT question the judgment of the older party?

    • chickadee

      First, Clash’s accuser, the liar, was 18 when they had a relationship, not 17. Second, if you mean teacher-student relationships when the student is active, yes, those are illegal in many cases because it is an abuse of authority. Check it out — I teach at a university and they are pretty clear about your future if you sleep with a student. And if the high-school student IS over 18, it is still illegal because it violates numerous codes of conduct. And since when is spousal abuse NOT illegal? Maybe you need to be more specific in your word choice.

      Most therapists? Which ones, please? And most people? On this board at least, you seem to be in the minority.

      And yes, you do have issues if you are overly creeped out by a 29-year age gap and aren’t able to take the approach ‘live and let live’ since it doesn’t affect your life and it isn’t illegal in any way. I hope you are consistent with your position and make comments about how creepy it is when an older man has a relationship with a younger woman.

      (Edited to clarify my position)

    • alice

      Hey, let’s try to have a conversation where we accept it’s
      possible for people to have different opinions while at the same time both being mentally aware, rational, and intelligent human beings. OK? It’s like the absence of agreement on this forum somehow means one person is obviously suffering from some mental or emotional handicap. Criminy.

      I’m not trying to write an essay on moral turpitude. I’m not even condemning Kevin Clash for having a relationship with a teenager.

      But you must be able to see that people can form opinions
      about Kevin Clash, based on his choice to have a relationship with a
      teenager. And that doesn’t necessarily make those people wildly irrational, judgmental, loons. Moral judgments are not always contained within legal contexts, as everyone knows (See: Woody Allen) and legal contexts are not universal (See: varying age limits across this country for “consenting adult”). Given that, it’s not such a such a slam dunk for everyone.

      Some people will still see a moral dilemma in an almost 50 year old man having an intimate relationship with an almost minor. Especially given the seemingly arbitrary definition of the word “minor.” And maybe those
      people would feel that such indiscretions make one unfit to be a children’s spokesperson. These aren’t giant leaps of insanity. (Christ, Katy Perry had her Sesame Spot yanked for showing too much cleavage!)

      Just, try to see all sides of the argument, okay? And please don’t argue against people’s opinions, based strictly on the legality of the issue. Because you should know better. A person’s opinion of “right” and “wrong” has never been strictly correlated with state and federal laws, and I don’t think anyone would ever campaign for it to be. (See: moral clauses in contracts, student/teacher relationships, my mom’s opinion of pot smoking even after it was decriminalized in my state!)

      Perhaps this context is obscured by the fact that Kevin Clash was publically accused of having sex with a minor, an accusation which
      later was publically retracted, and his personal right to keep his sexuality private was ripped from him in the process.

      Indeed that’s a horrible situation for him, and generates public
      sympathy. Perhaps sympathy to the point where any further questioning of Clash’s behavior is met with indignation and
      outrage?

    • chickadee

      “Hey, let’s try to have a conversation where we accept it’s possible for people to have different opinions while at the same time both being
      mentally aware, rational, and intelligent human beings. OK? It’s like
      the absence of agreement on this forum somehow means one person is
      obviously suffering from some mental or emotional handicap. Criminy.”

      I am not at all saying you aren’t rational — don’t divert attention away from the topic at hand, please. You claimed that MOST people have a problem with this, and MOST therapists would see the relationship as a red flag. I asked for sources. They were not forthcoming. Saying doesn’t make it so.

      “And please don’t argue against people’s opinions, based strictly on
      the legality of the issue. Because you should know better. A person’s
      opinion of “right” and “wrong” has never been strictly correlated with
      state and federal laws, and I don’t think anyone would ever campaign for
      it to be. (See: moral clauses in contracts, student/teacher
      relationships, my mom’s opinion of pot smoking even after it was
      decriminalized in my state!)”

      I was pointing out your flawed attempt at drawing parallels in your argument. Two of those things are illegal, one is not. By lumping a legal issue in with two illegal issues, you are making the implicit statement that it is also illegal, thereby justifying your outrage at the nature of Clash’s relationship, about which you would have known nothing if his accuser hadn’t lied in public. You should know better than to draw such comparisons.

      You should also understand that when you abuse the word “most” you are going to get called out on it. No proof or you can’t say it. At least, not and be taken seriously.

    • alice

      holy shit, you want to split hairs on this, eh?

      I claimed that most people would see a potential problem in a 50 year old dating someone who was barely legal, and that most therapists would see it as a red flag. instead of being realistic and saying “yeah, society is pretty frowny on that.” you pulled the “show me your data!” rebuttal as if either of my statements were farfetched. you know they’re not farfetched.

      can i link you a poll of how 1000 people feel about a 17 year old girl dating a 50 year old man? no. does that mean that it’s not accurate or reasonable to say that MOST PEOPLE would see a potential problem in that relationship or question the motives? i can’t believe i’m even arguing about it, since every single public instance of these types of relationships is met with public scrutiny. is that not evidence enough for you? barely legal relationships with much older adults have always been scrutinized. and i can’t imagine you go around writing scathing letters to the editor of People Magazine if they print that Hutchison’s marriage was “eyebrow raising”

      regarding therapists: i took a class my freshman year in college and… (just kidding). But really: due to personal experience, i’ve had many conversations with professionals about barely legal adult relationships. bottom line was always the same: is it possible for it to work out and be a healthy relationship? sure. is it the healthiest situation for a 17 year old girl to put herself in? F no. are the motives of the older man questioned? F yes.

      now again, if you want to pretend to not live in reality and say “psh, your therapists are too small a sample” sure, go ahead.

      but just try to employ some common sense for a moment: why do you think these types of relationships are the subject of scrutiny? and why do you think we set an age limit to determine a teenager’s capacity to consent to adult relationships?

      regarding parallels in my argument: i really don’t believe you DIDN’T see the correlation. but instead you just want to have this nonsense back-n-forth. go back and read what i wrote for a moment. none of the events i listed have anything to do with being legal or illegal. the context of my entire post was about moral judgements and not legal judgments. The scenarios i chose were purposely ambiguous, just as ambiguous as 16/17/18 being varying legal ages of consent. not all types of abusive relationships can land you in jail. not all types of student/teacher relationships can land you in jail. not all 50 year old sex with a 17 year old can land you in jail. but across the board, all of those examples can draw moral scrutiny. AAAAND that was lynsey cross’s point, that the legality is not the only issue.

    • chickadee

      Look, if you want to make sweeping, generalized statements and base them on your personal experience ans then extrapolate it to include hordes of nameless others, you are more than welcome to do so. Maybe they will then let you write an article for the internet. What I’m saying is that it is customary to speak for oneself or, if for others, to be able to back it up with stats.

      Maybe, just maybe, MOST people aren’t too concerned with the way others live their lives and don’t care how old anyone’s legal-aged lovers are. But I am not going to say it because I can’t prove it. And if you can prove it, do so. That’s what I’m saying.

      Arguing from emotion for yourself is fine. Just don’t, as Cross did, gather up everyone else in your onslaught.

    • alice

      im not arguing from emotion. i’m arguing from reality.

      try looking at it this way: the age of consent in NY is 17. ten states have an age of consent of 18. so kevin clash’s relationship is illegal in a fifth of our country.

      it seems hypocritical to let your moral standards fluctuate with state borders. the law? yeah, that fluctuates with state borders. but a person’s moral compass? really?

      if sesame street was filmed in CA instead of NY, and this entire relationship unfolded over there, would you be campaigning for clash’s jailtime suddenly?

    • chickadee

      You keep saying that he was 17. He was not. He was 18. According to the Examiner, among many others…”Simultaneously to Fox News, San Diego’s 10News reported in its 11 p.m.
      news on Nov. 13, that Kevin Clash’s accuser was not 16 years old when he
      had a relationship with Kevin Clash, but that he was 18 and thus a
      legal adult.”

      Your argument is now invalid. But yes. If Kevin Clash had been unwise enough to break the law and have a sexual relationship with a minor, I would be campaigning for his prosecution. Because it would be illegal.

      I, unlike you, am not arguing morality. I am arguing from the position of “leave Kevin Clash alone, and quit wittering on about how MOST people think this is creepy or gross.” I am, and have been, merely asking you to quit speaking for others or offer me evidence that most people agree with you about the nature of the relationship.

      You don’t know Clash’s moral compass. What surprises me is that you aren’t concerned about the moral compass of the young man who falsely accused Clash and has, apparently, ruined his reputation (because now you, and people like you, are worried about what a bad guy he is).

    • alice

      there is absolutely NO substantiated claim that the accuser was 18. all of the news outlets have the same information on this case, the same press releases we’ve read a thousand times. it only says that it was a consensual adult relationship.

      the examiner is misquoting fox, sandiego10, et al.

      please doublecheck, but i’m fairly certain that the only claim he was 18 comes from the examiner who is misquoting fox. there is nothing on any news outlet that says the accuser is 18 (including fox). only that he is of legal age (in that state)

    • chickadee

      Sorry, but all I’ve found is that he was 18. In fact, numerous outlets say that the email in question was sent “well after” the recipient turned 18. Have you seen somewhere that said specifically that he was 17? Links, please.

      And if indeed it only means he is “legal” then why it so difficult for you to accept that legal means that it is acceptable in the eyes of the citizens of that particular state? Just because it offends you does not mean that it is offensive. You are looking at the issue of opinion v. fact.

      Again, the point is that the recipient WAS legal and he has admitted that he made a false accusation. How about you quit worrying about Clash and start worrying about THAT guy?

  • Lawcat

    Additionally, your headline is asinine. In order to seek forgiveness, generally one has done something “wrong.” You tap dance around the issue. Am I correct in assuming that you think dating older or younger is “wrong?” Unless, of course, it’s your grandparents. Then it’s totally OK and you wouldn’t have “questions about them as a person.”

  • nigga please

    Guilty even after being proven innocent. Gotta love false accusations of sexual abuse

  • chickadee

    Wow, way to lump everyone else in with your feelings about it. Plus, ELMO IS A CHARACTER. He is not an extension of Clash himself, and I should hope parents are smart enough to tell the difference.

    And can we please stop villifying Clash? It is only in the last 2 decades or so that the common perception of a gay man working on a children’s show WOULDN’T automatically sound like he wanted to molest children. Remember how persecuted gay elementary school teachers were? They would prey on the children! They would turn them gay! Take a historical view and quit writing articles that contribute in any way to the Clash-bashing. He’s the bloody victim here, if you’ve forgotten….

    • alice

      i guess i’m in the minority. my squeamish feelings towards clash have NOTHING to do with him being gay, and EVERYTHING to do with him pursuing a relationship with a teenager. i don’t consider that “Clash-bashing” and frankly, it feels like you’re victimizing him BECAUSE he’s gay.

      if doug hutchison was the voice of Big Bird, and woody allen was the voice of Cookie Monster, i think there would be a lot of people saying “wtf PBS”

    • chickadee

      I fail to see how I am victimizing him. Because I am pointing out that everyone immediately assumed that he was guilty? Remember, please, that this situation came to light through the actions of as liar. Clash was intensely private about this and it’s no one’s business what he does in private as long as he breaks no laws. Mommyish is supposed to preach a non-judgmental platform, but I guess it only applies selectively. My point is that Cross seems to think that Elmo is forever tainted. Why is that? Clash did nothing wrong, and if you or Cross has a problem with the age gap why then it seems you have some issues to address….

  • Ellie

    Seriously? Maybe *you* will take this out on Elmo and Sesame Street, but I won’t. The issue with the actor and the actual programs have not one darn thing to do with each other. Grow up.

  • Sue

    Totally OT, I am annoyed that Mommyish now requires us to sing in to vote down on any post, which is stupid. But I also can’t find any place to do this. Where is this mechanism?

  • Val

    I think this is a legit article. Some people will feel this way. Cross is just pointing that out. Whether or not the majority of people feel that way is irrelevant. Everyone doesn’t need to feel the same way for someone to point out that SOME people will feel a certain way. There is no doubt that SOME people will now have developed the CONNECTION to elmo/Clash/child molester etc. Does it make it right? Suppose not, if it’s not true, but is that now in the back of SOME people’s minds? Maybe. That’s the power of defamation. Someone just saying or suggesting something is usually more than enough to implant the idea and taint the person/brand. Cross is simply highlighting the fact that for some people Elmo will be tainted. Fair or not, it is true for some people.

    • chickadee

      It has the potential to raise interesting questions, but Cross wasn’t careful enough and did make some sweeping assumptions. Unlike you, she said “The problem is that none of us will look at Elmo the same, either. We’ll
      see a toy in the store and we’ll pass it by. We’ll hear that Clash’s
      documentary Being Elmo is on PBS and we’ll turn the channel.
      One of the sweetest children’s characters around will no longer feel
      quite as wholesome to us.”

      No, WE won’t, at least not all of us. She is assuming that what is true for her — that she has a problem with the relationship — is a universal truth. She needed to be more careful and stop speaking for all of us. Some of us do in fact have the capacity to separate a person from his creation, and to understand who is the victim — Clash, not the children.

  • K.

    Let me get this straight:

    Kevin Clash, a puppeteer, once had a relationship with another consenting legal ADULT man.

    That’s the news? Well, big whoop. If that’s enough to stop you from buying an Elmo doll because you can’t handle it, then well, that’s your right. I think you’re being a bit oversensitive, but hey, that’s your right.

    I am, however, depressed that if we’re talking about a public figure’s private life affecting his career, that Michael Vick is still cheered on the field for doing something that was not only illegal, but cruel and violent as well, and meanwhile, Kevin Clash gets the mommy snub for doing something perfectly legal, as well as consensual.