Bert and Ernie

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There’s a movement that’s asking Sesame Street to allow Bert and Ernie, at long last, to become a happily married gay couple.  And I’m against it.
I’m not against Bert and Ernie getting married because I’m against gay marriage, for I am not; I’m not against it because I think that my childhood memories should never change.
It’s because I’m against the sexualization of every friendship in the goddamned world, that’s why.
That’s one of the things I dislike about most slash-fiction – that quiet assumption that every intense friendship must lead to hot’n’sweaty coupling.  If two people like each other, goes the thinking, then they must be sexually attracted!  And wham, all sorts of terrible fiction get written because if two people have shared an emotional intimacy, they must inevitably rush to entwine appendages.
Fuck that.  There’s all sorts of love in the world, and not all of it has to involve our genitalia.  Particularly to children, I think it’s necessary to accentuate the Agape and Philia along with the Eros.  I think there are a lot of damaged people out there who have bought into this idea that “If I feel an intense connection to X, I must therefore move to sleeping with X” – a concept that often ends in disaster.  There’s nothing wrong with staunch friendship, even with those who continually irritate you – in fact, if Ernie and Bert are a couple (cue the inevitable rendition of “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada”), then they’re a bitchy dysfunctional couple who are probably going to get divorced in a few years.
No.  I think you can be good friends and nothing more than good friends. And that is not only a good thing, but admirable.
That said, there’s something distinctly disingenuous about Sesame Street’s insistence that puppets have no sexuality; some of the characters have girlfriends, which is a tacit endorsement of heterosexuality.  (I had no idea the Count had not one, but three girlfriends.  But for a man who loves counting, it seems appropriate he’d be polyamorous.)  So if you wanted to bring in a set of boyfriend-characters, or have Elmo pick up a lover, then I’m fine with that.  (Hopefully, shoving something in Elmo’s mouth would shut him up – and it would provide a lovely frisson the next time you saw someone tickling Elmo.)
I’m all for having more gayness in Sesame Street.  But Bert and Ernie?  No.  Let them remain friends.  Teach kids about gay relationships, but also teach them that not every friendship inevitably dissolves into lust – and let Bert and Ernie be that channel. At a time when our politicians are so hostile and divided that our government can barely function, this lesson’s more necessary than ever.  In fact:
“Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”  Wise words from the Sesame Workshop, almost twenty years ago.
 

14 Comments

  1. Abra
    Aug 12, 2011

    Agree. I’m also against it because Bert and Ernie (unlike, say, the Count or Kermit) still seem pretty solidly prepubescent. I could see adding a gay relationship for, say, Snuffy’s dad, though. Or hey! Biff and Sully! That would be adorable.

  2. Sean Craven
    Aug 12, 2011

    First off. In my (oh, you wouldn’t believe what’s happened to it) novel, there has been a persistent desire on the part of readers to pair up a couple of characters. People seem puzzled when I say, “No, I’m writing about friendship and creative partnership between a man and a woman. I value these relationships, and I don’t see them in fiction.”
    Frankly, announcing previously asexual characters as gay seems a terrible idea. First off, backlash. That is messing around with characters that people feel they know. There will be a sense of betrayal, and I don’t think it’s a statement against gay marriage to say that resentment would be justified, and would be associated with the concept of gay marriage. Not sure that would actually do any good.
    And as a creator, this kind of thing is horrible because the minute you start thinking it through, you wind up in…
    Well, let me ask you this. What kind of pressures did Bert and Ernie feel that made them conceal their relationship all these years? You’d expect the occasional remark from Oscar the Grouch, but people who seem perfectly nice like Big Bird sometimes drop a remark into the conversation that says, “Stay in the closet, boys, it’s not safe outside.”
    The very idea makes me like all those adorable puppets a lot less.

    • Peter C. Hayward
      Aug 13, 2011

      announcing previously asexual characters as gay seems a terrible idea
      Tell that to JK Rowling.

  3. John Foley
    Aug 12, 2011

    I agree. While I have no problem with gay relationships on a children’s show, retconning characters into “always having been gay” seems like silly pandering.
    Plus I think it’s also important to have male characters who can be just friends yet still love each other. I got so annoyed back when Return of the King came out and everyone was cracking those “Sam and Frodo are totally gay for each other” jokes. No, they’re male friends who care very much for each other. You can be a man and care for another man without being “totally gay” for him.

  4. ewinfic
    Aug 12, 2011

    As a fervent and frequent writer of slash, let me just say that this:
    That’s one of the things I dislike about most slash-fiction – that quiet assumption that every intense friendship must lead to hot’n’sweaty coupling. If two people like each other, goes the thinking, then they must be sexually attracted!
    Is a very big issue, and something where I agree with you completely. I love the fantasy/titillation aspects of slash, but the obsessive tendency to interpret every friendship as sexual gets almost frightening sometimes. There are pages and pages of long, screechy defenses of WHY THEY ARE CLEARLY A COUPLE AND NOT HETERO AT ALL, and usually the things cited are things like intense emotional connection, great chemistry, physical touching. (Those people frankly scare me. Tumblr is RIDDLED with them.)
    As someone who is a passionate advocate of the male culture in this country being more permissive of male/male affection without it necessarily defining a sexual identity, I hate it when every small token of affection is automatically assumed to be sexual. And I believe that within the context of scads and heaps of written slash porn, so… trust me, there are plenty of us who separate the fantasy from the reality.
    It’s a button issue, because I know that the return argument is that it shouldn’t be a big deal whether they are seen as gay, “It’s not like it’s an insult!” And gayness has been used as an insult to the point where this defensiveness is really understandable. So it may not be insulting (though it’s arguably presumptuous), but it is definitely unwarranted to demand it.
    What if they’re gay AND not sexually involved? Are two gay males permitted to be affectionate and deeply connected friends without the assumption of sex? What if one of them is gay and the other straight? Is the gay friend permitted to exist without an assumption that he’s languishing of crush? (That’s a common slash trope in my fandom. I use it, too, but I know better than to apply it to every damn thing.) What if they’re bisexual?
    Shouldn’t the fact that two people of the same sex share a special connection and live together be an absolutely NEUTRAL indicating factor in whether they are assumed to be exchanging bodily fluids? The necessity of pinning sexuality only emphasizes homophobia and sexism by reinforcing roles that shouldn’t be considered boilerplates, based on behavior that shouldn’t be considered “evidence”.

  5. Mishell Baker
    Aug 12, 2011

    I was just in the middle of writing a scene between two characters in my current novel and thinking, “Bah, how do I keep people from ‘shipping these two?” and then I took a break to eat and found this post.
    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who values friendship and other forms of intense attachment that don’t involve touching someone’s potty bits.
    Ferrett, this post is so great it makes me want to touch your potty bits.

    • ewinfic
      Aug 12, 2011

      I was just in the middle of writing a scene between two characters in my current novel and thinking, “Bah, how do I keep people from ‘shipping these two?”

      Mishell, I’d recommend that you not worry about it at all. You can’t control what happens to your characters in the minds of your readers once they are read; write the relationship how you see fit and let the cards fall.
      Some readers will go a little nuts with the shipping and those are the loudest and most annoying voices, but there’s a legion of quietly appreciative fans who ship characters because it’s fun and sexy (or because they have a crush on a character that’s better expressed by an imaginary surrogate), and not because they believe the writer PUT it there. Shipping is almost always a compliment. You can’t ship without an intense emotional investment in a character.
      And shipping has been done to almost every popular story since long before slash came about, so we’ve not found an effective method for stopping it yet. It’s like trying to stop masturbation in response to a catalog that is merely trying to sell underwear.

  6. Heath
    Aug 12, 2011

    Why should sesame street teach kids about gay marriage? Shouldn’t parents do that? Most people still don’t agree with gay marriage. I know a lot of people think that the twitterverse represents most americans but surprise it doesn’t!

    • TheFerrett
      Aug 12, 2011

      a) Sesame Street quietly teaches kids about straight dating and straight marriage by having such concepts encoded into its bones. One would only assume that parents should “teach kids about gay marriage” and omit references to gayness on Sesame Street IF you didn’t think that parents should have the option to not teach their kids about it. Which is a pretty dumb opinion, really.
      b) I really don’t give a shit what most people think. Go back about fifty years and you’d find that most people thought that white woman dating a black guy was a horrible thing. In Saudi Arabia, “most people” don’t think women should be allowed to drive. If “most people don’t agree with it” is the best you got, then it’s a dumb fucking argument. I’m well aware of the numbers; the difference is, I don’t think said numbers reflect anything other than a current trend that may or may not change.

      • Heath
        Aug 12, 2011

        We have opposing opinions and your opinion violates what I deem correct and vice versa. What your saying is that I should bow down to political correctness so that we all can live in a perfect world where nothing is wrong. I’m sorry but that is never going to happen and I’m not going to not express myself because my thought is politically incorrect. Your also welcome to cuss me out and whatever else you want to do because we have the freedom to do that.
        The “most people don’t agree with it” was due to the fact that we live in a democracy. I agree it wasn’t the best argument but a lot of the political correct nazi’s seem to forget that we live in a democracy.
        Where do we draw the line? What if I want to have 2 wives and 4 husbands. Is that ok? What if I want to marry my car. Marry my dog. Marry my sister. Is that ok? Everyone has to draw the line somewhere. I’m not comparing those things to gay marriage but I’m just using them to show that we have to draw the line somewhere. I felt the need to say that so that the political correct police don’t come arrest me.

        • TheFerrett
          Aug 12, 2011

          The “most people don’t agree with it” was due to the fact that we live in a democracy. I agree it wasn’t the best argument but a lot of the political correct nazi’s seem to forget that we live in a democracy.
          And a lot of people seem to forget that Hitler was elected democratically.
          The whole concept of “most people don’t agree with it” usually means “I have more people, so I’m right,” which is what you were trying to imply here. The fact that you are in the majority doesn’t mean that you actually have a good point, or that you’re not a biased idiot. It simply means that a lot of people agree with you, and you have more of an ability to push other people aside to make the world more comfortable for you.
          You’re free to fight, of course, but let us not pretend that this is about a world where “nothing is wrong.” I’m pretty sure even the devoutest liberal is going to find murder, stealing, and rape wrong.
          No, what you’re trying to do in your lumbering way is to make “gay marriage” == “THE END OF ALL MORALITY” – which, again, was exactly what bigoted assholes said in the 1960s. “If we let blacks marry whites, then what?”
          The answer is simple: your discomforts about other people’s lifestyles will no longer become law. But hey. That’s the end of your morality, but as noted we’re probably not going to be okay with burglars or liars.
          And indeed, we do have to draw the line somewhere. I’d suggest allowing marriage between “sentient beings who can consent.” (And, very arguably, “And not cause birth defects to their children, if they choose to have them.”)
          As a final note, your attempt to evade the politically correct police is pretty dumb. I mean, I COULD compare your wife or mother to a pig in making a comparison, but I suspect you’d get very angry. Saying that the desires of a gay person, who is a human being and can consent to things and presumably makes choices, to an ignorant animal is not going to be PC no matter how you make it.

          • Heath
            Aug 12, 2011

            Well done you once again have proved that your a good writer. That doesn’t however mean that what your saying is correct. Obviously there is no point in us continuing this so I will continue to enjoy your articles on MTG but as for your views on politics I will just have to ignore them and move on. Good luck!

    • D
      Aug 12, 2011

      iWhy should Sesame Street teach kids about gay marriage?/i
      Why should it teach them about manners? Why should it teach them the alphabet? Why should it teach them to use inside voices? Why should it teach them to wash their hands before eating? After all, thats the parents job, right?
      Im guessing youve never had to teach other peoples children, or watch parents interacting with their children in public, or witness a girl crumble under the pressure of magazines and TV shows and movies telling her how to think and dress and act.
      In an ideal world, parents would address these things with their children. But they dont. No, not even hand-washing, and especially not inside voices.
      Parents are imperfect, especially parents of this generation, who would sooner medicate their children than talk to them about their feelings, who would depend entirely on a nanny or a television set to raise their children, who would demand that a library remove a book they didnt want their child to find because they didnt want to italk/i to their own child. There are some parents out there who do step up to the plate and engage with their children, but even then, children still rely on the media to learn how to become members of (for the sake of this discussion) American society.
      Why should Sesame Street teach kids about gay marriage? Because parents arent going to do it. Lets be honest: if you have children, you are or will be this parent. And that is why it is so important for shows like Sesame Street to deal with these issues realistically and respectfully. If this really offends you to the point where you are unable to talk to your own child about it, you can do what parents did 20-30-40 years ago and turn the TV off. Its that simple.
      I guess another answer to your question would be: because Sesame Street is an educational television show with a history of addressing timely social issues, so if nothing else, ignoring gay marriage would be inconsistent.

  7. Michael
    Aug 12, 2011

    Agree.
    The defining partnership in a number of fictional lives is same-sex platonic, and I entirely approve. HolmesWatson, PierceHunnicut, etc, et al.
    contemporary!:

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