Skipping Along, a Brand Stumbles

This is a little outside the realm of the usual topics around here, but since it’s still buzzing and the focus of the dispute is completely off-base, it had to become a post on Esse Diem.

Katy Perry’s silly send-up of her song “Hot and Cold” on Sesame Street created an Internet tempest in a tea-cup.  The 40-year-old children’s programming powerhouse pulled the video of Perry trying to engage an unwilling Elmo in a game of dress-up after only a few days.  Most people would say canning the video was a response to criticism that the pop star was dressed inappropriately for a show for young children. 


If you break it down, Perry is more covered than most professional ballerinas.  She is a lovely young woman, but in this video she appears more like a ballerina crossed with a clown.  Her make up is over the top and her expressions are goofy.  Her “outfit” makes no sense, nor should it.  She is playing dress up with a preschool-age Muppet.

And now we are getting somewhere.  The real reason, whether they recognize it or not, that people became so uncomfortable with the video is that an adult “character” is being coy with and pursuing for a “play date” Sesame Street‘s youngest and most vulnerable Muppet.  Said Muppet is running away, and an adult is pursuing him, engaging the child-like character in a bizarre game. 

What was really inappropriate was for a trusted brand like Sesame Street to let this one slip past.  The show has a long history of guest stars of all ages and entertainment backgrounds recreating versions of their work for children and interacting with the Muppets in ways that are hilarious for children as well as adults.  It’s part of what makes the show so successful and beloved to generations now.  It usually does a brilliant job of walking that line between grown-up and kid humor.

And while yes, Perry is known for her sexy image on the music scene, it’s incredibly wholesome by modern standards.  Cherry chapstick and melted popsicles are about as strong as it gets.  Julia Roberts had a gig on Street, and her most famous movie role is a hooker.  Something about the whole Perry/Elmo video doesn’t add up, unless you adjust your viewing position.

Elmo has been around for over 20 years.  One would think that Street has a white board with all the “don’ts” somewhere that would have grabbed this one in the common sense net.  This video would still be on if Perry were gaming with Oscar or Cookie Monster or Bert.  There are plenty of adult-persona Muppets who would be even funnier in the video.  Can you imagine Perry chasing Bert, paperclips and pigeon feathers flying?

This, however, is 2010.  You don’t have to be a conservative zealot who’s afraid of fun to know that the last thing kids need is to get comfortable with grown ups who want to play clothing games with them, and who won’t take no for an answer.  There is a creep factor here no one seemed to see coming, but in retrospect is so subtle it’s even more disturbing than if it were overt.

It was a clever, cute video.  I’m a harsh critic when it comes to anything in the arena of what is good for kids and I found it innocent, but Street did the right thing by pulling it.  It didn’t need to go because of the outfit, but because of the message.  When it comes to what we convey to kids, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Image credit:  Honeybee Toys

3 thoughts on “Skipping Along, a Brand Stumbles

  1. Hahaha, I noticed the creepy factor, too, but got so distracted by all the other controversy that I put it to the side. Now that you bring it back to my attention, I’m squirming a little thinking about it . . .

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