I grew up watching Sesame Street. In fact, I probably watched it longer than I should have. I don't remember when I first started watching it, but I'm sure it was very early in my life. By the point I came along, Sesame Street would have been around for about seven years. Even though Oscar was no longer orange and Big Bird's head was a lot more fluffy, it was still in its nascent, rather unpolished form.
Despite it's criticisms, the concept of the show was pretty genius. Take education, package it up in commercial-sized chunks and sell learning to kids with it's entertaining songs and characters. Maybe it's responsible for destroying a couple generation's worth of attention spans, but I learned my letters and numbers watching that show. And it's comedy makes up a good portion of my nerd DNA.
Somewhere along the way, Sesame Street got "ruined." And I pin it all on Elmo. Almost out of nowhere, this red monster character who had been in the background shows up and begins dominating the show. I really wasn't aware of how pervasive he was until I had kids and started watching the show again with them. I see Sesame Street has having two major eras, BE and AE (Before Elmo and After Elmo). And I have to admit that I have had a bit of a contempt for Elmo as the symbol of what I see as the dissolution of "my Sesame Street."
That's probably why I resisted watching Being Elmo for so long. The documentary is about Kevin Clash who is the performer of Elmo. It goes into his history, the journey from local puppeteer to eventually getting the Elmo puppet thrown at him to try and make work. And did he ever make it work. It is a wonderful look at puppeteering and behind the scenes of the Muppet offices and sets.
In a big way, watching this was very therapeutic. In my past, I have wished for a high level of success like this. I remember wanting to be a Muppeteer and doing the kinds of things that Kevin Clash has been able to do. That would be amazing, but this documentary shows the great cost of success like that. Being a Muppeteer is not worth a divorce and incredible distance from my children (not to say that all Muppeteers go through that, but Clash did and it has to be tough for all of them).
In spite of the fact that I have never been an Elmo fan, I came out the other side with a huge respect for Clash and a better appreciation for Elmo and what he means to children. I'm too old to have any nostalgic feeling for the character, but I can see better now why kids love him so much. I also recommend replacing CAPTCHA codes on website forms with clips of Elmo interacting with the Make-a-Wish child. Unless you're a robot, you can't get through that scene without welling up at least a little bit.
So Elmo, you have my apologies. Even if I don't connect with you, I know there are those who do. Thanks for being what you are and inspiring the next generation with your love and fun.