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Elmo’s Number One Fan Isn’t My Toddler, It’s Me

Photograph by Getty Images

The public has never stopped being amused, surprised, and, depending on your perspective, either delighted or horrified by the ongoing existence of the curious creature known as the "Brony." The Brony is, of course, an adult male who is really, really into My Little Pony, possibly to a point that might worry friends and family. As someone who has written a book about the obsessive fanbases of Insane Clown Posse and Phish, and consequently became a fan of both in the process, I'm certainly not one to judge anyone's strange and juvenile obsession.

So I certainly had a sense of what might attract someone to love, passionately, completely and unashamedly, something that society angrily insists is not for you. But I gained a new sense of what might drive someone to become a Brony when I became similarly obsessed with another kiddie entertainment icon: that red, furry, perpetually giggling monster known as Elmo.

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I'd long been aware of Elmo's existence. Hell, he's so ubiquitous that even if you don't have kids there's a very good chance that you know who he is. But it took actually watching Elmo to become improbably, yet utterly, transfixed by him. My attraction to Elmo is similar to what attracts Bronies to My Little Pony. The world can be a brutal, cold and heartless place, not to mention one where Donald Trump might conceivably become President. But Elmo's world , like the world of My Little Pony, is infinitely kinder, gentler and more magical.

Elmo's appeal transcends his intended fanbase, and at this point I worry that I might actually be more into Elmo than my son is...

Elmo himself is a charming little sprite, a perfect example of childhood joy and innocence who conveys palpable delight just in the loosey-goosey way he struts about. Unlike the vast majority of adults (and, let's be honest, kids for that matter) he is unfailingly polite and considerate, always saying "thank you" and treats even inanimate objects with kindness and respect.

In other words, Elmo doesn't show us the world as it actually is—a nightmarish hellscape perpetually hurtling towards doom—but rather, how the world should be if we were all a whole lot more like Elmo and less like ourselves. The irony is that Elmo was created specifically to appeal to the three-year-old and under set, to give them a monster that talked and acted like they did. Yet Elmo's appeal transcends his intended fanbase, and at this point I worry that I might actually be more into Elmo than my son is and that when we watch Elmo together my boy is just humoring me.

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If there was a convention for adult men who love Elmo the way there is for Bronies, would I attend? I'm not sure. I would probably, at the very least, try to find a way to cover it for one of the outlets I write for. As someone who has found legitimate reasons to go to four (and counting!) Gathering of the Juggalos—Insane Clown Posse's notorious annual festival of art, music and culture—it never hurts to have a professional cover for your private obsession. It makes you seem more like a colorful eccentric, and less like a deplorable crazy person people should keep an eye on.

Then again, it's entirely possible that Elmo is just a phase my son and I happen to be going through at the same time. He may, someday, outgrow Elmo and it's possible that I'll outgrow Elmo as well. After all, I 'm only 39 going on 40, so by the time I reach my mid-50s I might have matured and graduated from Elmo to more age-appropriate fodder, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

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