TV fans love coming up with wacky theories about their favorite series — not even children’s programs are safe from speculation. A simple online search will yield dozens of results for nearly any kiddie show, each theory crazier than the last. But despite their many misfires, these individuals may have finally gotten one right…
Sesame Street may be known for being open with its audience, but for nearly half a century the beloved children’s television show has concealed an enormous secret, until now. Straight from a former writer’s mouth, this new revelation will change everything you thought you knew about the world’s favorite felt-covered friends.
For decades, Sesame Street has served as a source of entertainment and education for children everywhere. But even with its lovable characters and lighthearted themes, the people behind the puppets have never been afraid to address more difficult issues with their viewers…
Though the show has generated controversy as a result of its forward-thinking approach, critics continue to praise its progressiveness to the tune of 167 Emmy awards. Even so, there’s one remaining point of contention about Sesame Street that continues to elude audiences.
Rumors have swirled for years that the characters Bert and Ernie were designed as a representation of a gay couple. This theory has been accepted pretty widely by many viewers of the show, and the pair has even come to be used to highlight issues in the LGBT community…
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage, The New Yorker published an image of Bert and Ernie snuggling on the couch, watching the news. While some people approved of the depiction of the characters as a couple, a number of others – including the producers of Sesame Street – did not.
The New Yorker
In response to a 2011 petition to marry the puppets, Sesame Street issued a statement saying that Bert and Ernie were just friends. “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation,” the studio relayed.
Despite the show’s maintaining of Bert and Ernie’s strictly platonic relationship, Mark Saltzman, a former writer for the show, has a different take on the matter. In a September 2018 interview, Saltzman – a gay man himself – revealed new information about his time spent working with the characters.
Entertainment – Metro
During his tenure as a writer for Sesame Street, Saltzman wasn’t shy about his sexuality, having shared a relationship with film editor Arnold “Arnie” Glassman for 20 years. Saltzman had even tried to pitch an episode about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but was turned down by producers.
But when asked about whether or not he viewed Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, Saltzman recounted a story of a preschooler asking her mother if the pair were lovers. “That got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it,” he recalled. “And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were.”
According to Saltzman, envisioning the puppets as gay allowed him to contextualize their relationship, and the similarities between him and his characters grew to be quite striking. “The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as ‘Bert and Ernie’.”
Saltzman continued: “I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street… so I don’t think I’d know how else to write them but as a loving couple.” Saltzman even noted that many of the sketches he wrote involved the kind of dynamic that he and Arnie shared at home: he was the chaotic one, and Arnie was organized and uptight.
When asked if Bert and Ernie became analogs for he and Glassman’s relationship, Saltzman was straightforward with his response: “Yeah. Because how else? That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?”
But despite this overwhelming association between his own relationship and that of his puppets, the writer never directly brought it to the attention of his colleagues. For Saltzman, it wasn’t about pushing his agenda on the unsuspecting: he was simply writing what he knew.
Following the interview, people everywhere immediately began debating the relationship between the two Muppets once again. Sesame Street was also quick to issue a response – one nearly identical to their 2011 statement – reiterating that Bert and Ernie are puppets designed to teach children that very different people can still be best friends.
The interview also caught the attention of original Sesame Street puppeteer Frank Oz, who seemed to rebuke the notion of using sexual orientation as a label in general. “Why the need to define people as only gay?” Oz tweeted. “There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”
Oz later added: “If Jim [Henson] and I had created B & E as gay characters they would be inauthentic coming from two straight men. However, I have now learned that many view them as representative of a loving gay relationship. And that’s pretty wonderful.”
Just mere days after his first interview, Saltzman again made headlines with comments in an interview with The New York Times. Though he never intended to put forth the characters as gay, he simply wants people to view Bert and Ernie as “two guys who love each other.”
Saltzman went on to express that if Sesame Street did ever introduce an openly gay couple, he’d personally want them to be humans, not puppets. By presenting children with a same-sex couple that they can physically identify with, Saltzman believes that these kinds of relationships will appear more natural.
Given Sesame Street‘s progressiveness, it’s only a matter of time before showrunners decide to incorporate a gay character or couple into the program. The show has received acclaim for its racial diversity since its inception, and its even begun to incorporate characters with disabilities into its regular lineup.
In fact, Sesame Street even introduced a character with autism in 2017 as part of their “Sesame Street and Autism” campaign. The new Muppet, Julia, is the first ever autistic children’s character to be introduced into a mainstream television series.
Although there are no openly gay characters in Sesame Street yet, same-sex representation in popular media is certainly on the upswing. When the producers of the beloved children’s TV program do inevitably introduce such a character, we can only hope that they do it right.
A couple or not, Bert and Ernie sure have people talking. Who knew that a simple children’s show could impact so many different people in such a meaningful way?
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