Former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman recently “confirmed” that beloved Muppets, Bert and Ernie were gay. It was the most shocking outing of a public figure since, oh I don’t know, Paul Lynde.
Saltzman’s statement was not truly an outing of the characters, but his personal insight on how he wrote for the characters. Pulling from his own life and experience as a gay man he wrote for them in the only way he could see them, as a “loving couple.” It was a beautiful and sincere statement about his creative process.
The Internet and mass media were quick to distort the statement, as an official confirmation of something that was blatantly obvious even to five-year-olds in 1977 — Bert and Ernie are gay.
I know I was shocked to learn that two constantly bickering, but loving, men living together in a New York City brownstone for more than 40 years were gay.
No doubt fearing backlash from the one guy in Alabama who flips back and forth between PBS and Fox and Friends every morning, Sesame Workshop issued an immediate denial (and boy are they living in denial):
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. 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.”
Sesame Street has MANY characters that have “sexual orientations” allow me to list a few characters who clearly have preferences in their romantic relationships:
Forgetful Jones and Clementine, Count Von Count and Countess, Mama and Papa Bear, Humphrey and Ingrid, Louie and Mae (parents of Elmo), The Twiddlebugs, and even Oscar the Grouch occasionally hits the city dump with his trashy girlfriend Grundgetta.
All these characters have obvious and clear sexual preferences and relationships.
I’m not suggesting that you should try and picture Twiddlebugs getting it on to the smooth jazz stylings of Hoots the Owl. But why is it all these characters can be in loving relationships without the implication of intercourse but Bert and Ernie can’t? Acknowledging sexual preference does not require explicitly portraying sexuality for Bert and Ernie any more than it would for straight married Muppets. Sesame Street is now on HBO, but it’s not on Cinemax at 3 am! Television has been portraying loving couples without showing the dirty, kinky, 50 Shades of Grey stuff that goes on in Ward Cleaver’s bedroom for decades. Bert and Ernie are one of the most devoted and loving couples in the history of television. You can try and disguise it, but you can’t deny it.
What is it Sesame Street is afraid of? They have dealt with much tougher issues. After all, Gordon once portrayed a pimp named Willie Dynamite?
What is the real issue with this non-issue?
Sesame Street has no problem acknowledging straight puppet couples; it’s the gay ones they want to keep in the closet. Puppets do NOT belong in closets. Trust me. The last thing you want is to stumble into your bedroom drunk one night, open the closet door and see Charlie McCarthy staring back at you with those judgmental eyes. Screw you Charlie McCarthy, and why did I ever think I would take up ventriloquism?
But, I digress.
For Sesame Workshop, talking bears can be happily married and that’s perfectly normal, but two male human puppets that have lived together for four decades as a couple is unthinkable!
Simply put, Sesame Street doesn’t want gay puppets living in their neighborhood. I suspect it’s because Cookie Monster is homophobic bastard.
Sesame Workshop’s claim that puppets don’t have a sexual orientation is a pathetic punt. Rather than taking a firm stand to fulfill their mission of showing the diversity of“who are the people in our neighborhood?” They caved into a fear of the right and reinforced the idea that only straight couples are welcome on Sesame Street.
A far better response would have been- “Bert and Ernie? Oh yeah, they are gay. You didn’t know that? So what? It’s 2018 get over it. By the way Biff and Sully the construction workers, they are gay too. Telly, he’s bisexual and Grover … Holy Henson! We just can’t even.”