Oscar The Grouch
We all remember Sesame Street. For many of us, it was the first television show we ever watched. Jim Henson must have been some kind of genius because his puppets are instantly recognizable. Once you’ve seen Sesame Street, you can always recognize a Jim Henson puppet. You see the Muppets: “Oh, it’s the same kind of puppet as Sesame Street.” You see the Dark Crystal: “Oh, the same kind of puppet as the Muppets.” And yet, Sesame Street is sort of the ur-Jim Henson release, the one we all remember from being kids. It had a colorful cast of the most memorable characters, but there’s one in particular who is especially lovable.
Oscar the Grouch is the one Sesame Street character whom I most clearly remember. When I was a child I remember feeling slightly afraid of him, but not too much. Yes, he was sort of mean looking and he had a rough-sounding voice and he was, obviously, a grouch. But it was okay. Oscar was a familiar face, a character that every child knew from seeing him so often, and the fact that he was grouchy was alright. That’s just who Oscar was. And in a way, I think that that’s a very valuable lesson for children. Some people are just grouchy, either temporarily or by disposition, and that’s okay. Not everybody has to be happy. Not everybody has to be nice.
Look at any other character on the show. For that matter, look at any other children’s character. They’re always happy go lucky, fruity, joyful, bouncy. You don’t very often get an angry or grumpy character, and when you do, they’re always a bad guy. How often do you see one of the protagonists who is a grouch? Not very often. Children’s media goes to great lengths to protect kids from bad feelings, or from the idea that good people can feel bad sometimes. As if not being happy marks a person out as being wrong somehow, or as if being a little grouchy makes you a villain.
The nice thing about Oscar is that he’s a good guy, he’s someone you’re used to, and he’s grumpy. The message that the character of Oscar gives to children is implicitly this: “Some people are grouchy, and that’s okay. That’s just who they are.” In an age where DSM checklists are seemingly waiting in the wings to label anybody who isn’t a bouncy songbird as some kind of mental defective, it’s nice to have some tacit acknowledgement that no, not everybody is a bouncy go-getter, and that’s just fine. Every once in a while, you meet a person, who is not in any way a bad person, who is kind of a sourpuss. And that’s just fine.
So the next time you see Oscar on an Oscar the Grouch Sesame Street t shirt, just remember that he’s the character that taught you that it’s okay for some people to be grumpy. Curmudgeons need love, too.