The Ethics of Outing a Muppet: Did I Go Too Far With Bert Back In June?


Can’t two men share a bedroom and a rubber ducky without people speculating?

I’m writing this post, and every post for the foreseeable future, from an undisclosed, top secret location. Why such a drastic action? I was taking out the trash this evening and found a hit-Grouch hiding in the trashcan. I barely escaped with my life and recycling.

In all due seriousness, or at least as much as I can muster given the subject, it appears that I’ve done the one thing that someone with a deep and abiding love for the Muppets should never do: I’ve offended the Sesame Workshop.

It all started last June in a Morning Meme, when I noted a tweet from the Sesame Street account written “by” Bert.

Seemed fairly straightforward.

Being sent right in the middle of Pride Month, it seemed like a fun coded message to us ‘mos, and one that I was happy to pick up on. A nice little “in joke” for the gays, and nobody else the wiser about those two adult Muppets who have shared a bedroom for 30+ years. Here’s the extent of what I said:

Speaking of Pride, the people at Sesame Street are way too clever for their own good. On the opening weekend of A-Team, and Pride in many cities, they sent out this tweet on Friday confirming what we all suspected since childhood. 

But this weekend, out of the blue, the Los Angeles Times ran Some Sesame Street Viewers Sense a Gay-Friendly Vibe. It’s a fun little piece, with quotes from AfterElton.com editor Michael Jensen on Katy Perry, GLAAD’s Jarrett Barrios on shifting standards and Dan Savage on watching the show ironically with his 12-year-old.

Tucked into the article was this: "Ed Kennedy of the gay pop culture site AfterElton.com noted that the
tweet came during a week when many cities were hosting Gay Pride
celebrations. ‘The people at Sesame Street are way too clever for their
own good.’"

In the interest of equal time, the Los Angeles Times spoke with Sesame Workshop’s vice president of Corporate Communications, Ellen Lewis who issued a denial that their puppets were gay.

"Sesame Street is not consciously trying to appeal to gay viewers. We’ve always reached out to a variety of actors and athletes and
celebrities to appear on the show, and our programming has always
appealed to adults as much as children. Honestly, the idea
that anyone would interpret [this season] that way never crossed our
minds." 

Once I stopped hyperventilating and calling my mother, I thought nothing more about it, planning to mention it on Monday because it really didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

But let’s look a little more closely at the topic now that the Times has delved into it. It’s not really just this tweet that makes us think Sesame Street is okay with a Pride flag or two. We were just taking the tweet as confirmation. After all, people have been speculating about Bert and Ernie for years without it making the Los Angeles Times or hitting the wire services. And trust me, we can understand the concept that unlike many other Jim Henson creations (see the video below), Bert and Ernie are neither gay nor straight, but are just puppets.

But there has been an increasingly gay flair to Sesame Street what with Neil Patrick Harris playing The Shoe Fairy, which is likely to remain a staple for Gideon Scott and Harper Grace for years to come. This season brings Wanda Sykes to the show, who has her own kids to make memories for. And I still believe that a dance remix of Will.i.am’s "What I Am" could be a new gay anthem.

The point, beyond my having an occasion to wear my "I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you" t-shirt, is what Jarret Barrios had to say: "Sesame Street has a long history of teaching children about diversity
and acceptance, and I don’t expect that our community will be left out
of that education." Some would say that, in fact, they started last year.

Sesame Street has always stayed relevant to the times, and in doing so has tackled race, gender and a variety of touchy subjects in a delicate, age-appropriate way. In South Africa they even introduced Kami, an HIV+ puppet to teach children about living with the disease and how to have respect for those who are.

Kami has appeared with stars such as Whoopi Goldberg and President Bill Clinton.

My initial post was all in good fun, and if Sesame Street needs to push Bert back into the closet he shares with Ernie (in the bedroom with the twin beds), that’s fine. We know the truth. *wink-wink* 

Now will you call Snuffleupagus off? He’s terrible at hiding behind the tree, watching the house.

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