Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fifty Shades of Elmo

There was a time when I thought I might go into marketing, when I imagined myself to be a real-life Peggy Olson, feverishly writing copy for floor polish or instant coffee while Don Draper thoughtfully paces the room. While Don Draper loosens his exquisite tie. While Don Draper pours me a scotch. While Don Draper unbuttons his shirt, lets me stroke his chest hair, and asks me if I'd like to "pull an all nighter."

Sadly, drinking on the job is frowned upon these days, just as "all-nighters" are frowned upon by the parents of young children. My husband is deadly handsome in a suit and tie, but no amount of scotch and sexy floor polish banter could convince me to stay up past 11.

Now I pause our regular programming to share with you some sexy floor polish banter. (This is my blog. I can do what I want.)

Peggy: I was thinking, "You'll be waxing poetic about our floor polish!" How's that? Too cute?

Don: Well, Peggy, [unbuttons his jacket, places hands on hips] I'd rather polish the sword than polish a floor.

Peggy: So, a Medieval theme? You're thinking "knight in shining armor"? Appeal to the romance-starved housewives? Something like that?

Don: [runs hand through lustrous hair] No, no. I mean polish the family jewels, Peggy.

Peggy: Wait, in this scenario, is the linoleum the jewel?

Don: [grabs Peggy by the shoulders] God damn it, Peggy! I'm talking about waxing the Buick. 

Peggy: What? We got the Buick account? Oh my god, Don, that's, that's amazing.

Don: [sighs, turns away, gulps from a tumbler of scotch, glares over his shoulder] You're fired.

Still, advertising is, for me, an endless source of wonder. A well-made commercial can make us forget to hit fast-forward on the DVR. And who hasn't stared in rapt delight at a clever billboard only to realize that you've not only missed an exit, but that you're also driving at 65 miles per hour on the shoulder of the highway?

In the Internet age, however, marketing has taken a decidedly creepy turn. Shop online for a pair of tennis shoes and suddenly Facebook thinks you should become BFFs with Nike.

Anyone with a Gmail account can certainly attest to a feeling of being watched. When I got engaged, I sent out a flurry of emails announcing the news. In turn, my sidebar, once packed with ads for restaurants and clothing stores, was suddenly crammed with links to bridal boutiques, tanning salons, and cosmetic surgery centers. Cosmetic. Surgery. Centers. Better yet, shortly after sharing news of my pregnancy, I opened my Gmail account to find not one, but three ads for "small animal removal services."

Recently, a friend mentioned that Google has been inundating her with ads for both Viagra and diapers. This same friend is gainfully employed, has an active social life, and is in a serious relationship, but Google's marketing exec knows just how to fix that problem.

In short, I thought nothing in the Great Gang Bang of Advertising could surprise me. Since the dawn of printed media, boobs have been used to sell everything from beer to cars to sexy hot dog Halloween costumes. It was foolish of me, then, to think Elmo's World would be a safe haven.

When my husband travels out of town for work, dinner for my son and me is a harried affair. Pork Chop tries to climb one leg while our dog curls around the other, both in anticipation of the leftovers warming on the stovetop. It would be generous to call me klutzy. I once cut my own bellybutton open while trying pull my pants down. So I sweat a lot during my "single mom" dinners, tense with fear that I'm about to drop a bubbling pot of sauce all over my kid and pet.

Lately though, my son has discovered this magical thing called TV. One 20-minute episode of Curious George gives me just enough time to fold and put away laundry. But, at heart, Pork Chop is an Elmo man. And the 14-minute episodes of Elmo's World on YouTube mean that I can park my kid at the kitchen table in front of the laptop while I heat up dinner at a safe distance.

And that's just what I did last week: Cue up the "Play Ball!" episode of Elmo's World while I stirred a pot of soup and sliced fruit. Fourteen whole minutes of no one touching me!

Unfortunately, the stirring and slicing took 15 minutes.

From deep within my peaceful moment of communion with the soup, I suddenly heard Beyoncé putting a slow-jam spin on "Crazy In Love." Then I heard breathing. Deep, adult breathing.

This episode is brought to you by the letter "Oh shit!"

It's a little embarrassing to admit this, but Pork Chop knows how to select and start the next YouTube clip of Elmo's World by himself. And when my cooking took exactly one minute longer than anticipated, he moved on to the "Birthday!" episode, which is to say, the episode that featured a trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey.

Thank you,, for providing me with the
creepiest Elmo photo ever taken, next to maybe . . .

. . . this photo of me wearing Elmo's skin like a hat

I skidded across the kitchen to find my not-quite-2-year-old sucking his thumb and clutching his stuffed elephant just as the camera zoomed in on Mr. Spanky's hand snaking up Miss Dumb-Dumb's skirt. I slammed the laptop shut.

Pork Chop didn't know what the hell was going on. He's not even 2. French kissing is still 30 years off. What really freaks me out is that, in a dark back room jammed with computers and empty cans of Monster energy drinks, some asshole came up with the algorithm that suggested light BDSM and a Muppet make for a winning combo.

Yes, modern moms love their erotica — or whatever the hell you call a story that makes liberal use of the term "butt drawer." And, yes, moms are also the ones pressing play on the latest episode of Elmo's World. But, damn it, I'd rather not hear Bey's musical pump-and-grind in my head while Mr. Noodle tries to wrap a box or catch a ball or do any of the other innocent Sesame Street things that will, forevermore, sound like euphemisms for dirty, dirty sex.

I looked down at my son, whose brow was furrowed. He popped his thumb out of his mouth, and squealed, "No, mama! Elmo. Elmo!"

"Sorry, kid. Elmo's in a time out," I explained. "He's been a very naughty boy."


  1. [loosening my tie] Peggy, Mr. Noodle would rather wrap a box.

  2. Oh, Jessica, Jessica. Embrace the movement. I have ten women signed up for my opening night watch party, you could be eleven. No toddlers, of course...but a marketer's gotta market and Elmo's got to eat.

  3. The more trailers I see for that movie, the more thankful I am that I never read those books. That picture of you is the best!

  4. I have to say this I never read the book and the only person I know of who tried reading it thought it was boring dribble and gave up after only a chapter.

  5. "Mr. Spanky's hand snaking up Miss Dumb-Dumb's skirt" made me spit out of my coffee. Amazing.