Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bert & Ernie Gay?

It was the tweet heard round "Sesame Street."

"Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T's?" lovable sweater-clad Bert wrote on the official "Sesame Street" Twitter account in June. "The only difference is mine is a little more 'mo,' a little less 'hawk.'"

Taking the "mo" to mean "homosexual," the tweet had gay bloggers, activists, and parents buzzing that the show was letting them in on a big secret with an under-the-radar wink.

The Los Angeles Times took the post as the latest evidence in a history of clues the show has dropped over the years that Bert and Ernie are more than just friends, reviving the (nearly) age-old question: are Bert and Ernie gay?

The puppet duo have been best friends and roommates since the show began over 40 years ago, but curious fans have long wondered if there is more to their close relationship.

"Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do," Kurt Anderson wrote in his 1980 book "The Real Thing." "They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet."

As proof, the Times cites "Sesame Street"'s history of inviting openly gay celebrity guests to the show, such as lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes who appeared this season and Neil Patrick Harris who once came on the show as "the shoe fairy."

If that's not enough to convince you, the Times adds "Sesame"'s spoof of HBO's racy series "True Blood," which stars gay characters and has a gay fan base, as evidence of another effort to appeal to gay viewers.

"Now some people are wondering: Is 'Sesame Street' brought to you by the letters G-A-Y?" the Times asks.

Of course, this isn't the first time people have wondered about what's really going on behind Bert and Ernie's closed doors.

In 2002, Sesame Workshop threatened to sue an LA filmmaker whose film "Ernest and Bertram" portrayed the puppets in a volatile gay relationship, ending in Ernie's suicide.

The are-they-or-aren't-they question has even made it to rumor-buster website Snopes.com, which has a page dedicated to the issue.

"Claim: 'Sesame Street' muppets Bert and Ernie are live-in lovers, and they're about to get married," the site states, with the answer: "Status: False."

Though the show intentionally appeals to a wide variety of audiences, the creators have steered clear of putting Bert and Ernie on top of any floats in the gay pride parade.

"Bert and Ernie, who've been on 'Sesame Street' for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for 'Sesame Street,' they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends," Sesame Workshop said in a statement in 1993.

Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell put it more simply.

"They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets," he said in 2007. "They don't exist below the waist."

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