Raised on… totally platonic Sesame Street
As of Monday evening, 9,186 people want Sesame Street to let Bert & Ernie finally say I Do. Needless to say, any time you put ‘gay’ and ‘kids’ anywhere near each other people start freaking out.
This necessarily brings to mind other controversies surrounding ‘gay’ characters for children. Rev. Jerry Falwell set off a furor in 1999 when he accused the Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky of being a “moral menace.”
“‘He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol,” he wrote. He also noted that Tinky Winky carries a purse-like bag.
In 2005 Spongebob Squarepants, who holds hands with his best friend Squidward, earned the scrutiny of Focus on the Family:
…after SpongeBob appeared in a video promoting tolerance for different “sexual identities”. Critics argue that SpongeBob has never considered his friend Sandy the squirrel from Texas or any aquatic female a love interest, yet he spends an exorbitant amount of time with his starfish pal Patrick. Author Jeffrey P. Dennis has suggested a potential“erotic intensity” between the two, but SpongeBob and Patrick have only held hands. The show’s creator has said the character, like a real sponge, is probably asexual. (The Daily Beast)
Much like Rick Santorum fears that gay marriage heralds a hellish era of man-on-dog sex, Falwell and his ilk fear that these shows are “teaching kids to be gay”. They object just as strongly to messages of tolerance, nevermind outright friendship with gay characters. Heaven forbid homosexuality be normalized. Let’s not ‘expose’ the children to such things before the hate has really taken root.
Perhaps the best argument against this doomsaying is Bert and Ernie‘s longevity in the form they have always taken: Best friends and roommates. Sesame Street has been running since 1969, and Bert and Ernie have been there from the start. For 41 years children have grown up seeing two adult male characters co-existing quite peaceably. Their bond of friendship is often tested, and yet it survives. They get along even though they are complete opposites.
Several generations of kids have grown up watching them, and I can see no negative incidents spawning from it. Adults haven’t wound up on the therapist’s couch bemoaning how Sesame Street “made” them gay. There is no uprising of people who blame Bert and Ernie for making them question their sexuality. How many coming out stories have have you seen that feature these puppets? I see just one, which is deliciously snarky.
According to Sesame Street’s own website, “Today, approximately six million viewers watch Sesame Street each week, while more than 80 million are Sesame Street “graduates.” If 80 million Americans have watched the show, then surely an abnormally high percentage of them must be gay! And we simply can’t have that!
What is so awful about showing children healthy relationships–of any sort? Bert and Ernie are adults who treat each other with respect, who always find a common ground, who demonstrate that even extremes can get along. Friendship is more important than a lost rubber ducky.
Friendship is also more important than sex. The healthiest, most long-lasting marriages are between friends.
I would rather that children have an example of two people co-habiting and surviving arguments because their affection for each other outlasts pettiness than worry about their sexual orientation.
I think the only fitting response is for Avenue Q to stage a ceremony between its Bert & Ernie parody, Rod and Nicky. After years of Rod denying his true nature (“My girlfriend who lives in Canada-!“) the roomies finally hook up by the end of the show. They live in New York City, where gay marriage was just legalized, so it would be a very timely follow-up.
As for Bert & Ernie, I think everyone ought to reflect a moment upon what Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress has to say:
I think it’s actively unhelpful to gay and straight men alike to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple. Having close, affectionate friendships with another man doesn’t mean that you two are sleeping together, just as liking fashion doesn’t automatically flip a switch on your sexual orientation and make you only interested in dudes. Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way. As much as I write about how narrow depictions of women can be in pop culture, depictions of men may end up being more positive, but that doesn’t mean they’re less limiting.
There is still a positive message in Bert and Ernie remaining simply roommates. Two grown men can co-habitate, be friends, and hug. And they should be able to do so without anyone making assumptions about who they do or don’t like to fuck.
This piece originally aired on August 15, 2011.
Originally posted 2012-03-28 23:46:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter