Every once in a while, a Muppet-related story breaks through to the mainstream. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s something we wish would go away. This week, a remarkable thing from the world of Sesame Street grabbed the attention of “normal” people who don’t think about the show every day. I knew for certain that this story had gone mainstream when my dad sent me a link to an article about it from BBC News, because he saw it discussed on Good Morning America.
You probably know what I’m talking about. As you’ve likely heard by now, Elmo posted a simple question on social media platforms this past Monday. It went like this:
As you can see, that post on X has received 117,000 likes and 13,000 replies on X (formerly known as Twitter before it was bought by a stupid, petty, arrogant boor). Elmo posted the same question elsewhere on social media, but it got the biggest response on X. Clearly, this really resonated with people.
As described in the BBC article and the Good Morning America clip linked above, most of those tens of thousands of replies were from people who answered Elmo very honestly, and many of those admitted that they weren’t doing great. It seems like a whole lot of people who are having a hard time were just waiting for the motivation to talk about it, and they decided Elmo was a guy they could trust with their true feelings. (Let’s face it: There are a LOT of reasons for people to be stressed out or sad these days.)
It’s not good news that so many people are feeling down, but it’s nice that they all felt comfortable talking about it online. A simple post by a three and a half-year-old monster has now prompted a whole slew of news coverage and even some valuable conversation about mental health and emotional wellness.
I bet Sesame Workshop didn’t expect such a response. Elmo has a lot of followers, but it’s rare for a post by a Muppet to catch on in such a big way. The fact that so many people felt inspired to reply to the post is another reminder about how real Muppets feel to us. If this same question had been posted by Scooby Doo or Garfield, would it have received the same volume of honest responses? I really don’t think so. They’re two-dimensional. But Muppets like Elmo feel like old friends we could really have a conversation with.
I also suspect that the post caught on because it came from Elmo specifically. Elmo is one of the sweetest, most sincere Muppets from Sesame Street. It wouldn’t quite seem in character if Cookie Monster had asked the question. If Ernie had asked, we’d probably expect it to be the setup for a joke. If Oscar had asked, we’d be hesitant to answer lest he yell at us to scram. The only other Sesame Muppets I can see the online audience opening up to like this are Big Bird and Grover — and maybe Abby, who is also 100% sincere but not quite as familiar to adults who didn’t grow up watching her.
Which brings me to my next thought: Adults who were raised on Sesame Street in the ’70s and ’80s have not always been quick to embrace Elmo. Those folks love to complain about how “Elmo ruined Sesame Street” despite the fact that he’s probably the reason the show has endured as long as it has.
But wow, a lot of people took notice of Elmo’s post. It seems to me this is the latest step in Elmo’s journey to widespread acceptance, a journey that also included Rocco’s rise to internet fame. This might be a sign that Generation Xers and elder Millennials are finally realizing that Elmo is cool. Or it might be a sign that younger Millennials and members of Gen Z are now a larger percentage of social media users. Either way, everything’s coming up Elmo.
(Of course, it wasn’t just Generation X and younger who responded to the post. President Joe Biden himself even commented on it, and that guy was born before the Baby Boomers!)
Yesterday, after the original post had become a phenomenon, Elmo posted a follow-up:
I think the word “wholesome” is overused these days to describe any interaction or story on the internet that’s not packed with cynicism and/or profanity, but gee willikers, this was a wholesome sequence of events. And Elmo’s right: It is important to ask a friend how they’re doing. In recent years, Sesame Street has summed up its mission as helping kids grow “smarter, stronger, and kinder,” but what we’ve seen over the past few days is Elmo giving adults a lesson in kindness. The next time I hear about Sesame Street from people in my life who are outside the fan bubble, I hope it’s for something as delightful as this!
Click here to ask how everybody’s doing on the Tough Pigs Discord!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com