Kevin 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.