DALLAS — A group of parody Twitter accounts representing Sesame Street characters has gone viral after trolling Sen. Ted Cruz, who earlier in the week ruffled Big Bird’s feathers when he accused the Muppet character of being a government shill for promoting COVID-19 vaccines for kids.
On Nov. 6, Big Bird, whose creators claim is six years old despite having been a television fixture for about 50 years, tweeted out that he had just received his COVID-19 vaccine as the Muppet took part in the nationwide rollout to vaccinate children ages five to 11.
Cruz responded by calling Big Bird’s tweet “government propaganda...for your 5 year old!”
Within hours, @SenatorBigBird created an account and announced that the large, yellow bird, whose species is anyone’s guess, would be running to unseat Cruz in 2024.
“Ted, let’s be real. The only propaganda is coming from your mouth. That’s why I’m running to take your seat. #BigBird4Senate,” the parody account tweeted on Nov. 7.
More tweets and followers to the parody account kept the momentum rolling, each of them taking a shot at some of Cruz’s social media gaffes in the recent past, such as the image of the senator checking into a flight to Cancun last February as tens of millions of Texans were without heat, electricity and water during a winter storm that overloaded the state’s electric grid.
More parody accounts were created as Big Bird announced what some on Twitter called a “political dream team:” Cookie Monster as campaign manager; Elmo as a senior adviser and Bert as communications director.
By Thursday, Big Bird’s parody account for his senate race had nearly 90,000 followers. His campaign expanded, adding Ernie as its political director. The Count was hired on as the politically hopeful bird’s campaign finance director.
T-shirts, campaign signs and stickers with “Elect Big Bird U.S. Senate” were being sold online.
“No, Big Bird is not actually going to file as a candidate,” the owner of the parody Cookie Monster account said in an interview Wednesday night. He declined to reveal his identity or where he and the other parody account holders were located but confirmed that there were indeed several people behind the viral accounts and tweets.
The parody accounts used a lighthearted tone that one Twitter user called “literally the best thing going on the internet right now,” but the movement has a bigger objective than just bashing Cruz, a two-term senator who many believe could take another run at the White House in 2024, the parody Cookie Monster account owner said.
The person behind the parody Big Bird for Senate Twitter account kicked the campaign off on Nov. 6 after becoming alarmed that a U.S. senator would actively attack Big Bird, “someone who is solely advocating for the promotion of vaccines, something that has proven to be safe and effective now not only for adults but now children,” the Cookie Monster parody account holder said.
“He just said, ‘This is outrageous. Our public discourse has gone downhill,’” Cookie Monster's imitator said. “You know, most people should be getting behind vaccinations. But if we are going to fight over public broadcasting, that's really, really dangerous.”
It’s not the first time Big Bird or his Muppet friends over at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have been caught in Republican crosshairs.
Republicans have sought to cut funding for public broadcasting almost since its creation.
President Lyndon Johnson, who was from Texas, signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which set up the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The federal government provides about $450 million to the corporation each year, which is then distributed to local stations, and to informational and educational program creators. Sesame Workshop, which produces the children’s show Sesame Street with Jim Henson’s Muppet characters, receives some funding from these government grants.
Conservative lawmakers have argued in the past that public broadcasting programming should be funded by private enterprises, not tax dollars used for what some accuse of being “left-wing media” such as National Public Radio.
In 2012, Sen. Mitt Romney, then running as the Republican nominee for president, promised during an election debate that he would cut PBS funding if he won, even though he said he “liked Big Bird.”
More recently, former President Donald Trump proposed in his first year of office to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities and to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Cruz wasn’t the only conservative on Twitter to take issue with Big Bird’s vaccination promotion this week. Lisa Boothe, the host of Fox News’ "The Truth with Lisa Boothe," called out the Sesame Street character as well, saying in a tweet, “Brainwashing children who are not at risk from COVID. Twisted.”
But the Cookie Monster parody account holder said he and the team of other parody Sesame Street character accounts see an opportunity coming out of the online discourse, particularly in how quickly the Twitter accounts went viral. The accounts have been featured in at least two segments on MSNBC and a few Texas publications.
“It just goes to show that what online activism can do and the overwhelming frustration with Ted Cruz,” he said. “If he's focused on Big Bird is he really focused on solving Texas' problems?
The parody campaign has put the focus on “the highlights of what Ted Cruz has done over the last year: Tried to overturn a free and fair election, fled to Mexico in a time of great disaster for Texas, and hurt constituents and promoted anti-vaccine rhetoric with endangers Texans but up until recently, it really endangered texas children who didn't have the choice to get vaccinated,” he said.
In response to the online parody accounts and Big Bird’s senatorial aspirations, Cruz has fired back in tweets defending his position that while he and his family are vaccinated, the COVID vaccine should be a personal choice, not something that is government-mandated, such as what Cruz said President Joe Biden is pushing.
In his podcast, The Verdict with Ted Cruz, on Thursday, the Texas senator said his initial tweet in response to Big Bird’s announcement that he had been vaccinated was meant as sort of a “smartass tweet.”
But liberals “just lost it,” Cruz said. As news outlets from ABC to The Washington Post picked up the story, it seemed the “entire corrupt corporate media is surrounding Big Bird. They are protecting the big fella,” Cruz said.
All the noise about Big Bird v. Cruz came despite the fact that there are disasters such as the immigration surge at the border, the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan and rising inflation, he said.
“They don’t care. All the disasters that are happening, none of them matter, but you mess with Big Bird? Holy crap! They lost it!” he said.
For now, Big Bird and his team are, er, winging it when it comes to the campaign’s next move, Cookie Monster's imitator said. The humans behind the parody accounts have met in the last few days with “political strategists, lawyers and folks who have been doing these sorts of things,” he said.
“We are well aware of the limitations of Big Bird actually running for office and that's not something we actually want to do,” he said, acknowledging that maintaining the momentum of a parody senatorial campaign account until Cruz’s 2024 reelection bid would be difficult.
The campaign is exploring “all kinds of options,” he said. In the meantime, the group of accounts will look to “empower legitimate candidates that have opportunities to promote vaccines, promote science and promote Texans' interests.”
“We are only three days in,” he said. “We’re planning big things and looking forward to hopefully putting things into action soon.”
The Big Bird for Senate campaign parody isn’t the first of its kind, Cookie Monster's impersonator pointed out.
“I’m thinking of, for example, of the accounts created immediately after last year’s vice presidential debates when there was a fly on Vice President Mike Pence's head.”