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New Yorker Cover Features Bert & Ernie Celebrating Gay Marriage Decisions

new-yorker-cover-bert-ernie-gay-marriage-580

The new cover of The New Yorker features Sesame Street characters Bert & Ernie watching coverage of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions:

“It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” said Jack Hunter, the artist behind next week’s cover, “Moment of Joy.” Hunter, who originally submitted his image, unsolicited, to a Tumblr, continued, “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”

Not everyone is thrilled about this cover. Indeed, even people on the left are criticizing it. Here’s how June Thomas put it at Slate:

It’s a cute image. Everyone loves Bert and Ernie. But it’s a terrible way to commemorate a major civil-rights victory for gay and lesbian couples.

You see, Bert and Ernie aren’t lovers. Back in 2007, the president of the Children’s Television Workshop said that they “do not exist beneath the waist.” Then, two years ago, the Children’s Television Workshop declared:

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 (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.

That’s not the only lesson Bert and Ernie have to impart. You see, straight America, there’s a difference between same-sex friends and gay lovers. Does America contain households in which lovers pass themselves off as best pals? No doubt. And as prejudice against gays and lesbians fades, more of these ambiguously gay couples will declare themselves. But that doesn’t mean that every pair of cohabiting friends is madly making out on a nightly basis.

Given how aggressive CTW generally has been in guarding their copyrights, I have to wonder how they feel about this.  There’s nothing wrong with saying that what happened at the Supreme Court on Wednesday was a good thing, indeed I absolutely believe that it was, but utilizing someone else’s copyrighted characters to do it when they’ve emphatically stated that those characters don’t have any political/social meaning beyond the messages they impart to children? That seems like a bridge too far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a strongly worded letter, at the very least, from CTW in the near future.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Matt Bernius says:

    Ummm… satire?

    While I completely support and love the CTW’s statement, New Yorker covers have historically always had a satirical aspect to them. And as Jerry Falwell learned, satire is a powerful concept.

    All that said, it may also be true that the phrase that works best for all New Yorker cartoons could be applied to the editors in this case.

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  2. Yea, satire is likely a defense to any actual legal action.

    Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it isn’t open to criticism.

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  3. stonetools says:

    Let’s keep Ernie and Bert friends. Even as friends, they could still celebrate the decision and support gay rights.
    Ernie and Bert aren’t just for Americans, anymore. They are seen all over the world. A lot of countries would exclude Sesame Street if Bert and Ernie became more than friends-which would be a shame for the world’s children. I’m backing CTW on this.

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  4. Jeremy says:

    I applaud the SCOTUS decision. I don’t applaud this one.

    Seems a bit inappropriate. Surely they couldn’t have just put George Takei on the front sending the Enterprise to warp speed with that rainbow effect they had in one of the movies?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. matt bernius says:

    @Jeremy:

    Surely they couldn’t have just put George Takei on the front sending the Enterprise to warp speed with that rainbow effect they had in one of the movies?

    Man, that is a cover I would have actually paid for. All you missed was some sort of joke on “engage!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. Anderson says:

    Ernie and Bert are just happy for Oscar and Cookie Monster.

    … Srsly, the notion that viewers aren’t allowed to interpret Bert and Ernie, that their meaning is entirely for an author (or copyright holder!) to decide … well folks, if you’ve ever wanted to see the practical side of literary theory, here it is.

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  7. Tlaloc says:

    Bert nd Ernie’s gayness has been an open joke for decades. They’re practically gay icons.

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  8. Surreal American says:

    Ok then. How about Peppermint Patty and Marcie?

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  9. Andre Kenji says:

    How about John McCain and Lindsey Graham?

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  10. Brett says:

    When I was young enough to watch Sesame Street, I always thought they were brothers.

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  11. Anderson says:

    My take on Peppermint Patty is, she’s a straight tomboy but Marcie is gay.

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  12. rudderpedals says:

    Akhbar and Jeff? Are they brothers or are they lovers?

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  13. Scott says:

    Same sex? Are they the same species?

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  14. swearyanthony says:

    The whole “Bert and Ernie” thing is so very ingrained in society. See Avenue Q. I thought the cover was beautiful.

    And watching KLo and the other theocrats lose their minds over it just adds to its power.

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  15. dmhlt says:

    @Jeremy:

    Sesame Street has always deflected and denied claims that Bert and Ernie were gay. They are puppets. They are friends. They can’t “do it” because they don’t have “doing it” parts. That said, great cover…because friendship is at the heart of all love, gay and straight, adult and child.

    http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/bert-ernie-cuddle-in-new-yorkers-nod-to?ref=fpb

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  16. Kylopod says:

    “When I was young enough to watch Sesame Street, I always thought they were brothers.”

    Same here. And even now, their relationship strikes me as being more like brothers than lovers–most of the sketches that I remember center around Ernie trying to annoy Bert (and usually succeeding). I think I remember scenes of them in bed in the same room (not the same bed, mind you, but then neither are couples in old sitcoms), and glancing at Wikipedia it says that they do live in the same apartment. We never see any parents, but that didn’t dissuade me as a kid from thinking they were siblings.

    Still, I admit I don’t find the excuses that “they’re just puppets” and “they don’t exist below the waist” convincing. Sesame Street shows married couples. This seems to be part of a curious double standard I’ve noticed over the years about children’s programs, where romantic or marital love between men and women is fine to expose children to, but once you bring up gay relationships, you’ve introduced the subject of “sex,” which children must be protected from.

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  17. Anderson says:

    They can’t “do it” because they don’t have “doing it” parts.

    Oh, how naive …. Also, lesbians can’t have sex, because neither one has a penis.

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