Latest to lobby for the Sesame Street duo’s liberation is the New Yorker. Its iconic cover last week featured the Muppet pair cuddling in front of a TV screen image of the Supreme Court justices, who had struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
“It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” said the artist, Jack Hunter, who had originally posted the image on Tumblr. “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”
Sesame Workshop, as usual, is skipping that party. It insists — yet again — that Bert and Ernie are just best friends, and that Muppets do not have a sexual orientation.
Can you spell D-e-n-i-a-l with a capital D, boys and girls?
Bert and Ernie have lived together in their basement apartment for more than 40 years. They share a bedroom and wear matching PJ’s. As pointed out by Friends for a Heterosexual Muppet-sphere (I made that up), the boys have twin beds. Big deal. So did Lucy and Ricky, and somehow Little Ricky was made.
The “confirmed bachelor” scenario is as old as the hills, and twice as dusty. No one with an ounce of gaydar believed it in the Rock Hudson movies; certainly no one believes it now about Bert and Ernie. These boys are as queer as a three-dollar bill, and their relationship is at 44 years and counting. Deal with it.
That is precisely the point. Given the times we live in, preschool youngsters can deal with homosexuality. Many of them have gay family members or relatives. They see gay characters on hit shows like Modern Family. Their president endorses equal rights for gays.
Over the years, PBS’s Sesame Street has taken on some of the toughest, most stigmatizing issues that children face, from divorce to physical handicaps to AIDS. The latest — an incarcerated parent — is addressed in a Sesame Workshop “online toolkit” for parents. It stars Alex, a new, hoodie-clad Muppet whose father is in jail.
These are all important “teachable moments” for kids, and Sesame Street has created thousands of them since its 1969 launch.
How’s this for a teachable moment — it’s OK to have a jailbird dad, but it’s not OK for two law-abiding Muppets to be in love for almost half a century. Given that more than 50 percent of Americans endorse same-sex marriage, Sesame Street appears to be tone deaf on this particular issue.
Two years ago, Sesame Workshop had the same reaction to a Change.org petition calling for Bert and Ernie to get married, but that was before the repeal of DOMA. Simply put, the show has run out of excuses.
As for Sesame Street characters not having a sexual orientation, that is observably false. Miss Piggy dreams about Kermit’s frog legs. Oscar has a girlfriend, Grundgetta. The Count is a killer with lady vamps. Two human characters, Maria and Luis, got hitched in a 1998 episode, and later had baby Gabi.
Sesame Street didn’t achieve legendary status by underestimating its audience. The program is still around because it sets the bar high, encouraging the acceptance of difference. Now that DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are dead, it is time to push that bar up another notch.
Let youngsters know that we are everywhere, including on sunny Sesame Street.