Twitter right now is aflame with the news that Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, has resigned from Sesame Street after multiple allegations that he had sex with underaged boys. And, to be honest, some of the reactions to the news worry me, because overwhelmingly what I am reminded of, more than anything, is how Jerry Sandusky’s defenders reacted when he was accused of sexually abusing boys while at Penn State.
Now, before we go any further, I want to be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying the allegations prove that Clash did in fact have sex with teenagers. I am not saying that Kevin Clash is morally equivalent to Jerry Sandusky. I am not saying the allegations against Clash are equivalent to those against Sandusky. After all, Sandusky was caught in the act of molesting children, while the allegations against Clash come from the supposed victims who are now adults, and the allegations against Clash appear to be at least potentially questionable. (But I don’t know if they’re true or false. Neither do you.)
But what I am saying is this: the overwhelming flood of reactions that are defensive of Clash are exactly the same in tone as those who defended Sandusky last year. There is the same mix of denial based on defamation of the accusers (the “they just want to get rich/famous” slam), the same wish-fulfillment in place of reason (we’re talking the “I love Elmo so therefore Kevin Clash must be innocent” line of reasoning, the same resentment of the media for reporting what is, by any reasoning, a newsworthy story. The only difference is that this time it’s coming from fans of the Muppets rather than fans of Penn State football.
That last one particularly bothers me because it is a reminder that people are all basically the same when it comes to bad news, which is to say that, at gut, we never really want to hear it or engage with it. It is quite possible that Clash is innocent of the accusations made against him, and frankly I hope that is the case, of course, because how could I not? But I have to admit the possibility exists that he did in fact do these things, and the fact that he is a beloved performer for children does not weaken that possibility. (Frankly, if anything, it strengthens it: child predators so often work with children for the same reason lions like to hang out where the antelope are, and since we all at heart never want to believe that someone who is good with kids might have become so charming in order to take advantage of them, it sometimes feels like every molestor is described as being a really good person.)
And it would be nice to think that a thorough investigation which exonerated Clash would make the problem go away, but of course we all know that that wouldn’t happen. And that’s another problem with humans.