Elmo’s unhinged rant about a pet rock resonates with the exasperated

Elmo wants the oatmeal raisin cookie, which is on a counter. Next to the cookie is a rock.

>> Eduardo MedinaThe New York Times
Published : 9 Jan 2022, 02:43 PM
Updated : 9 Jan 2022, 02:43 PM

But as Elmo reaches for it, his furry red hand is stopped by an orange one that belongs to Zoe, another “Sesame Street” character, who is concerned for the rock, a pet named Rocco.

“No, no, no — wait, Elmo,” Zoe says. “Rocco says that he wants the oatmeal raisin cookie.”

And it is at this point that Elmo — a children’s character usually associated with innocence, lighthearted fun and playfulness — reaches his breaking point.

“Rocco?” Elmo says, sounding astonished. “Rocco’s a rock, Zoe! Rocco won’t know the difference!”

And when Zoe insists that Rocco will, indeed, know the difference, Elmo goes from incredulous to angry.

“How?” Elmo retorts. “How is Rocco going to eat that cookie, Zoe? Tell Elmo. Rocco doesn’t even have a mouth. Rocco’s just a rock! Rocco’s not alive!”

The video clip from a 2004 episode of “Sesame Street” circulated widely across social media this week, garnering more than 8 million views and thousands of responses from people who resoundingly expressed that they could relate with an unhinged Elmo’s sense of exasperation.

As the video got more and more attention, other clips of Elmo losing his patience with the rock began to appear, adding fuel to a raging internet fire as others posted about the fictional relationship — aghast, they said, at how Elmo had been gaslighted all these years.

There is the clip in which Zoe says she was late because Rocco had “to go to the potty,” and Elmo, pausing for a beat, responds with a flat, “What?”

Another clip shows Elmo saying hello to a real hamster, only to be interrupted by Zoe, who directs him to also say hi to Rocco.

Of course, Elmo was already a star on the internet before this week.

The Elmo fire meme is often dispatched during chaotic moments. Other scenes of him in an adversarial mood have also circulated, such as one in which he throws a fit and starts to walk off the set of “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and one in which he bites and throws a talking block of cheese on a cooking show.

Drake Amendola, 29, of New York City, said what he loved about the cookie clip was that he could tell Elmo was trying to be inclusive of Zoe and “her eccentricities.”

“But you can just tell that like, every little inch he gives, she takes a mile,” Amendola said Saturday.

There is also a pandemic interpretation, Amendola said.

The rock is a metaphor for pandemic denialism, and Elmo represents the vaccinated — those who, now in year three of pandemic life, are fed up with the false beliefs surrounding COVID-19.

“Just the amount of times people try to convince you something you know isn’t true, no matter how many times you point out the obvious,” he said.

For his part, Elmo said on Twitter that he and Zoe were still “best buds” but that he didn’t “want to talk about Rocco.”

Leela Magavi, a psychiatrist in Newport Beach, California, said the clip helped divert the attention of children and adults from “their own pain and helplessness during this difficult time.”

Many people “perceive Elmo as an amicable, loved character, so when they view his frustration and anger, it helps normalize their own feelings of anger and makes them realize that this is a normal human sentiment,” she added.

To others, the clip is an example of selfishness.

“We’ve all had an Elmo experience, either in college, in a class or at work somewhere, from people who want to make everything about them,” said Alexiss Tyler, 27, of Kansas City, Missouri.

Jennifer Cretu of Snohomish, Washington, said her three boys — ages 8, 11 and 14 — believed that Elmo had been wronged, although her oldest, Liam, was able to sympathize with Zoe because he, too, once had an imaginary friend: Barack Obama.

Cretu's middle child, Silas, believed that the unhinged Elmo phenomenon could have been headed off by having the human character in the scene eat the cookies. “I mean, one is a rock,” he said. “And the other two are just puppets.”

Liv Pearsall, who has 2.8 million followers on TikTok and makes videos highlighting Elmo’s bratty side, said that the “Sesame Street” characters have personalities and that Elmo sometimes displays his in “snarky, savage moments.”

“It’s kind of like a combination of the nostalgia that we all have from ‘Sesame Street’ coupled with just kind of being shocked that he was so sassy,” said Pearsall, 22, of Los Angeles. “I think we all relate to that at times.”

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