The People Behind Sesame Street Talking About Bert And Ernie’s Sexuality Makes Things Worse
Why can't we have nice things?
Yesterday, we found brief joy in this hellscape of a year when it seemingly was confirmed that Bert and Ernie are, in fact, a couple. However, because this is 2018 and we can’t have anything nice, the outreach program behind Sesame Street issued a statement about the duo, saying that:
As we have always said, 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.
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
So there we have it. Unfortunately, the buck stops here for representation as the team behind the show has officially shut down the fact that the pair (name a more iconic duo) might be in a relationship. It’s a disheartening moment for fans of the series who had hoped that the recent article might mean that Sesame Street would have a canonically gay couple.
That representation would matter to a lot of people. Not only would couples be able to see themselves reflected in media, but an entire generation being raised on Sesame Street would be getting this important representation at a young age, which would normalize gay characters for them which in turn would help make them more tolerant and compassionate in their lives.
Recent studies show that up to 34% of LGBT+ identifying kids will be bullied at school; having positive representation can not only give them strength but possibly mitigate bullying on the part of the bullies by portraying being gay as something positive and not taboo.
LGBT+ representation is seen as something incredibly adult, which doesn’t make sense and conflates sexuality with, well, being a sexual being. The Sesame Workshop’s post is implying that a show where we have seen happily married heterosexual puppet couples doesn’t have sexuality when it still presents heterosexuality as a viable thing. Meanwhile, the concept that Bert and Ernie might be gay is something that warrants an official statement, because apparently the conservative families and their viewership matter more than creating a positive, inclusive space.
Frank Oz, the original voice of Bert, also weighed in on the discussion, and at first seemed to not understand why people were celebrating or taking the fact as canon.
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
Naturally, this led to a lot of discussion on Twitter’s part, engaging with Oz and trying to help him to understand. After a few hours, he tweeted this in reaction to the discussion:
But I did learn something from @Logainne. Although it doesn’t matter to me if someone is gay or viewed as gay, I learned it does matter to a great many people who feel they are not represented enough. The Tweet discussion was worth it for me to just learn that. https://t.co/148yb3BuUk
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 19, 2018
It’s nice when someone walks back their initial misinterpretation of the situation, but I’m a little disappointed that this is a conversation that has to be had. LGBT+ representation matters on such a moral level that it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t understand that at first. Still, Oz did come to learn why it mattered, and that’s an incredibly important part of this entire discussion.
The problem with this is that we are so desperate for canon representation that these little moments, such as letting Bert and Ernie be read as gay, matter; taking them away is a particular kind of cruelty. We need representation across the board, especially in children’s media. To have the Sesame Workshop issue a statement like this is disheartening, and yet another sign of the fact things have to change, and hopefully soon.
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