This week marked the 40th anniversary of the breakthrough TV program Sesame Street. I’ve written before about some of the many lessons you can learn from this cultural icon, but today I’m going to zero in something new.
You might have an Elmo blog, a Cookie Monster blog, or a Big Bird blog. (How you define those is up to you.)
But some of the smartest and most successful bloggers out there bear more in common with the show’s least-likeable character: Oscar the Grouch.
Oscar was an important character from the show’s beginning, and on the surface he doesn’t seem to quite fit in.
Everyone else on Sesame Street is pretty much cheerful and happy all the time. They have infinite patience, everyone loves children, and friendship is king.
Oscar, on the other hand, hates kittens, rainbows, and having a nice day. He loves anything dirty or dingy or rusty.
He was always my dad’s favorite character on the show, which annoyed me to no end when I was six. These days, I’m starting to see my dad’s point.
Oscar doesn’t want everyone to love him. (That would be his biggest nightmare, in fact.) He does his own thing, he lives the way he wants to live, and he’s not particularly interested in what anyone else has to say about it.
He’s not miserable
It would be easy to think that Oscar’s just one of those people who enjoy being unhappy, But actually, Oscar has a great life.
He has things set up just the way he likes them. He’s surrounded by trash, which is what he loves. His trash can home has the perfect dented patina that makes him happy.
Oscar’s not depressed or pathological. He’s just weird. He likes different stuff from most people. And he expresses himself without apology.
The grouch community
One of the things I love on Sesame Street is when the show pulls back occasionally to reveal the whole grouch community.
There are grouch restaurants. (Sandra Bernhard had a great cameo as a waitress in one, in the 1980s Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird.) Grouch taxi services. Grouch “dirtying machines” at the laundromat. Sesame Street is about as diverse as they come, and grouches are just one of the many groups they embrace.
Oscar seems like a loner, but actually he’s part of a larger community. There are dozens of grouches in trash cans living on Sesame Street, yelling at the kids and generally having a fantastic time.
It’s not about being a jerk
I’m about the last person who will ever tell you to be a troll, or a jerk for the sake of being a jerk.
Being a contrarian just to create controversy is hollow, and people see through it. Yanking people’s chains for its own sake doesn’t create anything useful. An audience might show up for the spectacle of you making a rude jackass of yourself, but they won’t follow through with any kind of loyalty or commitment.
Being an Oscar blogger isn’t about being a creep. It’s about doing your thing without apology, no matter how strange it looks to “normal people.” It’s about weird passions and showing the side most people are scared to reveal.
There’s an obvious downside to grouch blogging: you’re going to turn people off. In fact, you might very well turn most people off.
Plenty of people take one look at Ittybiz or The Bloggess and beat a hasty retreat. Those blogs aren’t for “most people.”
The people who remain are fanatically loyal, almost to the point of obsession. It’s precisely because so many people hate it that their audiences love it. This also works for Dan Kennedy, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Cobb. (I defy you to find that combination anywhere else on the internet.)
What to do if you aren’t a grouch
If you’re not a member of the grouch community, there’s something else you’ve got to say that’s “not for everyone.”
Maybe you’re just a little too enthusiastic about zombies. Maybe you’re starting a freak revolution. Maybe you’re just plain out there.
The internet is too big to please everyone. (And there are plenty of people out there who aren’t worth pleasing.) Find your own village and give them what they’re looking for. You’ll find that they happily come back for more.
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About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.
Reader Comments (72)
Enjoyed the read, spot on information I’ll apply to our blog. Thank you look forward to read more of what you have to say about the world of blogs and blogging.
Oleg Mokhov says
The shortest path to become remarkable is to be an amplified version of yourself.
Analyze your traits and quirks and take them to an extreme. Be genuine and take that to the edge in your writing.
You don’t try to please everyone. Instead, you laser-focus your content to others like you. And there are a lot out there. A community, in fact. And those will absolutely love your stuff. They’ll be far more interested in a remarkable you that talks to them on their level then some middle-of-the-road “safe” website.
Sure, you’ll turn some people off. But those folks aren’t a good fit for your stuff anyway. So why prolong the disinterest? Snip them off from the get-go to not waste yours and their time.
Be remarkable by being an amplified version of yourself. You’ll attract the most receptive audience, and you’ll be of far more interest and value to them.
Love the Oscar analogy,
Julie, the Digital Marketing Diva says
I like your comment that, “You don’t try to please everyone. Instead, you laser-focus your content to others like you.” Being a natural pleaser, I tend to give a lot away for free and downplay my strengths. I also tend to be rather vanilla. I’m working on this and your comments have really helped me.
Tristan Lee says
Hello, I love this post. Man… I can’t remember when I watched Sesame Street and the only character I vividly remember is Big Bird!
But I get what you’re saying. Write for your own niche and don’t be afraid to be a little bit “different”, even if it means adding a spice of grouchiness might spice up a blog post, hehe.
Lone Wolf Entrepreneur says
You are great!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this article based on the headline, but it certainly caught my attention and made an excellent point about marketing and blogging, but more precisely, about entrepreneurship!
I’m glad you mentioned Dan Kennedy at the end there. As I was reading the article I kept thinking to myself, “Yes, no doubt, Dan Kennedy is the Oscar The Grouch of marketing!”
Great stuff! Thanks for making marketing so fun!
A surefire way to become remarkable is to realize you already are, to stop trying, and live happily ever after.
Steve Parker says
Hi and thanks for this post! Love it. Some of us are already there but need help fully embracing our inner Oscars. I take this as a call to think outside the can and never put a lid on it! 😉
Gabe | freebloghelp.com says
When I wrote my blog identity series this week, I should’ve made an Oscar reference!
Anyway, the whole point is that bloggers need to express themselves. Their personalities are what make them unique, good, bad or indifferent.
Michael Martine says
What I always loved about Oscar was that, for all his grouchiness, he showed an amazing amount of tenderness to his good buddy, Slimy the Worm.
He knew how to take care of his tribe.
I appreciate and enjoy every post you contribute, Sonia.
Admittedly today I wondered where you were going to take me with Oscar the Grouch.
And once again, you took me to places that turn me on. I love what you observe about Oscar & his Village. (I even love Oscar more in this moment than ever, because of you…please keep that between you and I; I’d hate for it to get back to him!)
Hi Sonia, Talk about the right message at the right time. Our best blogger (and I flatter him to get him to post more) is definitely a contrarian grouch. I had been concerned that this might not be a good thing for a “serious” software company, but after reading your post I think it is actually quite good. Thanks for the great advice.
Sonia Simone says
@Michael, that is totally true. Oscar has a heartfelt side that makes him so much more interesting.
@Adine, that’s cool, good luck with it! Just tell him not to abuse the customers too much. 🙂 Or at least, not the good customers.
@Steve Parker gets double bonus points for “think outside the can”!
Nnamdi Iregbulem says
I think this makes complete sense in the offline world and online.
The people who try to act like “the norm” tend not to have very many real friends. It’s the people who are unique and interesting who actually find a great group of people they can actually call friends.
I have always loved Oscar by the way. I don’t know why, but he always clicked for me. He just makes sense. I think it’s because of the reasons you described in this post.
Coach T.I.A says
Still finding my unique weird voice – I’m part grouch, part sparkles and sunshine LOL. This is my tribe though, the crazy, out there people who are no-nonsense and super cool!
Tia @TiaSparkles (what did I say!)
Fran Civile says
When the Sesame Street program started I had daycare
young children in our home and I was very enthusiastic
about the new program! We didn’t put Oscar down… just
saw him as being a little different… doing his own thing…
something boomers will remember as a good thing in the sixties decade!
My husband Victor was the Oscar in our family up to a point… his garage was full of what could have been described as junk… used power tools often sold to him by recently widowed women whose husbands had some ambitious plans when they bought those tools… then left them to rust in their garage.
Victor cleaned and tuned these up to a shiny near-new condition and other smart men bought them instead
of using their Sears credit card!
Does anyone else detect some similarity between those power tools abandoned in garages and the hard drives of many would-be marketers?
PS. To Julie, the Digital Marketing Diva
Please don’t change Julie!
A loaf o’ bread, a container o’ milk, and a stick o’ butter.
My favourite Sesame Street segment is kind of like the adventure inside my head, and that eclectic mix, for better or worse, greets my readers. So far no one has complained, so I’m either boring them, or they’re enjoying the ride.
How else can I sign up for your free newsletter.. Internet Marketing for Smart People when aweber is (seems to be) blocked on my pc?
Do you think pointing out an unfortunate choice for a name of an online business in a post about the do’s and don’ts of branding would be considered being a troll or just being Oscar-y? Would love to hear your thoughts on this…
Tyson J. Hayes says
I live my life and write my blog similar to this approach, I am who I am and I don’t apologize for it. I speak my mind and try to engage the people that are interested in my subject. It may detract some people but if they aren’t interested in what I have to say and how I’m saying it then there isn’t much for me to tell them!
Great insight thanks for the post.
Lydia, Clueless Crafter says
What’s so nice about the grouch is that he’s consistent. You really can believe that he believes in what he says and does.
That’s the kind of grouch we want to be.
Lori | Jane Be Nimble says
I always liked Oscar – he made me feel that it was OK to be myself and make no apologies for who I am.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t get along with others (the cliques) in high school? Maybe that’s why I was a band-camp geek? He made me feel it was OK I was the slowest runner on track team, at least I was trying! (LOL)
Great post here today, it affirmed what I’ve been thinking lately about the direction I want continue with my blog. I might not be an Oscar, but I’m going to remember it’s OK to be myself. 😉
Amy Harrison says
Great post, and I’m pretty sure more people find it easier to be themselves via a blog than perhaps face to face.
I find that one of the benefits of blogging and having a presence on the Internet is that it’s often easier to not only be yourself, but to find others that complement your personality.
I’m pretty sure Grouch would have loved it…or then again not. 🙂
“He was always my dad’s favorite character on the show, which annoyed me to no end when I was six. These days, I’m starting to see my dad’s point.” – this is the best part for me. Such a funny emotion used in this article. Thanks Sonia!
Here is Sesame Street’s blurb on Oscar. While it may not surprise you that he was based on a real person, the person’s occupation makes me chuckle.
Damn. This post made me moist. For one thing, I feel uber cool to love Freak Revolution, The Bloggess (who makes me spew liquids out my nose repeatedly and whose baby I would love to have) and IttyBiz (who has the best blog graphic EVER).
Excellent analogy with Oscar. I guess this is nothing but a fan boy rave. Can’t help it.
Oh, ok, I’ll ask my standard question. If you HAVE to (temporarily) serve clients outside your “ideal” community, should you be 100% authentic or maintain 2 identities…?
Thoughts from everyone?
You continue to be remarkable with your insights. Your portrayal of Oscar is right on. Thank you for encouraging your readers to be brave with our uniqueness.
Sonia Simone says
Man, Kelly, that’s a good question and I think I’m too brain dead to answer, but I will give it some thought.
@Jackie, I’ll email you and we can get you set.
@Momblebee, ah, that is tricky. If it’s someone you want to keep a relationship with, I’d think twice. But that’s me, I always think twice.
@Chris, thanks for the Oscar link!
Laura Belgray says
I just started my blog, and I think it’s shaping up to be a Bert and Ernie: part cheerful, part crotchety. All it’s missing is a unibrow.
As long as it isn’t a Snuffleupagus – a blog nobody else ever sees – I’m happy.
The worst? A Cookie Monster blog: one that’s passionately dedicated to something (“cookie is for me”), and then one day reigns in the enthusiasm just to please the public (“a cookie is a sometimes treat”).
Laura Belgray says
Oh ps: I love this post. Thank you for honoring the coolest TV show ever.
Tomas Stonkus says
Although I cannot relate to the show too much since I was not born in the USA, I can relate to being yourself.
That’s what I have been told my whole life – be yourself. It never made sense to me. For the most part, I did not even like myself.
And that is where the problem was. The key to successful happiness or blogging is to love yourself and accept yourself for who you are. Then it will become easy to be yourself.
People like unique characters and views – a different perspective. Everybody has their own view on something, but hearing unique, solid opinion or thought coming from somebody else adds value.
Ultimately that it’s what about – adding value to people’s lives. If you can do that and maintain your own character then you will have a joyful life.
That is why I am choosing to continue building a Tomas Stonkus blog and nobody else 🙂
is there an oscar grouch guide to getting people to speak to me?
At the moment I’m sitting in my trash can with lots to say and no one to hear it. lol.
All this advice is awesome though. It’s cool because i’m allowed to be geeky and weird on my website. I thought i’d have to “conform”, which I always hated doing.
Ben Angel says
I couldn’t think of anything worse than trying to please everybody. I put a condom on the front of my new business book to turn certain sectors off. In fact, it’s actually done the opposite, they love it instead. It goes to show being yourself is always the best solution. People do become fanatical when you share parts of yourself not everybody is going to love.
I love the copyblogger content… Thank you for always sharing the most amazing content. Ben Angel – author of ‘Sleeping Your Way to The Top in Business.’
Note Taking Nerd #2 says
Client/Contractor Chemistry is oh-so vital to entrepreneur who wishes to remain autonomous, sane and high spirited.
If your you use your blog as a platform for generating leads, then it’d be wise to lay out, via your personality, who you’d be a good fit for and who you wouldn’t.
I can’t remember or not if this topic was covered in Freelance X Factor or not (Magnificent Program By the Way), but life is way, way, way to short to spend even one hour working with someone you’re not compatible with, just so you can buy a new iphone.
Maybe my experience has been rare but I’ve noticed that I’ve been a perfect match for the clients who’ve come to me through my blog.
My writing has served as a sideways scrolling salesletter describing who I am, what I believe and bits and pieces of what I know… without zero pressure to buy. No horse trading. Just me laying out raw content for people who jive with what I’m passionate about.
The key I believe to making this work is subtly weaving “You” into your value added content.
The opposite of this is a data dump. Think high school text books. Blech. Double Blech.
Just be conscious that people rarely want to be made to feel worse than they already do consistently. Yeah, if it bleeds, then it leads but living as a bitchy whiner might be hazardous to your health and you’re followers.
So, if you’re a grouch that’s cool. If you’re a grouch about certain problems in your niche and you serve up solutions to those issues so people can be delivered from their asshole/apathetic mood into serenity, peace of mind and productivity… that’s also cool.
Do your thing free of the “good” opinion of those who want to change you into their picture of what they think you should be.
Note Taking Nerd #2 says
VALUABLE POSTING TIP: Preview post before hitting submit.
Just noticed there’s like 25 gramatical errors in my post. Oh well, lesson learned, NEXT.
I really like Oscar the grouch actually. This is a great way to explain the fact that everyone should follow their own dream and be in control of your own life and not let others influence that. I would really like to see some of your articles on http://twittley.com They have a button you can install on your blog.
Tee! I loved Oscar when I was little. I even had an Oscar the Grouch hand puppet. I don’t remember exactly WHY I liked him so much when I was 5, but hey, your reasons all sound quite reasonable.
Loved the sesame street analogy! lol I never did really think of any thing of oscar the grouch. But I like how you point out that you don’t have to please everyone to be happy.
Unfortunately i’m no grouch.
Dan Bossenbroek says
My kids call me a grouch all the time, maybe I sould let more of that show up on my blog and not at home.
Oscar is the most real character on that show, I always liked him.
Dana @ Online Knowledge says
Yeah, i already aware that it is impossible to make happy all people in blogging. What we can do as blogger is always try to write content with the best effort we can do.
Dr Jon P Heins DC says
Oscar was always one of my Favorites and now my 2 (soon to be 3) year old loves him too! She watches the DVD ‘Elmo in Grouch Land’ a lot !
Even though Oscar states he doesn’t like anyone he is a true friend and always helps others out when the chips are down. Michael Martine’s comment “He knew how to take care of his tribe.” says it perfectly.
Web Marketing Tips says
Not only internet, in real life also you wont able to please everyone at the same time. So your main motto is to be please as many as people you can …
Suzanne Vara says
This is not only a great post for the humor of sesame street and oscar it provokes so much thought as to who we can identify with, recognize and be proud of it. Every blogger wants the 10,000+ readers each day as the numbers become the focus and not the oscar component where not everyone will like your stuff.
Thanks for the thinking about my community and how embracing being an oscar is not so out there anymore.
Nice, Sonia. Grouchiness is an issue of perception. And because writers often tell the truth — or should — we can be perceived as, well, grouchy. There’s even a great piece on Amazon.com/Shorts (not mine) called “Why Writers are Cranky.” Because we often are.
I did a keynote at a major writing conference a few years ago and told 1000 writers how hard it is to get published, how it’s more than workshops and how-to books, it’s a commitment to a high bar that eludes most. Which is why, I said, you can fit all bestselling authors from that region into a booth at Denny’s.
Most folks loved it, especially the agents in the audience, who came to me later and thanked me for “tellling it like it is.” But the folks who put on the conference… not so much. They said I was too negative, a downer.
They said i was grouchy.
Not true, at least by intention. But perhaps by perception. That said, let us always prioritize truth over false pleasantries, and with the truth in mind, then and only then worry about how we are perceived. If it takes grouchy to make the truth loud and clear and, most of all, useful to the reader, then so be it.
Wanted to jump in here again to say that I really appreciated Larry’s comment. For one, he knows what he’s talking about and can back it up as evidenced by his published books at the book store.
I second what he had to say about putting truth as a priority. For me, too, if I come across as grouchy to say it like it is or to give honest feedback, so be it.
Paul Hassing says
Nice one, Sonia. Long ago I challenged Brian to weave a post around Tellytubbies. Your offering has rekindled my hopes.
I only found The Bloggess this week. Her conversation with Twitter was the best thing I’d read for ages. Best regards, P. 🙂
Mick Morris says
ahhhh….release the inner grouch…. permission to be cranky (all the while working on trying to be more patient!) but then I thought about the grouch and he is a patient guy! I think you may have just given me a new role model!
John Samuel says
I agree with you that the internet is too big. Definitely we can find a village. Some find it too early, some too late and some take the journey as part of their life
This is a really brilliant insight, not only into the multifaceted character of the grouch:) but more practically into being ourselves as we blog. It helped me just when I hit blogger’s block, thank you.
You had me at “Oscar the Grouch”! hehehe…
But in essence I guess that’s what has kept Sesame Street going for as long as it has. It caters to all types by not catering for all types 😉 There’s a specific character that everyone can identify with. Grouchland is a fantastic place to be, just ask Oscar. That pretty much sums it up.
You can’t be all things to all people (Microsoft have proven that), but you can offer specifics to specific people. Howard Stern did a good job of proving that – good or bad.
J.D. Meier says
I gotta admit – I like the fact Oscar marches to the beat of his own drum.
It’s a great reminder to know whether you’re preaching to the choir, going for the yet-to-be-converted, or just doing the Pied-Piper thing.
Jenny Pilley says
This is an interesting post from many different angles. Writing isn’t about conforming, it’s about putting things out there in your own unique style that may not be to everyone’s tastes. You will always find those that hate what you’ve done, but then their are those that will take what you’ve written for what it is.
Matthew Stibbe says
One of the remarkable things about blogging is the ability to reach your own ‘Grouch’ community. A mate of mine runs a blog about a very rare East German motorbike and he reckons every single English-speaking owner of that type of bike reads his blog. Besides my writing blog (www.badlanguage.net) I run a blog about my passion for flying and visiting interesting places by air (www.golfhotelwhiskey.com) and I have 4,000 visitors a month which is about half the private pilot population of the UK. Not bad for a hobby site, I think.
(PS check out my new free ebook – 30 Days to Better Business Writing – http://www.badlanguage.net/free-ebook)
Jon Paget says
The world would certainly be a boring place if we all had the same point of view! (Then again I don’t want everyone to mimic Oscar the Grouch!)
The great news for bloggers is that the Internet is so diverse and reaches so many people that even the more diverse topics/discussion can engender a massive following.
I agree with a lot of what’s been said above. @Robert – The philosophy ‘You can’t be all things to all people’ sums it up beautifully!
Like your amusing and original ways of approaching topics that are being hammered at us in “10 Ways to Rule the Social Media World” or the “3 and 1/2 Ideas Will Make You a Twitter Stud.”
Your choice of context is refreshing.
Nick Bryan says
As someone who’s just started a new blog with grouchyness as his main theme, this was greatly reassuring to read. Thanks very much. 🙂
Great piece and awesome way of paying tribute to Sesame Street while driving your point home. 🙂
Erika Barbosa says
Very well put Sonia. I love your take on this because it is so true. That is one of the best things about blogging – you can be your own form of the “Grouch!” No one wants to just blend in with all the others.
Everybody likes to rail and let off steam and what better place than a blog? No one to interrupt or contradict.
Most good blogs I’ve seen rail wittily about something. They stop short of being nasty or insulting, but they’re always passionately indignant, righteously outraged.
Passion makes readers laugh or cry – at least chuckle or sniffle and it certainly makes the writer’s fingers fly.
I always feel exilherated when I’ve ranted energetically.
Funny thing, this article came to me, in time when I was thinking about another steps in my life. Especially in moments when I am thinking about quiting the school which studying is pointless to me, it is in time when I thinking to start to live on my own.
I should really stop carying about what my family thinks about me and instead live on my own ;). Thanks.
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