In 1969, The Public Broadcasting System launched a children’s television show called Sesame Street which saw immediate success. Their secret was embedding educational content amongst an ensemble of wacky, absurd characters. Essentially, they made learning fun.
In hindsight, Jim Henson’s colourful cast of Muppet monsters seem like more than just a bunch of loveable fuzzy goofballs. Some of them seem to suffer from severe psychological problems. Whether the producers were subconsciously drawing on archetypes using friendly “monsters” to educate children about anti-social behaviour, or the whole thing was an accident, it seems odd that most of the Sesame Street gang could have their picture next to a disorder somewhere in the DSM IV.
Elmo – Attention Defecit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
The main symptoms of the behavioural disorder ADHD is a low attention span and too much energy. This is pretty much Elmo’s raison d’etre. Of all the Sesame Street gang, he is constantly on the move, always yelling, and belting out that infernal giggle of his:
Yes, the writers of Sesame Street have confirmed through dialogue that Elmo is only three-and-a-half years old. But consider that ADHD is believed to manifest before seven. Elmo is right at that age where an observant parent would be asking some tough questions about their kid. Also, Elmo has a ton of trouble sleeping at night, as we see in this clip with Ricky Gervais:
Finally, in this clip where Robert DeNiro does an impression of Elmo, they both degenerate into mad, uncontrollable laughing fits. Most people don’t laugh that hard, Elmo. It’s best that I tell you before school starts.
Oscar the Grouch – Bipolar Disorder
Historically called “Manic Depression,” and the topic of a pretty bad-ass Jimmy Hendrix song, this psychological dysfunction was re-branded to “Bipolar Disorder.” Manic episodes include a persistent, elevated, or irritable mood – basically extreme mood swings. Remind you of anyone? Sure, our old pal Oscar the Grouch.
It’s odd that a character so foul-tempered is constantly breaking into song, generally a behaviour that only characters in musicals or the cast of Glee enjoy. Watch the following video and ask yourself whether someone level-headed would sing a song called “I’m Sad Because I’m Happy.” Go see a Doctor, Oscar.
Grover – Schizophrenia
The only psychotic disorder on this list, the features of Schizophrenia are pretty intense. Characterized by paranoid or bizarre delusions, disorganized thinking, and occupational dysfunction, this definition describes Grover perfectly. Take a gander at this clip, where a customer just wants to order a simple hamburger, and Grover is unable to determine the appropriate size.
Also, consider Grover’s alter-ego, Super Grover.
Essentially, Grover believes that he is a super hero from a comic book, taking dangerous risks and interacting with a narrator that only he can hear. In this video, “Super” Grover advises a child to ride a bus stop sign home. Grover actually thinks the sign is a vehicle. While Grover rants to himself, the kid catches a real bus. Nice work, Super Grover.
The Count – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is an anxiety disorder that features irresistible urges to repeat behaviours; anything from washing hands, to checking the stove exactly eight times before leaving the house, or, you know, counting things.
Sesame Street’s The Count, basically does nothing else. He rarely interacts with the other characters in Sesame Street because he’s so busy with his disorder. Check out this video of a postal worker delivering many sacks stuffed with letters to The Count’s castle. The postal worker remarks that The Count must have a lot of friends. “No,” says the Count. “I don’t have any friends. I sent all these letters myself… I’m not going to read them, I’m going to count them.”
You spent thousands of hours and dollars just to give yourself more crap to add? You got problems, bud. Go count the stars or something. At least then you’d be outside.
Big Bird – High-Functioning Autism
Think about it. Big Bird is a bit of an idiot savant, able to ice skate, dance, and even ride a motor cycle. And yet he has trouble with shoe laces. This is a major characteristic of autism, to have a few highly developed skills, while simple daily tasks are a major struggle. Check out this classic clip where Big Bird learns Mr. Hooper died. The other kids handle the news with maturity, Big Bird throws a fit. Kids are out-adulting you, B, keep up.
Cookie Monster – Compulsive Overeating
Wikipedia defines Compulsive Overeating as someone who “engages in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binge eating, during which they may feel frenzied or out of control… Binging in this way is generally followed by feelings of guilt and depression.” This basically described the plot of the famous Cookie Monster song “If Moon Were Cookie”, where he becomes so obsessed with cookies that he decides to eat the moon.
After the deed, Cookie Monster feels great remorse, having probably screwed up the whole planet’s orbit and killed everyone. Honestly? Given the way Cookie Monster tears into those biscuits, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he did it again.