Sesame Street Producers: Bert And Ernie Won’t Be Getting Married, And They’re Not Gay
Earlier this week, news broke of a Facebook-based petition campaign to convince the producers of Sesame Street to have it’s two live-together male Muppets, Bert and Ernie, get married in apparent celebration of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York:
Will the Children’s Television Workshop give way to same-sex puppet love?
An online campaign is calling for the producers of TV’s “Sesame Street” to allow characters Bert and Ernie to get married in an attempt to “put an end to the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth”, according to the group’s Facebook page.
The petition letter adds that “[w]e are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful by allowing Bert & Ernie to marry”, suggesting that the show “even add a transgender character to the show…in a tasteful way”.
While over 900 people have “liked” the group’s Facebook page so far, the comments from visitors are fueling the controversy over whether children should be exposed to homosexuality at such an early age — echoing a similar battle over proposed gay-oriented curriculum in California schools.
“This is not ‘Desperate Housewives’…this is a baby’s program people!” said one commenter.
Well, not a baby’s program, really. I’d say that Sesame Street is a program for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and kids in kindergarten. Nonetheless, the point of that commentator was apparently shared by others, since the original petition was followed by competing Facebook petitions:
There were alternate petitions also waiting on the website, Change.org. They included: “Stop Bert and Ernie from getting married”; “Stop the senseless false labeling of these two best friends”; and “Leave Bert and Ernie alone.” You could take your pick from those or nearly two dozen more.
Or you could just tweet about it. On Thursday, “Bert & Ernie” was a trending Twitter topic.
One tweet wondered why so much attention was being showered on Bert and Ernie’s domestic status, when poor Oscar the Grouch remains on the curb, dwelling in a garbage can.
Another tweet questioned why SpongeBob and Patrick seem above any suspicion, just because they maintain separate residences.
The producers of the show chimed in last night (via Facebook), and threw cold water on any marriage plans for the two apparently confirmed bachelors:
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.
Julian Sanchez laments the producers decision:
It’s worth pointing out, I think, that the (presumably somewhat tongue-in-cheek) observation that puppets “do not have a sexual orientation” is just manifestly false. Lots of the puppets on Sesame Street are portrayed as having a “sexual orientation,” insofar as they’re shown in romantic couples.
Oscar has his girlfriend Grundgetta. The Count has been involved with a series of different Countesses. The Twiddlebugs are your standard nuclear family. And of course, there are no shortage of one-off songs and sketches centered on families or unmarried couples. Muppet squirrel girl groups sing about their boyfriends. And, of course, human characters Maria and Luis got married on the show.
What all of these have in common, of course, is that they’re heterosexual couples. Because it’s regarded as the default, that “sexual orientation” is invisible. But, of course, it’s still there—and nobody imagines that simply depicting all these straight couples and families somehow counts as injecting inappropriate “adult” or sexualized material into a children’s show.
What Sesame Street gives us, then, is a picture of reality (in New York, of all places) where loving coupled relationships are exclusively presented as heterosexual. That exclusion is a choice. And the implicit message sent by that choice is that the very existence of same-sex couples is, like swearing or violent street crime, an aspect of urban reality that’s inappropriate for children to be exposed to, unlike all the normal, unremarkable heterosexual couplings depicted on the show
Now I haven’t watched Sesame Street since I was something in the range of five years-old, so I was unaware that either Oscar or The Count (whose name, I learned from Wikipedia is Count von Count, by the way) had significant others, I also have no idea who the “squirrel girls” are. I suppose that, on some level Sanchez has a point about the fact that all the relationships depicted on the show are heterosexual, which is something that doesn’t necessarily depict the reality of family life in New York City, or elsewhere for that matter. However, I’ve got to agree with Allahpundit when he points out that the mission of Sesame Street doesn’t really have much to do teaching children about sexuality at any level:
I haven’t watched kiddie TV in 30 years, but from what I remember there were two basic messages: (1) here’s how to count to 10, and (2) we should be nice to people and accept them for who they are, however superficially different they might be. The gay-rights movement has done pretty well recently despite the fact that we all had to cope as kids with the terrible ambiguity in the relationship of two puppets on a show best known for a giant androgynous bird and some angry creature that lives in a garbage can. Besides, most of the grade-schoolers watching Sesame Street right now will be watching “Glee” in a few years. Any gay-hate bred into them by Grover or the Count or whoever will be undone soon enough.
To be fair, Sanchez doesn’t say that the producers should have acceded to the demands of petitioners that Bert and Ernie tie the knot; just that they should be more mindful of how they depict relationships given changing times. Perhaps he has a point there. When I watched Sesame Street in the 70s, there was an entire African-American family among the cast. The thing is, they didn’t make his race a subject of any of the little plots that would unfold. They were just regular characters. Perhaps that’s how Sesame Street can, someday, deal with this issue. Forcing the issue, though, by having two long standing characters get married as a gimmick would be confusing even for a three year old and would serve no real purpose other than creating the kind of controversy that the show has always tried to avoid.
So, for the record, Bert and Ernie aren’t gay. At least one of them does have an affinity for bath toys, though: