An important public service announcement for children and parents alike: If you're strolling the streets of Germany, you might find the Cookie Monster handing out Neo-Nazi propaganda. Really. Such was the scene in late March when Steffen Lange, a 31-year-old right-wing activist, entered a school in Brandenburg dressed as — you guessed it — the world's most famous cookie enthusiast.
Flanked by a right-wing friend, the duo then set about distributing Neo-Nazi pamphlets before being reported by a teacher and arrested. D'oh. A police search of the two men's home turned up yet more pieces of Cookie Monster/Nazi mash-ups, which a police spokesman said is indicative of a recent trend in far-right activism within Germany, Brandenburg particularly.
So, why the Cookie Monster, of all things? Well, it's based on more or less the same principle that, say, Big Tobacco have been punished for marketing to young children. By flashing the image of a fun, recognizable character, you get more young eyes drawn to your cause, be it smoking or, um, fostering xenophobia and racism.
This isn't the sort of thing German authorities are very lenient about, either. While America's First Amendment guarantees a right to freedom of speech, with the Supreme Court permitting a Nazi revival march through a town full of Holocaust survivors — a case in which the ACLU sided with the Nazis — Germany's view of Nazism is understandably less permissive. The swastika, for example, is an outlawed symbol, as is the utterance "Heil Hitler."
It's not clear what consequences the propagandist duo will face, but given the uniquely scurrilous nature of the allegations — that they descended on a school to try to draw children into the far right-wing — it's a safe bet that it won't be lenient.
As for the Cookie Monster himself, well, it's got to be distressing to have your image used this way. Luckily, he doesn't have to look too far to find a neighbor who can relate — he can always commiserate with Bert, who knows the sting of appropriation all too well.
Images: Sesame Street