It's official. The most beloved pair of bachelors on Sesame Street are not gay.
In response to an online petition with thousands of signatures that requested the pair tie the knot, Sesame Workshop and PBS released a statement yesterday via Facebook that cleared things up: Bert and Ernie are simply best friends. Also, not incidentally, they're puppets, and ones who were "created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves," according to the statement.
"Honestly, my first reaction to this was I was glad they're not making Bert and Ernie a married couple because I think Bert can do better," says Time magazine's TV critic, James Poniewozik. "Ernie's kind of a jerk to Bert. You know, he tricks him, he lies to him, he steals his pizza. It's not a loving adult relationship to me, frankly."
Kate Clinton, a lesbian comedian, says if we're going to go ahead and project things onto hand puppets, she's going to project Bert and Ernie as being so radical they're standing up for gay people's freedom to not get married. "You know, like in New York, people are like, before they even say, 'Hello,' they're like, 'Are you getting married?' Could you back up?"
See, this is an important lesson for children: Don't pressure gay people to get married.
Given its history, says Poniewozik, public television needs to tread carefully when it comes to politics. Remember Tinky Winky? After PBS began broadcasting the BBC series Teletubbies in the U.S., televangelist Jerry Falwell outed the purple Teletubby as gay — to the surprise of the company that produced the show.
In its statement, the Sesame Workshop also said, "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street MuppetsTM do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."
As Poniewozik points out, that statement does not exactly stand up to scrutiny. "Elmo has a mom, obviously, which does sort of raise the philosophical and biological question of little Muppets needing to come from somewhere," he says.
But some mysteries are best left unplumbed. The real shame, says Poniewozik, is that parents like him, who watch Sesame Street with their kids, will now be denied that little frisson of ... "Are they? Or not?"