Over the weekend, the L.A. Times marshaled the evidence to address an age-old question: Is Sesame Street’s Bert, longtime bachelor and committed friend of Ernie, gay? Back in 1980, Kurt Andersen described the Muppets as conducting “themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.” Since then, Bert and Ernie’s orientation has remained ambiguous, a subtext for grown-ups to joke about (a 2002 short film Ernest & Bertram presented the two as an openly gay couple; Sesame Street sent a cease and desist letter to filmmakers), if not for kids to understand. Then, this past June, on the occasion of the new A-Team movie, Bert tweeted, “Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T’s? The only difference is mine is a little more ‘mo,’ a little less ‘hawk.’” Is Bert actually gay, or are people just seeing what they want to see?
While it’s hard to come up with an interpretation of “‘mo”in this context other than “short for homosexual,” this is a Muppets’ Twitter account — it’s possible this joke and its insinuations weren’t cleared with all Sesame Street brass before being tweeted. The rest of the evidence the Times presents to suggest Sesame Street has become more gay friendly in the months since the tweet is less straightfoward — an appearance by Wanda Sykes, a spoof of the gay-friendly (and also sex-friendly) True Blood, the almost appearance of “gay icon” (and big-time pop star) Katy Perry, and a Will.I.Am performance of “What I Am,” “a song about accepting who you really are, prompting much online debate about its underlying message.”
Not surprisingly, Sesame Street, which airs on the publicly funded PBS, says all gayness is accidental. According to a representative, “We’ve always reached out to a variety of actors and athletes and celebrities to appear on the show, and our programming has always appealed to adults as much as children. Honestly, the idea that anyone would interpret [this season] that way never crossed our minds.” But even if, as the Times says, “Sesame Street isn’t intentionally drawing in families with gay parents,” those parents are embracing the show. But is that actually because of Wanda Sykes, Katy Perry, and a Bert tweet? Or even because Grover may be pro-gay-marriage? Or because bighearted Sesame Street continues to do its job: being inclusive and welcoming enough that everyone can see in it what they want to see.