I grew up too early to watch the children’s television show Sesame Street, so all I know of it is what you’d pick up from popular culture. I’ve heard of the friends Bert and Ernie, but only now has a fracas erupted about whether the friendship was also romantic—that is, whether Bert and Ernie were in fact gay. It’s all erupted this week because one of the show’s writers, Mark Saltzman, argued that the two characters were gay, and that’s because Saltzman was gay.
Much of the Leftist internet was delighted to hear this, and accepted it at face value. Here’s one example from my favorite mushy-left rag (click on the screenshot):
A summary of the piece with Saltzman’s claim:
Emmy winner Mark Saltzman, who is credited with having worked on 31 episodes of “Sesame Street” that aired from 1985 through 1998, told LGBTQ news outlet Queerty he always saw Bert and Ernie as a same-sex couple.
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked, ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ And that, coming from a preschooler was fun,” Saltzman said in an interview published Sept. 16. “And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”
The writer, whose other credits include “The Jim Henson Hour” and the TV movie musical, “Mrs. Santa Claus,” went on to suggest that the Bert and Ernie’s storylines were inspired by his real-life relationship.
“The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie,’” Saltzman said, referring to his partner, Arnold Glassman, a filmmaker and film editor who died in 2003.
“I was already with Arnie when I came to ‘Sesame Street.’ So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple,” he said. “I wrote sketches … Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert and Ernie dynamic.”
To be sure, HuffPo does grudgingly present the show’s denial (see below) as well as that of Frank Oz, who directed the show and was a puppeteer, including the person who did Bert. But then HuffPo buttresses the puppets-were-gay theory by noting that some other venues interpreted Bert and Ernie as gay—as in this New Yorker cover showing “the characters cuddling together on a sofa to celebrate the Supreme Court declaring the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, unconstitutional that June.”
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) September 18, 2018
Clearly the New Yorker itself wants to support the “Burt and Ernie are gay” side. I’ve pretty much given up on the magazine, though, as it makes the inevitable slide toward Authoritarian Leftism.
Well, frankly, I don’t worry much about whether Bert and Ernie were meant to be gay. If they were, then more power to Sesame Street for breaking it to children that not all relationships must be between people of different sexes. (However, if they wanted to impart that lesson, why weren’t the characters presented as gay more explicitly?) I applaud books and shows that let kids know about the diversity of sexuality in a sensitive way.
Sadly, the data suggests that “gay” theory was wrong. Sesame Street itself, which, one would think, doesn’t have a dog in this fight, denies it. Here’s a story from Sky News (click on screenshot):
An excerpt (my emphasis):
The makers of Sesame Street have denied that the classic characters Bertie and Ernie are homosexuals.
Their statement comes after one of the writers on the children’s TV show said he believed the educational puppets were “lovers”.
. . . Rumours have swirled for years that Bert and Ernie might be more than just friends, with the puppets known to sleep in the same double bed at night.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation that makes Sesame Street, said in a statement: “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends.
“They were created to teach pre-schoolers 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.”
Well that’s a good lesson, too. Being friends with people who are very different is not that far from being lovers with someone of the same sex, and imparts a message of similar tolerance. Below are the denials by the Sesame Workshop and Frank Oz.
Please see our most recent statement regarding Bert and Ernie below. pic.twitter.com/gWTF2k1y83
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 18, 2018
Given the pushback from those in the know, the New York Times has taken up the controversy, reporting that Saltzman says that his comments were misinterpreted (click on screenshot below):
An excerpt (my emphases below):
The recurring question shot back into our consciousness this week after a former “Sesame Street” writer who is gay said in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a “loving couple,” taking inspiration from his own relationship with his longtime partner.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were” gay, the writer, Mark Saltzman, said in an interview with Queerty, a gay news and entertainment site. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”
His comments thundered across the internet, spreading both outrage and glee. “They’re official!!!!!” said one post, showing an image of a smiling Bert and Ernie wearing sparkling wedding rings. But Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind “Sesame Street,” quickly knocked down the idea, saying in a statement that Bert and Ernie are “best friends” and, being that they are puppets, have no sexual orientation.
Mr. Saltzman, who was a writer for “Sesame Street” in the 1980s and ’90s, now says that his comments were misinterpreted.
He said that he and his partner, Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003, were much like Bert and Ernie, opposites who found a way to love each other. “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday night.
“Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay,” he said. “There is a difference.”
Of course in the statement at the top, Saltzman says they were indeed portrayed as gay, and that he meant them to be, so he’s simply walking back his claim. Now he argues that he just infused the characters with the spirit of homosexuality.
That may be a distinction without a difference, and I can’t be too bothered to make a judgement on all this. What does amuse me, and why I’m writing about this, is because many people insisted that they were gay, despite the show’s denials, and in fact demonized those who claimed that they weren’t gay. Such is the power of confirmation bias, and of the ideological Zeitgeist.
HuffPo is one example, and here’s another (these aren’t hard to find) from the NYT:
Good Lord! Isn’t it enough for that person that they weren’t meant to show that very different people can be friends? Isn’t that an equally valuable lesson?
So be it. Here are some tweets that Grania found appropriate for this teapot tempest:
No gay man would ignore his brows this way. 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/R19aWjh9Xb
— Randy Rainbow (@RandyRainbow) September 19, 2018
I DON'T CARE IF BERT AND ERNIE ARE GAY I JUST WANT THEM TO BE HAPPY!!!!
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) September 18, 2018
This one appears to show that “different types can be friends” (after all, they’re in separate beds):
It’s 2018 and the internet is actually debating Bert and Ernie’s relationship, so I’ll just leave this here: pic.twitter.com/Y7Bgo88Sh5
— Kelly Canuck🍁 (@KellyCanuckTO) September 19, 2018
From comedian Shappi Khorsandi, former President of the British Humanists:
I am very emotionally invested in this thread. Ernie & Bert were about how you can love someone even if they are an opposite character to you and sometimes do your head in. They taught pre-school kids patience & tolerance within friendships. That’s it. Also, I LOVE YOU FRANK OZ. https://t.co/G81qGdHx2h
— Shappi Khorsandi (@ShappiKhorsandi) September 19, 2018
For Ernie, Bert’s just a good mate,
Officials at Sesame state;
No muppet creations
Except for the ones who are straight.
— Limericking (@Limericking) September 19, 2018
And Grania insisted I post this, which shows that the debate has been raging a long time: