The New Yorker’s recently published issue featured covert art that depicts two familiar characters we have all grown up with and loved: Bert and Ernie. As though someone sneaked into their living room unannounced and snapped a photo, readers now get a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes of Sesame Street. On a couch, Bert and Ernie are pictured to be cuddling and watching the Supreme Court ruling.
In celebration and documentation of the recent events with DOMA and Prop 8, The New Yorker decided to do something different. They made Bert and Ernie homosexuals. Many individuals responded positively to this, stating that we can finally live in an era where homosexuality is embraced. Some thought the idea to “expose” the hidden love between Bert and Ernie (after all these years!) was totally adorable and poignant; these characters represent thousands of same-sex couples who have had to keep it under wraps due to law and society. Now, people can finally come out. They can finally get married. Bert and Ernie can finally snuggle up on a couch and feel no scrutiny.
Like most controversial ideas, this one faced a lot of scrutiny from both gay rights advocates and conservatives alike. The New Yorker’s cover has been slammed for romanticizing two children’s characters who were officially asexual as far as anyone was concerned. The cover has been called “demeaning” and “crass,” and maybe that’s true. It’s a big, bold statement to be sensualizing two Muppets. Was it unnecessary in a time like this one? Could there have been a better way to commemorate a major historical event?
Taylor Coates, Flavorwire’s editor states, “First of all, the notion that Bert and Ernie are gay lovers is ridiculous, and the propagation of the narrative is a childish statement that says more about the sexually obsessed and slightly homophobic tendencies of our culture. Homophobic? Absolutely: it’s a continuation of the idea that sexuality affects personality as much as it speaks of our obsession with outing the private lives of public individuals—in this case fictional characters that most of us grew up with.”
Coates has a pretty good point here. Why should it matter if Bert and Ernie are gay? Is The New Yorker making it matter? Because of this cover, are the duo now subjected to a “gay” label? By pinpointing Bert and Ernie as gay lovers, are we forcing a different personality on to them, and therefore rudely exposing their lives like we do to so many celebrities? Maybe we don’t have that kind of right, even if we’re just talking about two fictional characters.
Many conservatives and individuals of the anti-gay community went so far as to say this image “promotes child endangerment” and “child abuse”. I guess I’m pretty curious to find out what a kid might say if he sees the cover on the news stands. Is exposure to homosexuality a good thing for kids, overall if it means distorting the sexual preferences of two Muppets? Over-all, it’s arguably progressive for children to see that it’s okay for their favorite male characters to be in love, right?
Ultimately, The New Yorker wanted to make a point. Like many magazines and most media outlets, they utilized sensationalism. They wanted reactions, so they created a reactor. This isn’t the first time Sesame Street has been used for political symbolism (Big Bird, anyone?). The editors of The New Yorker wanted both sides of the spectrum to talk, discuss, and argue. I think it’s a lot better than staying silent.
What do you think, Gigglers? Are you pro Bert and Ernie’s fabricated romance or against it? Do you think there could have been a better way to celebrate DOMA’s demolishment, or do you believe this idea was completely harmless and totally cute?