Thursday, October 4, 2012

When Adorable Muppets Turn Nasty

Almost everybody loves the Muppet named Elmo. He comes off as just such a sweetheart. He's kind, curious, compassionate, funny. What's not to like?

Well, when somebody with questionable mental stability starts dressing up as Elmo and spouts creepy anti-Semitic rants at unsuspecting families, it gets ugly.
The guy in New York who dresses
up like Elmo and spouts awful stuff
Photo from the N.Y. Times

That's the problem people are facing in New York City. Apparently, people dress up as beloved children-centric characters in Central Park to entertain families, pose for pictures and maybe get some cash as a reward.

Most of the time, this works. The characters are charming, the children are delighted, some people make a little money and smiles rule the day.

Except when you've got the ranting Elmo, the scary Elmo, the unstable Elmo, which creates an awful collision of free speech rights, the rights of families to protect children from hate speech, not to mention the question of who has the rights to the Elmo image.

For their part, the Sesame Workshop, the educational nonprofit behind beloved Sesame Street characters like Elmo,  says it doesn't condone any unauthorized representations of its characters from anybody, well intentioned or not.

New York City's scary Elmo, who identifies himself as Adam Sandler, doesn't seem too worried about the niceties of copwrite and image. By the way, Sandler is not that Sandler. He's not the popular, and apparently stable comedian.

The Sandler Elmo was detained earlier this summer after going off on a scary rant in Central Park, according to media reports There's a few YouTube videos out there of him squawking about Jews in his Elmo outfit, which quite understandably is incredibly unsettling for kids and their parents.

Here's one of the videos of Scary, anti-semitic Elmo. Warning: language is kinda harsh:

Scary Elmo was released soon afterwards and was back in Central Park. According to the New York Times account, Sandler has a pretty sketchy past, which would give any parent pause.

The June New York Times story about Sandler alleges he once ran a pornographic Web site in Cambodia called "Welcome to Rape Camp" and there were insinuations that Sandler might have been involved in the sexual assault of underaged girls, though no charges have ever been brought.

Scary Elmo is apparently back, and persistent. Sandler was arrested last month around Times Square for another anti-Semitic rant while in his Elmo outfit.

It appears New York might not get rid of its Scary Elmo anytime soon. You can't just make people shut up. If somebody doesn't want mental health couseling, which Sandler apparently does not want, you usually can't make him

People can pretty much say what they want, under the First Amendment.  You can pretty much dress up as a cartoon character and spout all kinds of nonsense. I suppose the Sesame Workshop could go after Sandler, but the associated litigation and unpleasant media attention would distract from their family friendly reputation, even if they are legally and ethically right.

So, this is not an easy problem to solve.

It's sad that families have to be afraid, or at least wary of people dressed up as fun childrens' characters. The frightening thing is most people are blissfully unaware of Sandler's ickiness.

That point was amply illustrated in The Times June article. It quoted a mother thinking kindly of her daughter and meeting Sandler in his Elmo costume. The mom says:  "Will you be here tomorrow? She loves Elmo."

No comments:

Post a Comment