Millennials unloaded on Elmo, and Larry David couldn’t handle them stepping on his brand: complaining
Last week was a little unhinged. It began with a Muppet asking an innocuous question and ended with Larry David assaulting Elmo on live television. How we got here as a society has been a decades-long story of continued disrespect and infantilization of Millennials. The trope of my generation is framed around the idea that we are fundamentally discontent for no reason. But my question is: why is it when Larry David rants, it’s called complaining (or observational comedy), but when we do, it’s whining?
What’s the deal with that?
After seeing the attack of Elmo, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was so upsetting about it. On the surface, the chaos at the Today Show looked like a scene from the Larry David Show. Elmo is talking, and then the cantankerous grump busts in to shut him up. The problem is, this isn’t Larry’s show, and it wasn’t scripted, and without a laugh track, we were able to see how unfunny all of this truly was. The feeling of entitlement to disrupt and silence might be classic Larry David, but when juxtaposed with the softness of Sesame Street. It suddenly made Larry look less the adorable curmudgeon and instead reminded a lot of us of something, but what?
Still unable to articulate this feeling, I stumbled across a post by Wil Wheaton. He was also disturbed by what he saw and got quite personal about his own experiences with parental violence.
“Holy shit it's even worse than I thought. What the fuck is wrong with that guy? Elmo is, like, the best friend to multiple generations of children. In the Sesame Street universe, ELMO IS A CHILD, who is currently putting mental health and caring for others in the spotlight.
“And Larry Fucking David ... did ... that? And thought it was going to be ... funny? What?
“What an asshole. What a stupid, self-centered, tone deaf asshole.
“Full disclosure: all the time, when I was growing up, my dad would grab me by the shoulders and shake me while he screamed in my face. He choked me more than once. He was always out of control, always in a furious rage, and always terrifying. I'm a 51 year-old man and my heart is pounding right now, recalling how I felt when I was a little boy who loved Grover the way today's kids love Elmo.
“So this appalling, unforgivable, despicable act hits more than one raw nerve for me, and I'm going to say what I wish I'd been able to say when this sort of thing happened to me.“
Wil also pointed out that this wasn’t even the segment Larry was supposed to be a part of. He was supposed to be waiting in the wings for his turn. But for far too long, every turn was his turn, and boundaries got blurred.
When I read these words from Wil, it finally clicked for me what was so unsettling, and yet familiar, about what happened on the Today Show.
Now, I am speaking in some generalities here, but instead of hitting me with a long chorus of “you’re painting with a broad brush” and “not me, I protested Vietnam and almost went to Woodstock!” please hear me out, dear elders. Larry David is the epitome of Boomer Humor and liberal complacency. I’ve watched both Seinfeld and The Larry David Show, and they share the common thread of, “I have a house, a job, and food on the table, so instead, I’m the victim of common problems like ordering soup or being added to an overwhelming text chain.”
Meanwhile, two generations were born out of the Baby Boomers: Gen X and Millennials, or as I like to call us, “the kids from the first marriage and the kids from the second marriage.” Gen X and Elder Millennials are the last of the latchkey kids. That means we grew up watching Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers, and Sesame Street.
We also grew up watching the world fall apart and having the economy crash just as we were coming of age. Global warming, endless wars, school shootings, failing infrastructure, and both a government and boardroom that looks nothing like us because those in power refuse to give it up and retire.
Then, Elmo, from one of those TV shows that raised us, asked something our parents, politicians, and CEOs haven’t, “How is everyone doing?”
Someone we trust, someone we grew up with, someone who might be only three but was more of an adult than the adults in our lives asked if we were okay. Thousands upon thousands of people responded honestly about all of the pain and fear and anxiety we are feeling.
Larry David hasn’t had a financial worry in his life since Seinfeld came out almost 35 years ago. Those concerns that folks tweeted Elmo about, he can’t even fathom. He’s too busy complaining about *checks notes* every conceivable inconvenience in the world to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, I have friends who are teachers who sell plasma to afford paper for their classrooms.
He attacked Elmo because he couldn’t stand hearing him “going on about mental health.” The message I heard loud and clear was, “I’ve made a career out of complaining, but I don’t want to hear your complaints or struggles.” This is a message that Gen X and Millennials are far too familiar with: your problems aren’t real and don’t matter, and if we could, we would shut you up with violence because your struggles are inconvenient to my ability to enjoy not having those problems.”
If we are to end these generational divides, we have to listen to each other, not strangle a Muppet until it's silenced. But that is the message, “Stop complaining about starving or being underpaid or that you can’t afford rent; complaining is my brand.”
Millennials aren’t surviving. We are one of the first generations to not live longer than our parents in a long time. We are regressing as a society, and the people representing us in government don’t understand what’s happening because they aren’t us. Then, when we do run for public office, we are shamed for having been bartenders.
Silence = Death.
We can’t be silent. We have to talk about what’s happening to our world and all of the uncomfortable things. Maybe if we had been asked how we were doing by our elders after Columbine or 9/11 or the Great Recession, then perhaps everyone wouldn’t have unloaded on Elmo, but Elmo is the one who finally asked the question, and the answer was “we aren’t doing great.”
I’m not doing great. I’m actually kind of not okay in a lot of ways right now, and it’s all frustrating and scary, and I wish to God it had been Biden or Pelosi or Jeff Bezos or my teachers in high school or my parents or even Larry David that asked the question. But it wasn’t, it was Elmo. Because it was PBS that raised us, really. Mister Rogers taught us to love our neighbor and LeVar Burton showed us the power of stories and Sesame Street helped us learn the basics and Bob Ross proved that even our biggest mistakes could be turned into something beautiful.
But Larry David just couldn’t handle anyone else complaining other than him. This feels a lot like what we’ve all been told by everyone in positions of power, “shut up, kid. We’ve got real problems.” Larry, we aren’t kids anymore. I’m almost forty with teenage kids, and my wife has arthritis, and we can’t afford healthcare.
To their credit, the cast of the Today show responded quickly, seemingly trying to stop Larry David from approaching Elmo and telling him he went too far. Al Roker admonished him with, “Ask permission before you touch people, Larry!” The debate quickly spilled over to The View, with some finding this all very silly because Elmo is just a puppet, so it didn’t matter. Well, I hate to break this to y’all, but if you do some research on puppets, a human is involved in the process.
Ultimately, it all ended with Larry providing a sardonic “apology” to Elmo, which he quickly recanted by the end of the day. Because he wasn’t sorry. To him, this was all silly whining, which is very different than his complaining.
Maybe if Larry had spent less time asking, “What’s the deal with that?” and focused more on “How is everyone doing?” the world would be a better place.
What Larry did to Elmo looked a lot like how almost every grownup I’ve known reacted when I tried to explain how I was doing or had the audacity to go on about mental health. I wasn’t old enough to be entitled to complain. “One day,” we were told, “you’ll have real problems.” If we ever dared to press the issue, we would be threatened with “I’ll give you something to complain about.”
As I look at the state of the world that our elders are leaving behind, I think they followed through on the threat. They definitely gave us plenty to complain about but, like Larry David, they are entirely unwilling to listen.
Then again, I’m just a whiny Millennial, so what do I know?
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