By Rob Dunn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
For those of you with kids old enough to enjoy Sesame Street, you may appreciate this.
Sesame Street has been known for decades as the ultimate kid’s learning show, teaching generation after generation important lessons about sharing, counting, letters, and of course, lets not forget: monsters in trash cans.
Over the years, there have been some rumors and controversy surrounding the show, including whether or not Snuffleupagus was a hallucination, if Cookie Monster is a bad nutritional role-model (duh – he’s the Cookie Monster… I actually have more of a problem with his language skills), or whether Bert and Ernie are a gay couple (Personally, I think they’re like a puppet version of “The Odd Couple“).
In any case, Sesame Street has a place in many folks’ hearts, including mine. Therefore, I felt a moral obligation to make an observation about one of Sesame Street’s relatively newer characters, Elmo.
For those of you not in the know, Elmo is a small, red, child-like puppet (well, more child-like than other puppets) who uses cute naivety and a matter-of-fact outlook on life to appeal to a large fan base. Elmo has his own segment on the show called “Elmo’s World,” which takes place in an imaginary, hand-drawn environment (which is actually pretty cool) and features interactions with other imaginary and human characters. At the end of each segment, Elmo engages in a rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but uses lyrics that are relevant to that day’s topic… usually nothing more than repeating the same word, such as “animals” to the tune.
This is smart in a couple of ways: Repetition is an easy method to help children learn new words and concepts; setting it to a familiar tune makes it nearly effortless to learn and remember.
Now, usually I’m the first person to roll my eyes at people who link seemingly harmless pop-culture icons and fads with subversive agendas, but this one really got me thinking.
We all know how much marketing takes place for any toy around the holiday season, Elmo notwithstanding… but the marketing hype and consumer anticipation for each release of the Tickle-Me-Elmo variant is amazing… because it happens nearly every other year or so, and usually with the same amount of response – crazy parents pushing each other through the door of the toy store (watch “Jingle All the Way” for an amusing but not so unreal Hollywood take on this American tradition), eBay price gouging and scam auctions, and the frantic urging of children.
So, does it bother anyone else that Elmo and Christmas have been tied together due to the Jingle Bells/Elmo’s World connection? Think about it: Every Elmo’s World has a rendition of Jingle Bells (albeit set to a completely different set of “lyrics” in each segment). December comes, the holiday season arrives, and the Jingle Bells tune is heard everywhere you go, especially in stores, shopping centers and retail outlets. What do you think the first thing a 3-year old will think of upon hearing Jingle Bells?
“That’s Elmo’s song!”
We hardly need a lounge-chair psychologist to figure out that the child’s next thought is going to go something like this: “I want a Tickle-My-Feet-Double-Awesome-Extreme Elmo this year for Christmas!” And we all know that a 3-year old’s thoughts convert to speech in less time it takes you to say “commercialism.”
I suppose that this whole thing wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve gone through a few variations of this toy, each replete with overt fanfare and pseudo-marketing secrecy.
Thankfully, 2007 is not a big “TME” year, and no word if Mattel will announce a Tickle-Me-Bert and Ernie set (or not…depending on the public outcry).
Your thoughts? Are there any overt holiday marketing/consumerism tactics that have gotten your blood pressure up? Share them in the comments!