Photo Credit: Richard Termine/Sesame Workshop
Anyone who knows me well knows I am not an optimist. I've always been this way, even since I was little. People scoff when I say this, and so for evidentiary support I always turn to Sesame Street. My favorite character when I was younger — and when pressed, to this day — wasn't the sunshiny and affable Big Bird or the clumsy and lovable Grover, but the stringy and gruff Oscar the Grouch, who sang songs about hating everything and whiled away his days in a garbage can. To me, his lack of a sunny disposition made him the only relatable character on a show filled with impossibly happy hand puppets. (Oddly, until I discovered the wonders of waxing, Oscar and I also shared a fondness for unibrows.)
As a child, my love of all things dour wasn't just limited to Sesame Street. I also found myself drawn to Disney's angry and incoherent Donald Duck and "Thanks for noticing me" Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh series. As an adult, my appreciation for the cartoonish irritable underdog hasn't waned (see: Family Guy's Stewie; Spongebob's Squidward). This got me wondering: Do our favorite Sesame Street characters as children provide insight into our personalities as adults?
As far as I can tell, no one's done the research on this yet (I'm writing the grant proposal now), but an anecdotal survey seems to show a connection between our favorite Sesame Street characters as children and our grown-up selves. "I always loved Telly Monster," says Laura, 29. "And you know what? I kind of grew up to be him. Very chatty. And clearly neurotic."
"I loved Oscar, and while I wouldn't consider myself grouchy, I am pretty messy," says Val, 27. "Maybe I can attribute that to my childhood hero living in a garbage can?"
Says, Ali, 25, "I loved Elmo, and I'm really ticklish. And giggly."
"Grover was my favorite," says Ysolt, 29. "I was clumsy as a kid, and he wasn't afraid to look funny or be clumsy, and he showed me that it was okay to make mistakes."
Now, any good skeptic (or Oscar fan) might say that hindsight is always 20/20. But think about it: If Dora can teach your 5-year-old to count to 10 in Spanish, it's entirely possible that Cookie Monster is the reason you always finish off the box of Entenmann's soft-baked chocolate-chip cookies, right? (Says Jennifer, 37, "I loved Cookie Monster as a kid and, I'll admit, I've grown up to be kind of a cookie monster myself. Now my son, who's almost 3, seems to be taking after me. We've had to rename the healthy multigrain cereal bars we sometimes give him for breakfast 'cookie bars' so he'd eat them.")
We may be quick to see the correlations, but Dorothy Singer isn't so sure. The senior research scientist in the psychology department at Yale University says our grouchy, neurotic and ticklish tendencies already are in place at age 3 — prime Street-viewing age — so it's more likely that we're indentifying with the character we're similar to. "There are enough characters on there for you to choose from," she says. "If you're a kid who's always feeling alone, maybe Oscar is the one you will remember, or maybe you were a bit obsessive and you really liked Bert."
Does this mean that if you notice your child gravitating toward Oscar instead of Big Bird, you should put him in therapy ASAP? "Oscar has positive attributes, too," assures Dr. William Braun, a child psychoanalyst in New York City. "Even though he's the pessimist, there's something that we like about him. You can take that negatively, but we all have these characters in us. We might have a more predominant personality type, but every once in a while we're all a little Oscar, or we're a little Elmo."