A writer for “Sesame Street” created a buzz last week by voicing what anyone who ever watched the show already knew: Bert and Ernie are a gay couple. I know — stop the presses, right? Still, coming out is always A Good Thing, and especially gratifying here because it’s been such a long time coming. Among many stories on this non-revelation is Chelsea Ritschel’s, on independent.co.uk, who writes, “Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman revealed the best friends are also a couple. According to Saltzman, who joined the show as a writer in 1984, he always wrote the pair as lovers. ‘And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were,’ he said in response to a question about the duo’s sexuality. ‘I didn’t have any other way to contextualise them.’”
Ritschel continues, “After same-sex marriage was legalised in New York, a petition circulated that requested a wedding episode between the duo. The sentiment was echoed with a 2013 [actually 2015!] cover of the New Yorker that depicted the Muppets watching the Supreme Court ruling as they lay together on the couch, clearly a couple.
“At the time, ‘Sesame Street’ had released a statement in which it referred to Bert and Ernie as ‘best friends’ that were ‘created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves,’ according to Pink News.”
As a white guy, I didn’t pick up on the whole orange/ yellow racial subtext. To me, they were both puppets of color — especially bright color.
“Following Saltzman’s announcement,” Ritschel continued, “the Sesame Workshop reiterated its previous stance on Twitter, adding: ‘Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.’
“Despite the show’s response, the new revelation regarding the pair’s homosexual relationship has been met with approval and support on social media. ‘Duh, I knew that at six,’ one person wrote.”
But in the comments section after Ritschel’s article, “Rerob” writes, “Official statement from Sesame Street says otherwise, namely that they are puppets and as such do not have a sexual orientation. Grow up.” Commenter “RM” goes even further, writing in reference to the Sesame Workshop statement, “This from the show, not from some guy who came in in 1984 to write for characters created in 1969. Children are not sexual, as many paedophiles like to claim in their defense.”
Whoa! Where did that come from? It’s patently false, as anyone who has spent time with children knows. The little buggers can’t keep their hands off their peepees and pussies! They’d be fingering them constantly if their parents didn’t shame them into stopping.
The “puppets don’t have a sexual orientation” argument is smarter, but falls apart when subjected to reason. Where, in art, does it stop? Do paintings have a sexual orientation? Do books? How about the characters in paintings and books? Only an idiot would suggest Romeo and Juliet aren’t sexual just because they exist only as words on a page and actors on a stage. Like Bert and Ernie, they have a relationship, though in the Muppets’ case the fact that they’re a gay couple who never have sex is one of the things that makes the relationship hilarious.
The Washington Post’s Nora Reed writes, “It’s affirming to see people who are like you in the fiction you read and watch. Most of the exposure that kids get to queerness comes in the form of the slurs they’re called on the playground. Whether you’re figuring out that you’re queer at the age of 4 or 14, that’s pretty depressing.”
But Frank Oz, who created the characters (evidently with a certain blindspot), was defensive, tweeting, “It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.” But nobody, least of all Saltzman, is saying the famously bickering couple is nothing but gay. Most gay men and lesbians would never say anything so preposterously dumb.
In HuffPo, Jamie McGonnigal writes from the perspective of a longtime Muppets lover. “Some of you may remember the star of both ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘The Muppet Show,’ a little green fella known as Kermit the Frog. Kermit marries his longtime love, Miss Piggy, in 1984’s ‘Muppets Take Manhattan.’ Oscar the Grouch had a girlfriend named Grundgetta. The Count is a regular lothario, with no fewer than three girlfriends over the years ― Countess von Backwards, Lady Two, and Countess von Dahling…. Romantic relationships are not foreign to ‘Sesame Street’ or the Muppets. So why the defensiveness around this orange-and-yellow pair?”
Apparently some puppets do have a sexual orientation — just not the gay ones.