Surely it's not the end of Sesame Street?
Thankfully not. Big Bird made his first appearance on the educational children's show when it launched in 1969, and the brand is still going strong. It rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year in merchandise sales, and an estimated 95 per cent of American three-year-olds have seen it. But Mitt Romney suggested in last week's presidential debate with Barack Obama that, despite being a Sesame Street fan, he would slash federal subsidies to the Public Broadcasting Service, which makes the programme. Since then, the 8ft 2in Big Bird and his show have become a political hot potato.
What? Only in America ...
Quite. After his poor showing in the debate, Mr Obama's campaign team released an advert mocking Mr Romney's Big Bird reference. "One man has the guts to say his name," a doom-laden voiceover murmurs. "Big … yellow … a menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about. It's Sesame Street." Images of the white-collar criminals Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay appear on screen, suggesting that Mr Romney believes Big Bird is to blame for the state of the US economy, rather than greedy bankers. Poking fun at the Republican's big-business connections, Mr Obama went on to tell a San Francisco fund-raising event: "Elmo has been seen in a white [minivan]. He's driving for the border. Oscar is hiding out in his trash can. We're cracking down on them." Mr Romney's spokesman replied: "I just find it troubling that the President's message, the President's focus – 28 days from election day – is Big Bird."
And what does Big Bird say?
The Sesame Workshop asked for the advert to be withdrawn, saying: "We do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We've approved no campaign ads." Mr Obama's camp is considering the request.
And why is this an election issue?
You might well ask. While we all found the last US election very entertaining – what with Sarah Palin believing Alaska's proximity to Russia boosted her foreign policy credentials – it had been hoped this one would be a more serious affair. Alas, that doesn't seem to be the case.
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