Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Deconstruct me, Elmo!

Out There

Ram/man graces Union Square.
Photo: Steven Underhill
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We know that the sad case of Sesame Street 's Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash and his alleged sexual interactions with underage boys is nothing to joke about. But we can't help feeling that the story would not have reaped such wall-to-wall press had Clash been, say, a lighting designer or cameraman on the show. There's something about the fact that it was his hand stuck up the Elmo puppet's capacious cavity that transformed a sordid little tale into an international media sensation.

We think it's the puppet, and not just because the Elmo character is given to exclaiming, "Tickle me!" to perfect strangers of both genders. There is just something about the puppet form that captivates the human imagination. Consider the success of theatrical entertainments Avenue Q and Puppet Up!, which built their appeal on the incongruity of Muppet-looking characters saying the most outrageous things. Some also believe that Mitt Romney's goose was cooked as soon as he went after the large-beaked iconic puppet Big Bird . Puppets rule.

Consider, too, that one of the most popular Internet memes from Hurricane Sandy was footage of a shirtless man wearing a horse's head trotting around storm-ravaged Brooklyn. In a similar vein, the solidly-built ram/man seen here in Steven Underhill's photo was spotted wandering around Union Square. There's something eerie about a puppet, inhabiting that indeterminate zone between doll and animate being, that grabs us.

We believe this explains the appeal of so-called Plushies and Furries, people who like to dress up in soft, furry animal costumes to engage in sexual relations. We even heard tell of a recent porn film with the descriptive title Panda Gang Bang. It's the animate/inanimate conundrum brought into service of the libido: can't fail.

The New York Times reported last week on a "gossipy, big-haired crone puppet in Puerto Rico known as La Comay" who became embroiled in scandal when she "commented on the murder of a 32-year-old publicist by pointing out that the victim was in an area frequented by prostitutes and wondered whether he was 'asking for this.'" Puppets say the darnedest un-p.c. things!

We long for the bygone days of Kukla , Fran and Ollie, and also for Shari Lewis' classic puppets Charlie Horse and Lamb Chop , who was quite the role model for Out There in our childhood. Lewis was always exhorting, "You can do it, Lamb Chop!" And if an adorable sock puppet could do it, we figured, so could we.


Trouper report

Don't forget The Met Live in HD series, featuring internationally known singers making Metropolitan Opera debuts, simulcast on the cinema screen. The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series, now in its seventh season, is seen by approximately 3,000,000 people in 1,900 theaters in 64 countries.

The Les Troyens HD transmission is set for Sat., Jan. 5, at 12:55 p.m. ET (three hours later in the West). The Met presents Berlioz's vast epic with Deborah Voight as Cassandra, Susan Graham (Met role debut as Dido), Bryan Hymel (substituting for Marcello Giordani as Aeneas) and Dwayne Croft as Coroebus. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi conducts the Francesca Zambello production, critically acclaimed when it premiered at the Met in 2003. Watch out for the giant horse!

Finally, re: Laura, reviewed this week: In 1930, gay Clifton Webb, already established as a song-and-dance man in the theatre, was brought to Hollywood by MGM. But they didn't know what to do with him. He was offered a chance to play himself in the Joan Crawford musical Dancing Lady (1933), but he insisted on equal billing with her and co-star Clark Gable. MGM refused and used another Broadway hoofer instead, Fred Astaire, in his film debut, playing himself. Thus, Miss Crawford was Astaire's first screen dance partner. Webb left Hollywood, thrived in the theatre, and did not appear on screen again until Laura. After Laura, he became a big movie star, so he had the last laugh. Queens often do!


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