Why It Matters That Bert and Ernie Are Friends, Not Lovers

This article was originally published on IntellectualTakeout.org.

At this point, you’ve likely heard the controversy over whether or not the beloved Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie are a homosexual couple. Writer Mark Saltzman told Queerty magazine that he had always thought of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, and modeled their relationship after his relationship with partner Arnold Glassman.

Both Sesame Street Workshop, as well as Bert’s creator, Frank Oz, responded, saying that Bert and Ernie are not and were never intended to be a couple. Sesame Street Workshop’s initial statement pointed out that, as puppets, they do not have sexual orientation. This claim is not new. In fact, it is the exact same response that Sesame Street Workshop issued in 2011 when 11,000 signers petitioned to have Bert and Ernie get married.

Considering that Salzman joined the writing team after Bert and Ernie had been established as characters on Sesame Street, the controversy brings up issues of anachronism and questions over who gets to determine what is and is not true of fictional characters—their creator, a scriptwriter, or their fans?

But perhaps even more, could this highlight a deep and growing problem within our culture? Salzman stated that he thought of Bert and Ernie as gay because he didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. What happens when children grow up without having categories for friendship, without that friendship being sexualized.

In Sesame Street Workshop’s revised statement, they explained that Bert and Ernie are characters that exist to demonstrate to kids that close friendships can exist between people who are different from each other.

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