All-inclusive children’s show denies homosexual characters
Jacob Waring – Contributor
As a child, I distinctly remember reaching the conclusion that two of my favorite television characters, Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie, were gay. It was one of those forgone conclusions, and I presumed that my peers also noted this nuance and did not think anything of it. Due to my limited frame of reference, I did not pay much attention to Bert and Ernie’s relationship, and I
did not note the importance of this characterization. I do not recall thinking anything besides, “the characters are awesome individually, and they are even cooler together.”
In a blogpost on the LGBTQ+ friendly blog Queerty, Mark Saltzman, a former writer for Sesame Street, spoke about the characters’ relationship.
He proved that my childhood homosexuality radar was accurate. According to Saltzman, Bert and Ernie were indeed gay, and they were indeed gay for each other. Furthermore, the writer said that his depiction of Bert and Ernie was modeled after his own relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman.
“I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them,” said Saltzman, “also, more than one person referred to me and Arnie as Bert and Ernie, so it made sense.”
Re-watching the show during Saltzman’s stint as a writer, it comes off as obvious that Bert and Ernie were more than close friends.
However, Salzman was unable to actively write the characters as gay in the script. Salzman added in those layers subtly and instinctively, because he saw a parallel between the characters’ relationship and his own.
Saltzman was writing for the show during the AIDS scare of the ‘80s, a time when people were too immersed in fear and propaganda to be progressive.
In 2018, Sesame Street continues to perpetuate the stereotypes of a bygone area. The show never discusses anything regarding sexuality or the LGBTQ+ community and denies any relationship between Bert and Ernie that is not completely platonic.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” Sesame Street Workshop tweeted. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.”
The tweets continued to explain that though Bert and Ernie are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
In this abrasive tweet, Sesame Workshop sounds like a homophobic parent, in denial of their child’s sexuality, fooling themselves into believing that their child and partner are just the best of friends. These friends just happen to be ultra-close.
This is a shallow response by the Sesame Street team. Saying that Bert and Ernie are puppets that do not have sexual orientations insults the intelligence of adult viewers.
We all know they are puppets in a literal sense, but they have abstract meanings.
Muppets are inanimate objects controlled by puppeteers, and literally, they are not representative of anything. However, these puppets have been woven into the fabric of pop culture, and they have become more than puppets. The Muppets have become globalized symbols.
The symbolic importance of these toys does not depend on whether they are real or not.
It is about what they represent to children and adults all over the world. Children who are discovering their sexuality should know that being gay is okay. By depicting a scenario in which Bert and Ernie’s neighbors and friends accept their sexuality, Sesame Street can use their large viewership to promote acceptance and equality.
Let me do a roll call of some diverse Muppets, illustrating just how in tune the Sesame Street franchise can be. There is an autistic Muppet named Julia. Rosita is a bilingual Latina Muppet, and Kami is the first HIV-positive Muppet. There is an Arab-Israeli Muppet named Mahboub who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic, and Segi is a teenage African American Muppet. Regardless, openly gay Muppets appear to be out of the question.
Muppets are inanimate objects, but the writers and producers of the show are people that can influence the public in a positive way through what they put in the script. Muppets have human qualities such as: religions, languages, cultures, illnesses and disabilities. This personifies the puppets, making them teaching tools that can potentially help children understand the diverse world they inhabit. Showing Bert and Ernie as openly gay male puppets would be a stride in the right direction for Sesame Street, because the show would once again be used as a catalyst to teaching acceptance and friendship.
Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee