Posted by: rocketbride | January 23, 2013

scandal

elmo!

I was so relieved when Kevin Clash’s first accuser recanted his story. It was a tense 24-hours in our house: not only do we have little ones who are hooked on the sweet learning found on Sesame Street, but my husband and I read Street Gang last year, which is an excellent history of Sesame Street from lefty do-gooder conception to mid-life crisis when they tried to copy the hugely successful “Barney’s World”. We followed up this intense primer on the creative explosion behind Sesame Street with books like Jim Henson: the works and the documentary Being Elmo, which explores Kevin’s journey from working class kid in a black neighbourhood to the biggest puppeteer star of our time. We loved Elmo. We wanted to keep something pure and lovely.

But someone else came forward, and the recanter said he’d been telling the truth the first time. Kevin Clash resigned. We were left with an ugly cloud of sniggering jokes on Facebook, thought up and passed along by adults who think it’s funny to smear the ideas of childhood with smut and violence.

There is no one correct way to react to a scandal that hits a public person. Some of us care deeply about the issues raised, and refuse to see past the scandal to the person’s works: my mother is done with Woody Allen movies because the idea of an inappropriate relationship with a stepdaughter revolts her. The first time I saw Finding Neverland, the story of J.M. Barrie and the Llewellyn Davies family, I remember enthusing about it to a colleague, who dismissed my praise. “I could never see it, because I heard he interfered with those boys.” Whether that’s true or not, the scandal blocks the work for her. (It’s not true, by the way: these claims were refuted emphatically by the boys themselves. Peter Pan, at least, is safe.)

As parents, we feel a clear duty to protect our children from bad influences. We feed them healthy food. We dress them warmly when the weather gets frosty, and lightly when it gets warm again. We keep them away from bullies on the playground, we protect their ideas about Santa, and some of us take them to churches and temples. But we all realize that there is a point at which we have to stop being a barrier to harmful influences and become a mediator between the outside world and our precious child.

What will we tell our children about Kevin Clash? What will we tell them about Lance Armstrong? Is there room for compassion for a fallen cycling idol, or do we just condemn him as a cheater for fear that our children will think it’s ok to dope?

Real life is messy. We may know exactly what to feed our kids for optimal nutrition, but our cultural diet will always be shifting, and we need to make up our own minds instead of letting the media or other parents tell us what to think, and tell us what to tell our own kids.

rocket

Aleta Fera cautiously introduced Peewee Herman to her kids last Christmas and is letting her daughter hang on to her Elmo doll. She writes about her scandalous family at Further Adventures of Rocketbride.

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