On Sesame Street and Gay Marriage

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

49 Responses

  1. Rufus F. says:

    I suppose I’d disagree with having Bert and Ernie get married too for a different reason: there really aren’t enough depictions of the sort of long-term, intensely devoted platonic friendships they seem to have. Children should know that there’s nothing wrong with having a best friend that one values above all others throughout their lives. Some of them will probably even have one. Of course, some of them will have such a friend that they marry, but that’s well covered territory in dramas.

    As for their relationship, I do want to point out the interesting idea that heterosexual couples can be depicted for children as being family members or Moms and Dads without sex being introduced to the storyline, but a homosexual couple introduces sexuality.Report

  2. North says:

    I agree with both you and Rufus, E.D. Bert and Ernie are fine as is. I don’t see any huge urgency to introduce a gay couple into Sesame Street but if they do choose to do so it surely should be a human couple; not a pair of muppets.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    What does Evil Jaybird think?

    The first thing that I would do in my campaign to end funding for Public Television would be to start agitating for Bert/Ernie to get married (or just come out).

    Whenever people say “we need to stop funding NPR and Public Television”, the response is usually of the form “THEY WANT TO KILL SESAME STREET!!!”

    By having Bert and Ernie’s marriage on the table, it *MIGHT* create a tipping point where I could get much of the country to shrug at the thought of Sesame Street getting its funding pulled rather than starting a discussion about The Children.

    By getting a huge chunk of the people most inclined to watch Sesame Street with their offspring to see the show as something that no longer shows “The Values” that they want their own The Children to learn at age whatever it is and then to turn the channel, the biggest argument against NPR and Public Television disintigrates… and we could finally take that off of the table.

    That’s what Evil Jaybird would do, anyway.Report

  4. Christopher Carr says:

    As a regular watcher of the show, I must point out that Nathan Lane makes regular appearances. And I think Ernie is like supposed to be five-years old or something. This debate seems silly to me. As to anything serious I might have to say on the topic, see Rufus above.Report

  5. Scott says:


    Come on now, don’t you want to strike a blow against the heteronormative culture by turning B&E into a gay couple? This seems to be the fad of the day turning longstanding character in comics and popular culture into minorities or gay characters.Report

  6. James Vonder Haar says:

    I’m not sure you understood the point of the post you linked to, Mr. Kain. The point is that there’s an unfair double standard for homosexual couples- simply portraying them in a romantic or social context is considered dirty, inherently sexual, and unfit for the delicate eyes of children. Meanwhile, heterosexual relationships can be portrayed without insinuating sexuality. I don’t think this is a double standard that can stand up to rail al scrutiny, but it’s one you fall prey to when claiming that making Bert and Ernie gay would introduce sexual themes to the show.

    I’m not really in favor of making Bert and Ernie get married- they already have a depicted relationship, and it’s not particularly romantic- but that doesn’t change the problematic nature of many responses to the idea, yours included.Report

  7. Kyle Cupp says:

    That would be a much less controversial, less confusing-to-toddlers, and perfectly fine way to introduce gay rights to Sesame Street.

    If such were to happen, I’m sure social conservatives would make it into a big controversy. If it were to happen in the very near future, it would probably become a social/political talking point for the aspiring presidential candidates.Report

  8. Julian Sanchez says:

    I’m baffled by the number of people who read that post as arguing that Bert & Ernie should get married despite my explicitly saying the opposite.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Julian Sanchez says:

      My apologies if I misread you.Report

      • Julian Sanchez in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        No worries. But as far as I can tell, we have the same position: It would be confusing and silly to have to make a big thing of retconning two major characters as gay, but it would be good to have a more inclusive array of different types of families represented.Report

        • Sam MacDonald in reply to Julian Sanchez says:

          “it would be good to have a more inclusive array of different types of families represented.”

          Why? What other cultural elements should they take it upon themselves to include?

          I come from a place where most families own guns. I have a few myself. I am even kind of political about it. But if someone were to say, “Bert and Ernie ought to have a gun cabinet, just so kids can see how to handle them safely and give people a sense that owning guns is normal…”

          That would strike me as absurd. The show is not about “normalizing” one thing or the other. I suppose a devoted NRA guy could argue that the LACK of any gun cabinets is “pacifo-normative” and demand equal treatment. But come on.Report

          • I may be wrong, and either Erik or Julian can correct me if I am, but I think there is a distinction to be made between “I think it would be nice” and “they should have to.” I didn’t see either demand a gay couple, I saw both saying having different kinds of families would be ok.Report

          • David Cheatham in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

            Erm, the idea of teaching gun safety to kids is not insane, and has probably already been done at some point on Sesame Street. Although at that age gun safety is ‘Don’t touch guns’. (Sometimes, I think a lot of people talking about Sesame Street don’t actually remember it.)Report

        • Christopher Carr in reply to Julian Sanchez says:

          I agree with you in spirit, but I’m not sure the cast of Sesame Street could get any more diverse. The show just manages to exude diversity without feeling like it’s got quotas.Report

    • MFarmer in reply to Julian Sanchez says:

      I’m just fascinated by how you know so much about Sesame Street.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Julian Sanchez says:

      You think they should continue to live together in sin?Report

  9. Robert Cheeks says:

    It ain’t Bert and Ernie the authorities need to monitor, it’s the bird. Please note, it is incredibly difficult for sock puppets to do the nasty.Report

  10. Daniel says:

    Isn’t the real question behind this debate how gay marriage and homosexual couples (particularly parents) be introduced in a proper way to Sesame Street? It just seems to me that the focus shouldn’t be on whether Bert and Ernie are gay but how best to show that two parents can both have the same gender while also avoiding sexuality that would conflict with the general pattern of the show.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Daniel says:

      This. Bert and Ernie shouldn’t be outed as gay because their sexuality is just irrelevant – and should be irrelevant – to a child who likes those characters. These are characters to whom very young children are supposed to directly relate. To my knowledge, no Sesame Street muppet who fits that bill has ever been involved in a romantic relationship of any sort (though I will happily be corrected if I’m wrong). Parents – both muppets and humans – in the show obviously have, and appropriately so. I would think that they would also represent the appropriate vehicle for introducing gay marriage to the show.Report

      • David Cheatham in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Right. The show tends to use adults when talking about serious topics, or at least have them the subject of the topic.

        Muppets are a stand in for children, yes, even the ‘adult’ muppets like Bert and Ernie. (People forget, they live alone with no authority figures, they are ‘adults’. They’re not a ‘couple’, but they are adult roommates. And it’s to show how children should act when living with roommates.)

        But ‘adult’ muppets are the equivalent of ‘playing house’. It’s a ‘Here is what you can be when you grow up’ fantasy, as opposed to ‘Here are some adultish issues’, which tend to be shown by having real humans.

        Well, unless it’s the kids themselves who have the issues, at which point they get muppets. The HIV-positive muppet, Tami, over in Africa, was not to teach children about ‘people who have HIV’, it’s because of the sad fact is that all too many of Sesame Street’s viewers _themselves_ have HIV, so those kids got a standin.

        However, Sesame Street’s viewers are not gay. Well, not yet…and there’s plenty of talk about people who are ‘different’ that applies to gay (or pre-gay, or whatever you want to call it) children equally well.

        However, they do know gay adults and teenagers. And thus there should be (human) adult gay characters on the show.Report

  11. Just Gotta Ask says:

    Let’s face it even back in the day, neither Bert or Ernie would have had much chance of joining the military with that living arrangement.

    And, for good or bad society has evolved

    so maybe the show does need some changes.

    If it’s such a hostile notion that Bert or Ernie, or both might be gay… maybe it’s time for one of them to get their own place or at least move to a two bedroom apartment even in this economy — gotta think about the kids.

    Really, we already know what the issues would have been if the same living situation was with a M/F pairing that were only ‘friends’ or friends with benefits (which Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis show us just can’t work even in this age.)

    So, really, what would have been the response had they used the argument that if it was a male/female pairing sharing the same room, albeit still different beds (Rob and Laura, Desi and Lucy), but maintaining that they were only friends.

    Would they have pulled out the plot from “Three’s Company” or “Bosom Buddies” to work around it?

    Would the boy with the magic skin flute play a tune to take them to another land where it was all okay?

    Would we discover that Ernestine is the daughter of a Demi Moore like character in “Striptease”, and sure Bert might be a pedophile but it beats being gangraped in juvenile hall facility since orphanages are taboo, adoption is a grab bag of dysfunctional brats (and gets more shit than adopting a pup from the pound) and foster care households change more often than O-G’s trolls change their underwear.

    If it’s such a hot issue that they might be gay … shouldn’t there now be people advocating they finally get rooms or even apartments of their own?

    Seriously dude, if one your friends maintained that he was totally str8, sharing a room with another dude while not going to school or being a deadbeat slacker gamer and internet porn addict (Shout out to Trekkie Monster!) – which even then (porn addict gamer) he should at least muster up some up some pride to sleep on the couch and occasionally be caught by his roommate doin’ his thang, keep it real, yo…

    if he was sharing a one room flat with an older dude, wouldn’t most of you expect at least one of them was pervin’ on the situation – a relationship with a sugar daddy is a beautiful thing especially when he buys you things for all that junk in your trunks or for your manly lady bumps, but seriously dude, no homo just doesn’t work here… for real. yo.

    Seriously, Bert, Ernie, Not Gay? Yeah, as straight as Clay Aiken, Ricky Martin and that senator from Indiana.

    I can’t recall the last time I’ve gone to a R movie and there wasn’t some knee high sesame street watching brat somewhere in the room.

    Sesame Street has addressed some more serious issues, even violence too… such as the events of 9/11.

    But whatever, gays are scary. It’s seems they’ve made more of a fuss by outright denying they were gay than simply saying people can read whatever they want into what they are – but they’re just puppets on a kids show.

    And frankly, I’m more interested in ‘Bear in The Big Blue House’ showing his leather pride – that show has far more quotes and quips entertaining for the crowd that only see homo relationships as sex.

    Kinda creepy that all the parents and protestors of the possibility of bert and ernie having a platonic, albeit homoerotic fling, are only just picturing goatse.Report

  12. DensityDuck says:

    Dude, Bert and Ernie have been gay since like 1986. Remember the urban legend about how Ernie was going to die of AIDS, and his last words would be “are there rubber duckies in Heaven?”Report

  13. MFarmer says:

    While there might be a hardcore group of social nazis guarding the nation’s soul from the evils of strange sex, I believe the majority of people on the Right have moved along and whatever these shows do doesn’t really shock or bother them — most people just don’t care about the sex lives of other people. And as for the issue of gay rights, it says more about statism than intolerance that some have to fight for special interest rights when we should have limited government that protects the rights of everyone equally — in other words there should be no special rights for heterosexuals which can’t be enjoyed by homosexuals — the State shouldn’t even be involved in sexual conduct or the act of marriage unless someone is being coerced against their will.Report