So I probably don’t have to do much summarizing or reportage here, as the majority of you have already read this news elsewhere: yesterday Kevin Clash — the puppeteer and screechy babyvoice of Elmo — is taking a leave of absence from Sesame Street in the wake of allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
And the world cried out: Elmo? ELMO? NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Just about every blog post and news item (including this one, waaaait for it) mentioned the 2o11 documentary about Clash called Being Elmo. Which, if you’ve seen it, probably made yesterday’s news particularly shocking. While Elmo personally drives me batty (as do a lot of things about the present-day Sesame Street), the documentary about Clash’s rise from poverty and his tremendous impact on generations of children is a goddamned tearjerker and if you don’t fall a little in love with him by the end, well. I can’t help you. You obviously died some time ago and should look into that. You’re looking a little Walking Dead-ish, frankly.
If you haven’t seen the documentary, damn. I’m sorry. Because it’s really, really good and now it’s probably RUINED FOREVER.
Or is it? And here’s where things get kind of icky and complicated.
My gaydar was pinging pretty loudly when I watched Being Elmo, but you know. Whatever. Clash does have a daughter with an ex-wife who gets a mention (along with some talk about strained relationships thanks to his work hours and crazy travel/appearance schedule), but his current personal life isn’t really a focus. I simply assumed that he was probably gay, and hoped that he didn’t feel like he had to keep it a big dark secret or anything because of his work with children, because GAH THAT’S STUPID. I like the mens too. Yet no one thinks I need to be kept away from male children and teenagers. Anyway! I am wildly digressing here.
So the news is out that yes, Kevin Clash is gay, and he had a relationship with his accuser, who is now 23 years old. BUT. He insists that the relationship did not start until after the young man turned 18. (Clash is 52.)
“It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was,” Clash said in a statement, denying accusations that he had sex with his accuser when he was just a 16-year-old boy. “I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation.”
Clash also confirmed he is “a gay man” and has “never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt [my relationship with the accuser] was a personal and private matter.”
And indeed, there’s some stuff that just isn’t sitting quite right about the whole mess, but at the same time: Dear God, I do not want to sound at all like I’m victim-blaming-doubting or automatically siding with Clash because I like him and Elmo and I want to believe he’s who I thought he was even though I don’t know him at all ack I have a headache and need to lie down.
Clash’s accuser does not appear to have gone to the cops. Instead, he went right to Clash’s bosses at Sesame Workshop. They met with him several times and claim to have conducted a “thorough investigation” and found absolutely no evidence that the relationship started when he says it did. TMZ has an email from Clash to the accuser (sent from his work email) (dude) (DUDE) but it was sent “well after the accuser turned 18.”
Clash writes, “I’m sorry that I keep talking about sex with you, its driving me insane.”
He adds, “I want you to know that I love you and I will never hurt you. I’m here to protect you and make sure your dreams come true.”
Clash continued, “I’ll have my assistant book a ticket for you to come to NY and we can talk about this in person.”
Sesame Workshop said Clash has been disciplined for his poor judgement and misuse of company email. At some point the accuser claimed to have an email in which Clash admitted the relationship started when he was 16, but that seems to not actually exist or have been fabricated, depending on which news outlet you’re reading.
Either way, yes. Clash was still much, much older than this young man. And yes, there’s a wide range of differences between, say, an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old…and a very small child lured by Elmo and Clash’s access and I don’t even want to finish this thought.
Some people seem to think Clash should be fired even for the legal age difference alone, that a 45-year-old having sex with an 18/19 year old is sketchy and gross enough. (Others are simply horrified to learn that the voice of Elmo is gay, which: GTFO.) While on the other end of the Internet Commentary Spectrum, there are plenty of folks who don’t think an older, experienced man having sex with a 16 year old is that big of a deal anyway. Which: Also GTFO.
Either way, brand crisis management firms have weighed in and their recommendation is pretty universal, regardless of the real truth or final outcome: Clash is toast. Get a new voice for Elmo, STAT.
“If they were my client I would tell them to hold back the release of any new DVDs or products and re-record it with a new voice for Elmo,” insists crisis PR expert Cherie Kerr. “If they keep Clash’s voice, every time someone hears that voice they’re going to associate Elmo with those allegations.”
Why such a drastic measure, especially before we even know whether Clash actually broke the law or did anything unethical?
Because of what Elmo is.
“If it were any other type of product, keeping Clash would be fine,” Kerr explains. “But they’re not selling Tide or Tylenol. They’re dealing with a children’s product. Elmo is a benchmark for teaching kids everything from math to manners. They can’t afford to stigmatize their image.”
Me? I’m just really sad about the whole mess. I want everything to go back to the way it was before. I want it all to not be true and for this to NOT be the inevitable asterisk and footnote to every mention of Elmo and Kevin Clash from now on. I hate the thought of my kids one day reading about this — because of course they will, Wikipedia ain’t going no place — and being shocked and stunned at the retroactive loss of happy childhood innocence.
I also want Mr. Hooper to come back, while we’re at it.
(AH MAH GAH WATER FALLING OUT OF MY FACE.)
5:57 pm UPDATE-Y! Kevin Clash’s accuser has (through his law firm) RECANTED all accusations and admitted that it was, in fact, an adult consensual relationship. From Media Decoder at the NYT:
Andreozzi & Associates, a law firm that said it represented the accuser said in a statement that “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’s identity has not been disclosed.
Mr. Clash said through a spokeswoman: “I am relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest. I will not discuss it further.”
Sesame Workshop had no immediate comment on when Mr. Clash would return to work. But the organization said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, “We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a close, and we are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode.”