Recognise heteronormativity where it is and where it isn't.
The relationship status of 'Sesame Street' favourites Bert and Ernie has long been questioned, with many now-adult fans convinced that they were in fact a gay couple. A former writer for the show took it upon himself to confirm the rumours recently, but now the Sesame workshop and Frank Oz are contesting this alleged truth and it's even more divisive than before.
Frank Oz at 'The Last Jedi' premiere
Saying that Bert and Ernie are gay has served to both delight and infuriate fans of The Muppets, but that's exactly what writer Mark Saltzman thought while he was working on 'Sesame Street' for 15 years. He admits that the Muppets' relationship reflected his own relationship with partner Arnold Glassman at the time.
'I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked 'are Bert and Ernie lovers?' And that, coming from a preschooler was fun', he said in an interview with Queerty. 'And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were.'
'I didn't have any other way to contextualize them', he continued. 'The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as 'Bert and Ernie'... So I don't think I'd know how else to write them, but as a loving couple.'
However, Bert's creator Frank Oz has explicitly denied that the duo are in a same-sex relationship. Though he has no issue with people assuming that dynamic about the characters, that's not how he created them.
'It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert and Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course', he wrote on Twitter. '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.'
data-lang="en">September 18, 2018
In response to a fan's question of why they aren't gay, he simply added: 'I created Bert. I know what and who he is.'
Naturally, many fans reacted with anger at his response, assuming that he had some kind of problem with gay people, but in reality it seems he just wants to be honest with fans about the intentions of the show's creators. He feels that agreeing that Bert and Ernie are gay would not be an 'honest representation'.
Of course, there needs to be more queer representation in television even now, but it would be massively dishonest of creators to insist that there was such representation where there wasn't any. Is it true representation without intention?
'When a character is created to be queer it is indeed important that the character be known as such', Frank continued. 'It is also important when a character who was not created queer, be accepted as such.'
It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. 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.— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 18, 2018
Meanwhile, he is also being accused of heteronormativity, even though he hasn't explicitly stated that Bert and Ernie are straight either. In fact, he has made no allusion that either character has a sexual orientation at all.
It's easy to see where the confusion lies. His statement is now being conflated with that of the Sesame Workshop's, which could indeed be seen as an example of heteronormativity.
'As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends', they said on Twitter. '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, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.'
Such a statement, of course, throws into question the relationship between the most famous Muppets of all: Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Their relationship was obviously romantic, until 2015 when creators made a big deal in announcing that they had broken up.
Creators shouldn't be demonised for denying assumptions made about their characters, but they should always be challenged for making statements that clearly contradict the nature of the world they have created.