1966.– Jim Henson designs the “Wheel-Stealer” for a General Foods ad for a crunchy snack, “Wheels.” 1967.– The “Wheel-Stealer” appears in an IBM training film, Coffee Machine. In it, the monster devours a coffee machine. 1969.– Arnold the Munching Monster appears on three commercials selling Munchos, a Frito-Lay potato chip. Each of these is a prefiguration of Cookie Monster.
It would be useful to make an analysis of this figure from the perspective of the Frankfurt School critique of bourgeois appetites. Even more so from the perspective of Veblen’s theory of leisure, or Bataille’s second law of thermodynamics. Cookie Monster’s very being is rooted in a commercial dimension — from which he never quite emerges. He is the embodiment of consumerism. He devours Wheels, Munchos, and a machine that makes coffee. In him, consumerism is boiled down to its essence, its truth, its etymon. Consumption, literally.
And the consumption is out of control. His hunger exceeds that of an animal. It is monstrous. The message of the commercials in which he was conceived and born is: “Here is a foodstuff that will latch on to your taste buds with such violent force that you’re superego will lose control, and hence the money you earned through your labour will escape your pockets. But more, even your id will behave with a ferocity unknown in the animal kingdom, a monstrous ferocity. The fact that you find me, this monster before you, amusing, may console you in the thought that you are, after all, not like me, and that I am simply a farcical figure through which you may vicariously enjoy the monster within you. Yet this consolation is not strong enough to stop you from buying this snack.” The economic system that is supposedly built upon the control imposed upon the ego by the superego, in the form of investment (Aesop’s ant), thus reveals its underlying drive to total leisure (the grasshopper).
His consumption, in a sense, is conspicuous. He lacks the refinement of proper conspicuous consumption displayed by a civilized barbarian. But his gluttony is a kind of luxury. The fact that this monster never even eats his cookie, as the cookie explodes into crumbs in his mandibles and flies to the floor, is not a disbelief suspended by the audience. The waste is precisely where the real pleasure lies.
(It is interesting that the practical health problem posed by Cookie Monster had to wait until 2006 to be addressed. “Cookies is a sometimes snack.” Aristotelian ethics steps in, on the set with Martha Stewart.)
The entire nefarious power of Cookie Monster lies in his innocence. This is the personification of the animal soul (nefesh habehamit) at his charming best. The impressionable young child, after suffering Jiminy Cricket’s oppressive Apollonian demands finds Dionysian relief in the company of the blue monster from Sesame Street.