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‘My hero is a sexual deviant’

 
What happens when your child’s TV hero turns out to be a sex fiend?
Scott Dunlop

Pic: Shutterstock

Article originally in Parent24
It’s normal for a child to enjoy the worlds of make-believe created by television. While characters in books are brought to life by the imagination, TV shows require humans to act or do voiceovers to create the characters your children come to love. As Jimmy Savile and Elmo's puppeteer have proven, however, humans are fallible: What happens if the TV character your child loves turns out to be represented by a sexually deviant adult?

Creepy adults

Take a look at these two news stories: Jimmy Savile (the late British TV show host) and his allegedly limitless appetite for abusing young girls and boys have been uncovered in a scandal which is affecting the entire entertainment industry in the UK - and, the second story; that beloved Sesame Street character Elmo is brought to life by Kevin Clash, a man alleged to have had a relationship with an underage boy.

*Update: Clash's accuser has recanted claims that at the age of 16 he had a sexual relationship with Clash. The Elmo puppeteer is said to have been cleared of all charges.

Savile wasn’t an invented character, but his entire entertainment career centred on keeping children happy. I would have killed to have been on one of his shows as a kid. He created catch-phrases and had access to kids in his dressing rooms as well as in hospital beds where he carried out charitable visits. His words “Jim’ll fix it”, from the 70s TV show of the same name are being used to shame this once venerated man.

Savile died old enough that this generation of children hardly knew him, but their parents expressed shock at the revelations of perversion which have surfaced. How come nobody knew, they’re asking?

A little more familiar to SA families is Elmo, the world-wide icon of Sesame Street, known as “tickle me Elmo”. The fuzzy red puppet has formed a role central to many a childhood. He’s featured on birthday cakes and as a stuffed doll in thousands of children’s beds across the globe. With the shocking news that the human responsible for bringing him to life is an alleged sex-criminal, will parents find it distasteful to allow their kids to watch Elmo?

The real vs. the imagined

Now, if you were watching Barney the Purple Dinosaur, and he opened his giant suit to flash his human bits at kids, you’d have every reason to boycott his TV show. If Kermit the Frog confessed (in character) to preferring “tadpoles”, then parents would naturally switch him off. The point is, you still get to operate the remote.

With Savile, the damage is done: Survivors of his abuse are coming forward to speak of the years of recuperation they’ve had to endure, but, for parents, the retrospective message in his vile activity is this: Never allow your child to be in a compromising situation with an adult. You don’t have to treat every adult as a leering pervert, but you are responsible for making sure that any adult with access to your child is fully accountable to you, and that your child can discern between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour , including knowing what inappropriate touching/indecent exposure is.

Just because the adult in question may be famous as a children’s entertainer does not mean that that person respects the rights of a child not to be abused. Also, if you have concerns about the safety of your child, insist on accompanying your child to, for example, advertising shoots or other entertainment events.

As for Elmo- The man behind the character has his own demons to face- he has taken a leave of absence, and, as the producers have said, “the show must go on”. A child young enough to watch Elmo will have no concept of the lifestyle choices of the puppeteer: Elmo poses no threat at all.

Is there any point in telling your kid the news that the human responsible for making an imaginary character come to life is a pervert? Unless the threat to your child is immediate, no.

Barney, on the other hand? Well, we’re all watching him very carefully...

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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2013-01-17 15:33

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