November 18, 2009

Every Gay Should Know #2: Gay Media Pioneers Bert and Ernie

[Ed. Note: Every Tuesday, we highlight an event, figure or tidbit of gay culture. Topics will range from the Stonewall Riots to Bea Arthur. Harvey Milk to the etymology of “fag.” Personally, just about all of these fall under “Everybody Should Know” for us. Bea included. This week's EGSK is late, making me the first person on the staff to not meet a deadline. This is just the sort of thing I want my staff to see me doing.]

Bert and Ernie are one of twelve Muppets that Jim Henson developed for the now 40 year-old television series Sesame Street. Though only briefly appearing in the pilot episode, the duo's segment tested best in focus groups and it became immediately apparent that the show should heavily feature them as stars. Bert and Ernie made their television debut on November 10, 1969.
They've been paving the way for homosexuals ever since.

That Bert and Ernie are in a long-term, committed gay relationship is proven and well known, or as Sesame Street's PR people put it, "Bert and Ernie... do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future." Mere semantics.

Let's discuss the facts. These two "single" men are living together in an apartment on Sesame Street. Bert and Ernie sleep in separate twin beds, but these are located in the SAME ROOM. It is worth noting that not once has either complained about how small their mattresses are. Presumably, this is because the beds are arranged such that they can easily be pushed together to form a queen(s)-sized bed when the cameras stop rolling.

Even if these two guys are simply straight best friends that just haven't found the perfect woman, why are they spending all of their free time together? Fishing trips and vacations to Egypt? C'mon. Lovers.

Also, why would two heterosexual men choose to live together on Sesame Street of all places? Though we are never told just how to get to Sesame Street, we do know that it is somewhere in New York City. If you're on a non-numbered street in Manhattan and you see an establishment called The Furry Arms (a "hotel"), you're probably in The Village. Spend some time observing the indie guys who walk into the local thrift store Finders Keepers, and you'll see what I mean.

Sesame Street has exactly zero to offer straight men.

Say what they will, but writers haven't exactly kept Bert and Ernie's sketches free from [not-so-] subtleties. Is there no reason why there is an oil portrait of Bert and Ernie in their living room?

...and in their bedroom?

No, seriously, let's talk about this because this is bothering me and I think it's important. These are not photographs, nor are they pencil or chalk. These are PAINTED portraits. Using rates around my home in Patchogue, NY, this would have cost at least $2000 (I'm not even going to go into the fact that they're framed, too). So you mean to tell me that these two completely platonic heterosexual men spent over $2000 to have a portrait painted of them... and then commissioned ANOTHER for $2000 more? Sure. Normal guy stuff.

The rest of the home decor doesn't exactly keep the two puppets closeted, either. So many lamps and armchairs! I'm also sure that most straight men don't even know what valances are let alone would think to feature them on their windows. Two breeder men living together would also not keep the apartment that clean. Let's be honest.

I truly don't know how this is ambiguous for some, especially those in the community. Even if one were to successfully refute all of the things I've mentioned above, the sheer abundance of bananas in Bert and Ernie skits should be enough to realize that they are meant to be gay men:

I propose we celebrate the presence of these openly (as far as those lace curtains and I are concerned) gay characters on our TV screens. Homosexuals were not exactly popular on basic cable at the time, but Bert and Ernie fabulously broke the heteronormative mold. I consider them wholly responsible for the success of Will & Grace and Kurt on Glee. They are the Jackie Robinsons of gays in mainstream media, and it should be recognized that as a result were made to endure the same intolerance and adversity as all other social pioneers. Said Rev. Joseph Chambers in one of his radio shows in 1994:
Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent.
I agree, but contextually he was making his case to have the characters banned. Haha, all kidding aside, if they've pissed off some right-wingers then we should be honoring them gay OR straight. Good for them.


  1. Oh my god Chris, I just wet my self from laughter. More than once.

  2. I don't think it helps anyone to promote the stereotypes that straight men are inherently incapable of basic housekeeping or that gay men are inherently effeminate. And that's not even touching on the sexism of conflating housework with femininity!

    I can understand the desire to see more gay role models in the world around us, but can we at least stick to arguments that aren't actively harmful to the gay community? It should be enough that they share a bedroom and have multiple paintings of themselves (which is a great spot, by the way! I never noticed). There's no need to essentially straight-bash, gay-bash, and woman-bash with all this nonsense about valences and learning to sew "proving" that they're gay.

  3. It was my read that the references the anonymous commenter speaks of were made tongue-in-cheek more for the purpose of humor than for any sort of persuasive argument.

    Additionally, if you're straight-bashing, woman-bashing, and gay-bashing, doesn't it all cancel out? :P Just kidding about that (it's the same argument some people use to support racist jokes and it's absurd). So, yeah, I suppose commenter #2 has a point. It can be tough to read inflection, though, and I think it's necessary to keep context in mind when reading--this isn't intending to be any sort of treatise on gay role models or gender roles. I read these references as being entirely joking, almost even pointing fun at how inaccurate they are. I could have read them wrong too, though :)

  4. Outing people so not cool. Did you ever stop to think that maybe there was a reason this wasn't common knowledge? (correction: confirmed common knowledge) Think next time before you post your vicious exposés.

  5. Per,

    Don't listen to commenter #2. He/She/Gender neutral pronoun doesn't get jokes and should be generally ignored. This was some great work. Keep it up.

    "Never mind what haters say/ignore them 'till they fade away."-T.I.

  6. hahahaha <3

    "[You are] the truest [anonymous at 2:01], name a [blogger you] ain't influenced."

  7. But I'll clarify for the second commenter, because I guess it was ambiguous when I said that I agreed with the Reverend. I agree with his last statement that they are clearly in a relationship. No, as a homosexual and decent human being, I do not believe in conservative gay stereotypes and strict gender roles. Because duh.

    Anything else mentioned was part of an investigation into the sexuality of two puppets. Brought to you by the letter relax.

  8. I find this article disgusting and offensive…. By disgusting and offensive I mean amazing and hysterical.

    I would like to note briefly on the trend of outing fictional characters in society.
    I can say with some certainty that I am not upset by outing of Bert and Ernie; I find it refreshing. I think the socioeconomically stratified cast of Sesame Street needs to recognize all of the characters that are dragging down the value of their homes. As Dave Chappell notes, they presently have a homeless person (Oscar), a crack fiend (Cookie Monster), and a pimp (The Count). Isn’t it time that someone recognized the other morally bankrupt and corruptive cast members: the homosexuals?

    Having never really jumped on the Sesame Street Band Wagon as a child, but rather preferring the leap-frogging antics and calypso sounds of Gullah Gullah Island, I do not feel personally robbed by Bert and Ernie spiriting away to Massachusetts to get married. My fear is that their outing is part of an increasing trend in society…

    Is gay the new black?

    Let’s tread briefly on one of my favorite gay icons… Albus Dumbledore. J.K. Rowling rocked the wizarding world by telling everyone the secret to Dumbledore’s wand. I am not referring to the ultimate wand either (although, depending on how strong your feelings are for Dumbledore, his wand might in fact be the ultimate wand for you). Not only were the conservative crowds outraged, so were the children. Over night the parents that are tolerant-and-accepting-of-the-homosexual population-until-it-comes-into-their-home-and-their-child-idolizes-homosexuality-and-wants-to-be-a-homosexual threw out, burned, shredded, and iconoclastically destroyed the wonderful literary styling of the Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling gave a new meaning to the title Headmaster of Hogwarts. Sales increased though. Not only were more homosexuals reading Harry Potter, but also the sexually confused hipsters who refused to read Harry Potter because it was too mainstream. In this sense, Harry Potter became the modern version of The Great Gatsby.

    Gay is at the forefront of the marketing world. Glee, a show I enjoy only because of the music and assertion that the wheelchair-bound cast member’s penis still works, has made its mark with an openly homosexual cast member- Kurt. Although Kurt vaguely resembles some of the people that could be seen on such shows as Dr. 90210 and Nip Tuck, his voice is undeniably amazing (Defying Gravity…. I got chills). He is the shows most popular cast member and provides the most interesting dialogue/ plot line (note: his dad is from Yes, Dear). He is a cast member that would not have existed in before the 90s. He more than likely would have been an overweight girl or guy present mainly to provide comic relief for the model-esq main characters. Gay characters are the new form of progressive entertainment- Will & Grace, The L Word, Queer as Folk, Golden Girls… the list goes on.

    So the question remains, is gay the new black and what is next? Will it come out that Elphaba and Glenda messed around in high school? Are Tommy and Chuckey from Rugrats now life-partners? Is Heffer really the bear to Rocco’s cub? Did Doug think it was funny to get Silver Skeeted?

    If gay is the cutting edge of character development, what is next?

  9. @John C: +1 Engorgio charm. If you know what I mean.



    Once again all our questions are answered by The Proclaimers.

  12. My Christopher-witty and brilliant. The best part was the portrait argument. I do have to say (with apologies to my brother and his husband) not all gays keep their apartments neat. Those two are quite messy. However, they are messy together so it works for them. My brother visits me and I feel like a tornado has hit my house. The speed at which he trashes my home astonishes me. Hurricane Jeff.
    Are you home yet for turkey day? How long will you be gracing L.I. with your presence? I chipped my bottom tooth Fri night. Went to the dentist on Sat. Hopefully he will fix it at my appointment tomorrow. Otherwise I will continue keeping my pumpkin head in hiding. Needless to say, the situation is dire b/c if my bro sees me with a chipped tooth b/c the torment will be never-ending.
    Hope to see you this trip,
    Mucho,mucho,love,hugs and kisses.