A while back, I asked a question that often crosses my mind as a Sesame Street fan: Is Oscar the Grouch a complete jerk, or not? I figured Muppet fans would have opinions on the topic, and I was right. I got enough responses to fill a trash can.
Several people insightfully mentioned a detail I didn’t explicitly bring up in the original article: Sesame history tells us that Caroll Spinney and Sesame Street writer/director/producer Jon Stone disagreed on the topic, with Spinney believing in the “heart of gold” perspective and Stone more on the side of “mostly a jerk.” That gives us a pretty good idea of how those guys would have responded to the question, and of course they’re at the top of the list of people who knew Oscar the Grouchon a personal level.
But what about specific responses from Tough Pigs readers? Well, a small handful said Oscar is mostly a jerk. Among their comments:
Brian J: While I can certainly understand where Carroll is coming from and why he feels that way, I think I lean toward Stone.
Betsey D: Oscar the Grouch is a mean Grouch and I could give an example. The year 1989, the birth of Maria’s baby. Everyone sees Oscar. Maybe he knows something. Then they go to question Oscar: “Did she have the baby?” Now a simple yes or no would have been nice, but Oscar angers the adults when he refuses to tell… Yes, he is mean.
Other examples of Oscar being a jerk included these moments:
- At the end of the book How to Be A Grouch, Oscar tells the reader to “Go away and stop bothering me!”
- In Elmo Saves Christmas, Oscar is happy when Elmo’s wish for Christmas every day makes everyone miserable.
- In a memorable sketch, Oscar and his fellow grouches install a bus stop in Kermit’s living room, much to Kermit’s chagrin.
- In Follow That Bird, Oscar never takes seriously the mission of locating Big Bird. He wastes everyone’s time getting lost on purpose, drives off the road, and takes Maria to a trashy Grouch diner.
Those are persuasive. But considerably more folks think Oscar is mostly not a jerk. Among their comments:
Spencer G: No, Oscar’s not a complete jerk. At times, he seems to merely be someone who has a difficult time showing others affection, particularly around Maria.
Kelly G: He is a seemingly gruff dude who likes to hide his gentle, caring nature.
Dion D: He likes what he likes and isn’t afraid to say things the way he likes them. He is the type of monster that at least you know where he stands. Some people are Elmo on the outside and Freddy Kruger on the inside. These are the people I worry about. I’d take a million Oscars over one person like I just mentioned.
Cathy Anne C: He isn’t a people pleaser – that’s actually a good thing. He can be rude but that’s not an indication of jerkiness.
Mark R: He’s never hurt anyone. Or wanted to. He’s just grouchy.
Joe W: Caroll Spinney definitely tried to make sure there was a heart of gold hidden in there somewhere.
Evan G: Obviously Oscar is not a complete jerk. He’s absolutely secretly a nice guy.
Firstly, we must consider that Oscar is simply acting under a different set of social norms than we are used to. Oscar hails from Grouchland, where it’s against the law to say “please” and their motto is “I grouch, therefore I am.” Remember, Oscar’s mom gave him a gift of “a sneaker that’s tattered and worn” that’s “all full of holes and the laces are torn” on the day of his birth. We have to accept that Oscar’s upbringing and culture are different from our own, and that means we must judge him through a different lens.
Other examples of Oscar not being a jerk included:
- In Follow That Bird, Oscar (briefly) seems sad to see Big Bird leave Sesame Street.
- In Elmo in Grouchland, Oscar refers to Elmo as his “friend.”
- Oscar is nice to J. Arthur Crank from The Electric Company when they sing a song together.
- Oscar saves the day in Elmopalooza.
- He takes care of Tiny Tim the cat in A Special Sesame Street Christmas.
- In episode 56, Oscar invites Mr. Hooper over for dinner (licorice and jelly bean pizza).
- In an episode from the period when Richard Hunt performed Elmo, Oscar feels remorse after encouraging Elmo to play “Hide and Seek” in an attempt to get rid of him.
So there’s that. But the most popular opinion was that Oscar is somewhere in-between jerk and nice guy. Among those comments:
Kyle W: We can clearly see that Oscar isn’t a jerk all the time but he can be. I say that Oscar can be a jerk at times and other times be really nice. So say he’s in the middle. He’s 50% Grouchy or a Jerk and 50% Nice Guy. Just doesn’t want to admit it.
Patrick M: I think he’s basically a crabby nihilist with a good heart. Somewhere in the middle.
John P: He’s most definitely mean-spirited in his ways, but I can’t think of any instance where Oscar acted out of malice instead for his own personal amusement. Reminds me a lot of the type of person I was in my early 20s, rough exterior with a decent person interior.
Greg J: Oscar was the personality some kids had where they were grouchy and learned to cope. Kids were all different.
Zach K: I personally feel he does have a more vices than virtues, but the occasional glimpses of him showing empathy, caring and other happy feelings.
TCMF: Oscar is and will always be a grouch, which means he’ll always love pulling pranks, complaining, calling people names and just being a jerk in general, but as much as he’d hate for anyone to find out, he does care deeply about his neighbors and he knows it. He realizes that, not only does he need the residents of Sesame Street to give him stuff to complain about, but they also help him become a better grouch.
Examples of the Oscar is in-between argument included:
- In Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Oscar deliberately messes with Big Bird by asking him how Santa can visit kids without chimneys, and later he sings “I Hate Christmas.” But when Big Bird goes missing, Oscar feels guilty and helps to look for him.
- In the book I Have a Friend, Oscar says friends are yucky… but he doesn’t mind when they bring him a cake and wish him a rotten birthday.
- Oscar appears to genuinely care for his niece Irvine.
- In Episode 2269, Oscar gets so annoyed with his neighbors on Sesame Street that he moves to Candy Cane Lane, but eventually he misses everyone and moves back.
And there you have it. The people have spoken. There’s nothing resembling a unanimous opinion, but it appears that more Sesame Street fans think Oscar has at least a few redeeming qualities.
That concludes this report. Now SCRAM!
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com