During his tenure on the popular PBS program Sesame Street, the Cookie Monster earned a much-deserved reputation as the clown prince of junk food. His self-effacing antics delighted children of all ages. But few of his admirers grasped the true depth of his performances.
On the surface he may be a bug-eyed buffoon who delights in making us laugh, but hidden behind the mask is a tortured artist driven by inner demons. In his quest for answers in a world gone mad, he has created an oeuvre that should secure his place amongst the greatest philosophers of his generation.
The Cookie Monster’s most significant creations have been, without a doubt, his songs. The Cookie Monster not only sang about cookies, he celebrated them. He found passion in a subject that has often been ignored or glossed over by his musical contemporaries. But at the same time, the Cookie Monster was tormented by his beloved cookies. In haunting detail, his songs documented the dark underbelly of his cookie obsession.
His musical legacy began with “C Is For Cookie,” by far his most well known work.
“C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me
Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C!”
In the outset, it would appear that the Cookie Monster is engaged in nothing more than a simple linguistic exercise. But what begins as an earnest (if unsophisticated) exploration of language is quickly abandoned as the song makes an unexpected detour into the far murkier waters of philosophy.
When Cookie says that cookies are “good enough for me,” he is not merely suggesting that he has found a satisfactory solution to his game of alphabetic association. He is pondering issues far more profound, indicating a desire to cast off the shackles of material possessions. He has discovered, quite by accident, that personal fulfillment can be achieved by something as inconsequential as a cookie. Society may demand that he pursue more substantial indulgences, like wealth and power and things that start with other letters. But as the Cookie Monster so wisely states in the song’s opening, “Who cares about the other things?”
In “Goodbye Little Cookie,” the Cookie Monster examines the heartbreak of love and loss, particularly in how it relates to cookies.
“Goodbye, goodbye little cookie
Me always remember just you
Goodbye, goodbye little cookie
It now time to bid you adieu”
Cookie’s painful realization that love does not last forever is at first unbearable. He begs his cookie not to leave, promising to carry a torch and devote his life to grieving. But eventually he learns to accept the inevitable separation, finding the strength to “bid adieu” to a cookie that, for whatever reason, can no longer be his. Cookie’s poignant moment of mourning takes on a deeper meaning in the next verse.
“Me love your nuts and your raisins
Me love your color and smell
Me like to hold you forever
But now it is time for farewell”
There are several ways in which this “cookie” can be interpreted; the most obvious being as a metaphor for the author’s life. As the curtain of mortality draws ever closer, Cookie finds some comfort in the knowledge that he lived to the fullest, taking the time to appreciate the colors, the smells, and yes, even the nuts. He may have once naively assumed that it would last “forever,” but only now, at the end, does he understand that it is impossible to live without dying. To enjoy all that a cookie has to offer, he must eat it, and thereby destroy it. It is useless, he learns, to deny death.
There are some critics, however, who argue that this explanation is inherently flawed. After all, for an artist who frequently alluded to his crippling addiction to baked goods, even Cookie would concede that his life had been mostly squandered. Could it be that this “cookie” is not a thematic device at all, but meant to be taken literally? Perhaps he laments the loss of his cookie because only now, as it is plucked from his dying paws, does he realize how much of his youth and vitality it has cost him.
In “If Moon Was Cookie,” the Cookie Monster turns his muse on Social Darwinism, taking an unflinching look at the true nature of Man.
“If moon was cookie, me think me would be
The happiest monster you’ve ever seen
I’d put on a space suit and up through the night
I’d ride in a rocket and go take a bite.”
This amusing fantasy may delight us with its lyrical beauty, but look closer and you’ll discover a more thought-provoking thesis. While the Cookie Monster shares our desire to travel to other worlds, he is also fearful of our tendency to savagely conquer and colonize all that we come in contact with.
Throughout history, we have killed and enslaved entire races of people, and polluted the land and waters of our own Mother Earth. Now we have turned our attention to the universe outside our planet, and time will only tell if we continue in our legacy of destruction. “Must we take the magnificence of the universe and pillage it like a cookie?” Cookie asks us, and more importantly, himself.
As the song continues, Cookie finds a way to get to the moon and, just as he predicted, eats it. He has made one small step for Muppet, but Muppetkind is left with only carnage and devastation. Cookie soon realizes the error of his ways.
“If moon was Cookie it wouldn’t be fine
‘Cause if me ate it, then it wouldn’t shine
So me not like to say it, but it clear to me
We’re lucky that moon is not a cookie.”
Cookie seems to be suggesting that, given our genetic impulse to triumph over the cosmos, it might be better if we never ventured into the unknown. Perhaps the universe should remain unattainable and thus preserve its innocent, unsoiled splendor. If we continue to probe the galaxy, who knows what planets we may find that could be destroyed, colonized or, if they’re tasty enough, eaten?
Cookie’s next creative effort, “The Last Cookie Roundup,” was written during one of the darkest periods in the life of this troubled genius. The complex themes of this Western sing-a-long have puzzled scholars for decades. Is it an apocalyptic vision of the future, or a glimpse into Cookie’s growing fascination with fatalism?
“This is the last cookie roundup
Eat ’em up cookie ya-yay
This is the last cookie roundup
Get along, little cookies, me eat you today”
A number of horrifying questions are posed in the first stanza. Why is this the “last” cookie roundup? Is there some sort of shortage of cookies? Are cookies no longer available in stores and bakeries? Why must they be collected and eaten “today,” as if saving them for later might cause them to be stolen by criminals and outlaws?
Faced with an unexpected famine, Cookie adjusts his morality to ensure survival. Like Nietzsche’s superman, he transcends the traditional categories of good and evil. Unburdened by feelings of guilt or responsibility, Cookie now has the freedom to do whatever he wants, or more importantly, to eat as much as he wants. But Cookie’s gastronomic “will to power” ends, predictably, in disaster. After gorging on every last available scrap, he’s soon unable to find “even one” cookie. The cookies have all been eaten, and the author slips into madness.
“Not looking for silver
Me no look for gold
Me got to find cookies
Before me explode”
Cookie’s curious reference to “silver and gold” might very well be the key to understanding this disquieting aria. Cookie is not interested in amassing more financial gain. (At this stage in his career, money is no object to the famous muppet.) Only cookies give him satisfaction and a sense of purpose. But in a world where cookies are scarce, all the money in the world won’t buy him more cookies. The Cookie Monster has made a frightening discovery about the fragile nature of junk food. Cookies may be plentiful today, but the time could come when cookies will no longer be available to him in any quantity, at any price.
But Cookie does not mourn the loss. He makes the best of a disastrous situation. In an epiphany that will change his life forever, he declares that, “Me settle for crumbs.”
“Me Lost Me Cookie At The Disco,” by far the Cookie Monster’s most vital work, is a riveting tale of lost innocence.
“Me lost me cookie at the disco
Me lost me cookie in the boogie music
Me want it back”
Cookie, like many of his Sesame Street peers, is a child of the 60s and 70s. During his early years as a muppet entertainer, he was a freedom-loving, Establishment-hating bohemian who embraced the vivacious spirit of the counterculture with open arms. But somewhere along the way, the Summer of Love turned ugly. His innocence (or “cookie,” as it’s represented in this song) was lost in a haze of drugs and free love. In this somber ballad, Cookie returns to the haunts of his youth and wades through the muddy waters of today’s boogie culture. “Where’s my cookie?” He asks no one in particular. “Help me find my cookie!” He is given no answer, and leaves the disco with a heavy heart, the cookies of his past apparently gone forever.
But all was not lost for the Cookie Monster. He experiences a spiritual and emotional rebirth in a lively duet with Ernie called “Breakfast Time.” In it, Cookie and Ernie sing joyfully about their favorite breakfast foods. Ernie expresses a fondness for crunchy cereal, orange juice and boiled eggs, while Cookie gives praise to the junk food that has inspired and nourished him most.
“It isn’t hard each morning
To keep me satisfied
Just give me a soft-boiled cookie
And a glass of cookie juice on the side”
Once the nausea provoked by the mere mention of “cookie juice” has subsided, we can see that the Cookie Monster’s message is one of hope. His career has seen many highs and lows, but his constant love for cookies has helped him survive it all. Even with all the distractions of this modern age, it is important to pause and reflect on the important things, like cookies.
The Cookie Monster has seen the light at the end of the tunnel. And if we’re willing to listen to his wise words, so can we.