Why we shouldn't keep reading romance into Bert And Ernie's friendship
(But if they were gay, that'd be okay.)
The nature of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie has long been a source of speculation. Are muppets Bert and Ernie merely best friends? Or, as many believe, are they gay?
In an interview with Queerty, former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman admitted that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a "loving couple".
"And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them."
Saltzman was in a long-term relationship with his partner Arnie, and said that more than one person referred to Arnie and himself as "Bert & Ernie".
"That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not? I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, 'oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.'"
However, Sesame Workshop has maintained that Bert and Ernie are best friends.
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
Frank Oz, the creator and original performer of Bert, tweeted that it's fine if Saltzman feels that they're gay, but they're not.
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
Just because they're made of felt, that doesn't mean that we can quickly dismiss Bert and Ernie's relationship as trivial.
One can see muppets Bert and Ernie's relationship as a version of Oz's friendship with Jim Henson. In this age of toxic masculinity, it's important for kids to see that guys can have loving, platonic relationships like Bert and Ernie's without a romantic label. Bromances should be celebrated as well!
As a young boy I was taught by other kids that teasing and bullying my male friends was how we bonded. It was painful. I’m very happy that there are male characters like Bert and Ernie that can tell each other “I love you” and mean it in a non-romantic way.
— Arin "Darin Bransan" Hanson (@egoraptor) September 19, 2018
However, queer representation is important for non-straight kids, even on a show like Sesame Street. Though Sesame Workshop said that puppets do not have sexual orientations, there are multiple heterosexual couplings on the show.
there are multiple pairings of muppets that are meant to be read as heterosexual couples. This response was unnecessary and petty and is based on homophobic beliefs that same-sex relationships are inherently more *sexual* than heterosexual ones
— Adam (@adamjayarr) September 18, 2018
Sesame Street has been lauded as a progressive children's TV show that has always boasted a diverse cast and storylines that tackle difficult topics like divorce and even death. That so many people have reacted positively to Saltzman's revelation should be a cue for Sesame Workshop to do something. People are hungry for actual LGBT representation, and until Sesame Workshop creates LGBT characters, Bert and Ernie will have to do.
— bumblebi🐝🤠💚 (@bimccree) September 19, 2018