As of late, there seems to be a lot of information in our news cycle that just seems so whacky and outlandish––you know, like the President publicly attacking victims of alleged sexual abuse––that when a seemingly genuine and innocent story breaks, it feels relieving. So when the story about Sesame Street’s iconic duo Bert and Ernie finally coming out as gay broke, it was like taking a cool shower… Until Sesame Street’s parent company turned off the faucet.
One former Sesame Street writer told Queerty that in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he wrote Bert and Ernie as gay. In the interview, the former writer Mark Saltzman said, “I don't think I'd know how else to write them, but as a loving couple.” He even goes so far as to say that Bert and Ernie were inspired by his own romantic relationship with editor Arnold Glassman––so much so that the pair even had similar behaviors. This was amazing news, since there have been a number of speculations surrounding the pair’s orientation since their inception. In retrospect, it does seem weird that we haven’t truly addressed this question until now considering all of the evidence mounting against them being just friends.
However, Sesame Workshop––the non-profit behind the show’s programming––has not only just come out against that announcement, but they’re now claiming that because Bert and Ernie are puppets, they do not have sexual orientations. I mean, yes, that is the logical explanation––but the issue isn’t the puppets themselves. It’s the question of representation and how we allow certain characters to have love interests. If we really wanted to boil the matter down to just concerning puppets and their alleged “lack of sexual orientation,” then lets talk about the iconic Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. The entire Muppet brand of shows and movies is based on the drama between these two and their friends. In fact, most of the movies and TV shows about this duo depicts their dysfunctionality as a couple. They’re allowed to have a relationship that could be called completely unhealthy just because they’re straight.
I’m pretty sure Elmo and his friend Zoe are a *thing*, and I’m certain that Oscar the Grouch has a girlfriend named Grundgetta––meaning that Sesame Street is actually rather chill with puppets having a sexual orientation as long as they’re straight. This makes Sesame Street’s claim that puppets don’t have a sexual orientation just wrong. While I’m sure no one really is implying that Bert and Ernie act on their orientations––the real issue lies in whether they’re allowed to express that orientation.
Representation is beneficial in a number of ways, but the first and most important is that these TV shows geared towards children have the task of exposing the viewers to the reality of diversity––something Sesame Street has always prided itself on. It showed children that there are other modes of expression, so why don’t they extend themselves to include diverse episodes about orientations? Show the kids that it’s okay to be gay.