Those old rumors about the Muppets pals were reignited earlier this week when former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman told website Queerty that he “contextualized” Bert and Ernie as a couple based on his own relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were,” Saltzman said when asked if the two Muppets were gay. “I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.” The statement drew a response from Sesame Workshop, saying, in part, “they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” tweeted Sesame Workshop. “They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Master puppeteer and director Oz also disputed Saltman’s take. “It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay,” Oz tweeted. “It’s fine that he feels they are. They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”
Oz’s tweet didn’t go down very well with some of his Twitter followers. Wrote one: “Why the need to define people as gay? Uh, because we exist. I’m gay. 100% gay. Always have been, always will be. I’ve known since I was 7, and was told what the word meant. Yes, there are a lot of bi and pan people out there, but there are also A LOT of gay people.”
Wrote another: “You may have created him, but you don’t seem to realize or appreciate what he meant to thousands of little boys growing up. You digging in your heels (and wrongly conflating romantic orientation with sexual orientation) with what seems like disgust is abjectly disappointing.”
“How odd you see my feelings as disgust,” responded Oz, continuing the discussion. See it here. Asked by a follower why he needed to define Bert and Ernie as straight, Oz replied, “For honesty.”
Later in the Twitter conversation, Oz writes, “As I’ve written, It pleases me that people see themselves and others positively in those characters. The answer to ‘Why is heterosexuality obvious’, is that I’m only writing about a character I created and know. I’m not writing about all people.”
Finally, Oz signed off, thanking his followers for the discussion and pondering an alternate Bert and Ernie universe:
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