The Elmo Problem: How To Cope When You Discover Your Childhood Icon Isn’t All Good

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Kevin Clash Elmo scandal sex minor abuse break Sesame Street childhood idol icon bad how to copeIt's really unfortunate that the first time many of us learned the name of Kevin Clash, the man who puppeteers the beloved Sesame Street character Elmo, it was because of a scandal. A 23-year-old man has come forward claiming that he had a sexual relationship with Clash when he was 16 and Clash was 45. Although Clash and Sesame Workshop both claim the allegations are unsubstantiated, the company has allowed Clash — who has been the voice and spirit of Elmo for over 25 years — to take a leave of absence to deal with the situation.

Clash also released a statement reiterating his innocence. “I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter,” he said. “I had a relationship with the accuser. 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.” Even if what he says about the accuser not being underage is true, it remains that he will be judged for having a relationship with someone nearly thirty years his junior.

These more unsavory aspects of a celebrity's life can be difficult to handle when we've grown up with a certain view of these famous entertainers. Whether it's a serious accusation like this or the less damning but certainly upsetting realization of how intolerant Kirk Cameron is thanks to his religious beliefs, it's jarring. (Or, if you're going by my childhood icon, discovering that Chuck Norris is a conservative.) These steps might help you deal.

1. Look at a bunch of GIFs. I admit, the first thing I did when I read this story was sniffle at GIFs of Elmo dancing with everyone from Neil Patrick Harris to Amy Poehler. I wanted to briefly cling to my innocent views of Elmo before having to assimilate this new idea.

2. Get all the facts. It's better to be well-informed instead of just going by the one-sentence rumors you skim over Twitter. Know both sides of the story — as we've laid out above — so that if s/he ever gets redeemed you won't have totally written him/her off. Of course, if the ugly truth turns out to be legit, then you have all the ammunition you believe to boycott this person.

3. Make a list of his/her supporters. Similar to the point above, this is how you know who's on which side. Like me learning that Kirk Cameron is buddies with the Duggars, which shouldn't have surprised me but would have been better to know before he popped up on 19 Kids and Counting. You also get to find out who to align yourself with, like all of the forgotten child stars who made the Child Celebrities Opposing Kirk Cameron video for Funny Or Die.

4. Get the bad jokes out of your system. I cannot tell you how many status updates about Elmo's voice and a sex scandal have popped up on my newsfeed since this story broke. I know that humor is a defense mechanism, but really try to reign it in.

OK, you're allowed some jokes. Whenever this kind of thing happens, it's really rough news.

5. Try to separate the person's work from the scandal. Before he was trying to survive the apocalypse, Kirk Cameron was Mike Seaver on Growing Pains. And if you can separate Clash from these allegations, you'll remember that he has dedicated his life to embodying this beloved children's character. I'm not taking a side or passing judgment, just pointing out that this documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is still powerful.

Photo: Josiah True/WENN.com