Full disclosure: I’ve never been an Elmo fan. I didn’t especially like him when I first met him on my television screen–he seemed too relentlessly happy, too sure that I would care “what he’s thinking about today.” He made me think about throwing shoes at the television. My boys, of course, loved him. They watched Elmo constantly during the most harrowing time of my life–my year-long divorce. When I hear that red guy’s high cloying voice, to this day, it makes me shudder.
So I’ll admit that, in a weird way, I felt slightly vindicated when I found out Elmo was a recidivist racist. Okay, fine, it wasn’t the REAL Elmo. I mean, to the extent any Elmo is real, of course. Racist Elmo is not the one with the ™ symbol next to his name, the legitimate Elmo. No, racist Elmo is one of the illegitimate Elmos. New York has a bunch of Elmos (and other characters with sidewalk child appeal) who wander around tourist sites to pose for photos with kids and make some quick non-taxable cash.
On Monday, one of those Elmos was taken away from Central Park by police in an ambulance for psychological evaluation after voicing an anti-Semitic rant outside the Central Park Zoo (you can read more here). After yelling at passers-by to read Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” Ranting Elmo also mentioned that “if you start your business in this city, Jews will harass you.” He also said that he doesn’t make money because, “the Jewish costume company is harassing me.” Of course, all this was captured on video and broadcast on YouTube…and probably not what young Elmo fans expected of their red idol.
So Elmo was taken to a local hospital Monday and went back to work Tuesday, though he’d been asked by the police to refrain from his work in the park. The New York Times talked to him and found out his name is Adam Sandler (he’s neither the real Adam Sandler nor the real Elmo–you could see where that alone might make you angry)–and that he is not necessarily someone you would want to be hugging your little boy or girl.
Describing himself as “a little paranoid,” Mr. Sandler told the Times that he had gone to Cambodia after college, and while there, set up a pornographic website called, “Welcome to the Rape Camp.” The women involved, he said, were consensually involved and were paid $20 each for their performance. In case that wasn’t offensive enough for you, the Cambodian police arrested and deported Mr. Sandler after his work with the site came out. When articles were written about him and the site, he contacted the reporters and admitted that he had had sex with many young girls for money. After working at an office job for the Girl Scouts–no, really–Mr. Sandler opted to buy an Elmo suit for $300 and start working by posing for hugs with little children.
There are many issues here, obviously. There’s no regulation of the costume industry generally, so there are many costumes sold that are in violation of intellectual property law (which, in this case, would demand some sort of royalty for Sesame Street for the licensed use of its character). And certainly, there is no attempt to do any kind of background checks on those who don these outfits as freelance, independent contractors.
Doesn’t it give you a little pause, though? Do you ever take a second to wonder who is behind the mask of the Elmo, or Barney, or Sponge Bob, or Mickey, who is posing for a frameworthy moment with your kids? Isn’t it interesting how we automatically assume that the people who are in those suits–suits which generally completely mask their real identity–are not only harmless, but also particularly child-loving and warm?