On Toleration and the Muppets


I have the nerdiest friends ever.

Last night, I went what was billed as a movie night by the woman readers might know as Dashaway, a former contributor to this blog. The movie choice had yet to be determined, and as the guests wandered in they shuffled through a stack of the hostesss’ DVD’s.

At the same time, we were also (somehow) displaying YouTube videos streaming on someone’s laptop on the larger screen of their television. Chief among the finds our hostess was eager to put on display were segments the 1974 children’s television series Free to Be…You And Me.  Think Sesame Street, if Sesame Street’s creators had been fearless and artlessly didactic in their politics. There were psychedelic cartoons teaching us not all girls want to be married off before seeing the world, and that it’s okay for William to want to play with dolls. Unintentionally creepy puppets celebrated the fusion of the music of African Americans and whites. And a pubescent Michael Jackson, in a stroke of tragic irony, sang about how we don’t have to change who we are to be happy.

Later in the evening, conversation returned to Free to Be, which I segued into another argument for cooperation and toleration made by puppets, Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. This in turn recalled in another partygoer the HIV positive Muppet, Kami.

“Wait, in America?” someone asked.

“South American,” the partygoer said.

“South African,” I said. “In the US, we’ve just got the Hispanic Muppet by way of minority representation.”

“That’s all we need,” Dashaway joked.

“Oh,” I said, “And the gay Muppets.”


“Bert and Ernie.”


“Have they officially come out yet?”

“No,” I said.

But it’s just a matter of time,” said the graduate student sitting next to me. As far as I can judge these things, he was earnets; and he had just come from the library, so he (probably) hadn’t been drinking for too long.

Now, I had been kidding. It had honestly never occurred to me that PBS would retcon Bert and Ernie’s relationship into a chaste, Roy and Silo or King and King-style example of a homosexual couple sympathetic to children. But now—or if not now, in time for Sesame Street’s forty-fifth or fiftieth anniversary—it seems like a definite possibility. As the years go on, I can only see our generation’s acceptance of LGBTple expanding, and culture reflecting this acceptance on every level.

So. Do you think Sesame Street will ever out Bert and Ernie? If so, when?

And if it were to happen, would it be a good thing? Of course, the negative reacion from certain sectors might be so harsh as to make it a Pyrric victory, if it is a victory at all; GOP congressmen issued PBS a strong warning when news about Kami reached the US news cycle, even though PBS had nothing to do with the character and displayed no intention to introduce an American counterpart. Still, there were threats to pull funding from the public network. I imagine many people in not trivial positions of power would rather see Sesame Street burned to the ground before letting a gay couple move in.

But there are not unimaginable objections liberals could make, too, possibly pertaining to a decline in representations of close but platonic same-sex friendships. I know at one Empowerment meeting we once discussed approvingly televised examples of straight male friends unafraid to show their love for each other, like Joey and Chandler on Friends, or JD and Turk on Scrubs. I think we would lose something if there were no examples of such friendships anywhere–though there is at least one more on Sesame Street itself, in the bond between Big Bird and Snuffaluffagus.

So…thoughts? Please? I don’t want to be the only one discussing Muppets in public.


2 Responses

  1. I don’t think they have to out Bert and Ernie…not “outting” them outright might actually be more of a radical action. Just the fact of having officially gay characters doesn’t mean much. If they are showing kids a new way of relating to each other and an expansion of acceptability just by being Bert and Ernie, I think that’s much more….and the fundamentalists and the GOPers will never see that coming muahahahaha

  2. Actually, a few years ago, one of them moved out, so Bert & Ernie are no longer “roommates” because of the pressure from the religious right to debunk the gay rumors surrounding the characters. The same pressure is why Cookie Monster now promotes cookies as a “sometimes snack” and why you won’t see the Count anymore (because vampires = Satan).

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