There was a fairly silly online petition going around proposing that “Sesame Street” marry off Bert and Ernie. I found it silly because Bert and Ernie are not necessarily adult characters but a child’s fantasy of what it would be like to live with your best friend. However, the reaction to this mostly benign petition is even sillier.
“Sesame Street” released a statement on Thursday regarding the petition that struck me as defensive and misguided.
Bert and Ernie are best friends. 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.
Peter Roff of U.S. News and World Report further reinforced the Sesame Workshop’s assertion that “puppets” do not have “sexual orientation.”
(Bert and Ernie) are funny, engaging characters who demonstrate to children that people—no matter how different they might be in temperament, likes, dislikes and personalities—can still be the best of friends. But they are also, as apparently has been lost on some people, Muppets—a combination marionette and foam rubber puppet invented decades ago—by the legendary Jim Henson and his wife Jane. Muppets are not people, and while they are in many cases gender specific they, as the Sesame Workshop felt compelled to point out Thursday, “Do not have a sexual orientation.” Nonetheless someone out there thinks they would be useful to further a point about sexual identity.
However, as writer MaryAnn Johanson points out, this retroactive neutering of the Muppets is demonstrably false.
But… Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are puppets, too, and yet they clearly have sexual orientations (not to mention the other more problematic issue of transspeciesism). And Kermit was originally a Sesame Street Muppet. And Elmo has parents, Mae and Louis. So clearly Sesame Street Muppets can have sexual orientation… as long as its hetero.
Johnson is correct and shines a light on one of the more insidious undercurrents regarding how many heterosexuals view homosexuals: They are defined by their sexual identity and that sexual identity is unsettling. Thus, Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship, a core component of most of the films and TV shows involving them, is both normal and appropriate for children. Bert and Ernie as a couple would, as Roff fears, “further the end of childhood innocence in America.”
There’s no logical reason why a child could comprehend a heterosexual couple more easily than a homosexual one. True, there is the relatability of a male and female couple but how much of that is a ramification of most children growing up in such an environment compared to its being a dominant image in books, TV, and film? Also, when children see a couple, their minds don’t generally move directly to what the couple does in the bedroom. Without their parents’ hangups influencing them, they would probably see a homosexual couple through the same lens as a heterosexual couple: Two people who live together and are a family.
Upon reflection, I think the petition’s goal was to show children that a gay couple is not just normal but is as capable of innocence as a heterosexual couple (I also found Miss Piggy’s romantic aggressiveness rather forward-thinking at the time). This is what Roff and others like him wish to deny gays, so they make the specious argument that if “Sesame Street” decided to make Bert and Ernie a couple, the show is suddenly no longer for kids. It’s essentially “Queer as Folk” in felt. Gays are nothing more than their sexuality, the deviant behavior the Bachmanns of the world wish to “cure.” Love, commitment, and family are all the province of heterosexuals.
The petition also makes the valid point that the “indoctrination” Roff fears is not a negative. If we believe that children are not simply sociopaths — I’m not entirely convinced — then we must understand that they are naturally inclined to mock what they don’t understand or what’s different. “Sesame Street” has for years played a part in minimizing those areas of ignorance. If Roff thinks that children are not “sophisticated” enough to be exposed to a gay couple, then what did he think of Christopher Reeve’s appearance on the show, during which Reeve explained his paralysis to Big Bird?
I have no issue with “Sesame Street” choosing to keep Bert and Ernie as heterosexuals. Frankly, the obvious jokes about their relationship was as tiresome and off-the-mark as the ones about Batman and Robin. It’s just unfortunate that the Sesame Workshop would have to fall into the even more tiresome and off-the-mark perspectives of homosexuality.
Today in Advertising…
This Dr Pepper commercial does several things that annoy me:
The ad doesn’t bother detailing the virtues of the product because it has none. Its second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, which will keep you on track for diabetes and gout. It also contains phosphoric acid that will strip away the enamel from your teeth. And its primary purpose is to serve as a delivery system for a psychoactic drug.
There is enough wrong with soda that you wonder why their commercials don’t look like a pharmaceutical ad.
Maybe in 30 years or so we’ll view today’s soda ads with the same disbelief we have for cigarette ads from the 1960s.
Odd that the pharmaceutical ad is the most honest of the bunch. Like the cigarette ads of yesterday, the Dr Pepper ad pushes a lifestyle and worse endeavors to make the consumption of its product somehow admirable. It’s even generous enough to ask that you go on Twitter and use its focus-group crafted hashtag to help spread the word.
Selling consumerism as individualism is not new. Apple did it in 1984 with its famous Super Bowl ad inspired by the George Orwell novel. There’s no information about the actual product and how its superior to the competition. No, all you need to know is that the competition offers conformity and Apple offers freedom and individuality. Not too much individuality, of course, as the company wants to sell some computers but popular individuality, which is what every American teen desires.
Watching this ad again, the dystopian society depicted resembles an Apple factory in China but with breaks for organized TV viewing.
In 1987, Nike co-opted The Beatles’ “Revolution,” a song about non-violent social change, to sell high-priced sneakers — as if there is something revolutionary about spending lots of money on articles of clothing. This was basically the Reagan era telling the 1960s counter culture: “We won.” Kids bought into it, though. Some died, as a result.
The Super Bowl annually combines two of my least favorite things — professional sports and conspicuous consumerism. Three, if you count the ritual humiliation of once-great musical acts. At some point, people started paying more attention to the ads that aired during the game than the game itself. I watched these professionally for 10 years. There’s not one legitimate emotion revealed or original idea explored. It is a collection of lies and untruths with one common theme — buy.
The big ad this year is a Honda spot featuring Matthew Broderick in a parody of his role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Yeah, Broderick’s almost 50 now but so was Alan Ruck when he played Cameron.
This has upset some people on the Internets. MaryAnn Johanson at Flick Filosopher laments that the ad is just Broderick hawking cars while the 1986 movie was “about nonconformity, breaking out, being a rebel.” I respectfully disagree. These “rebels” used their freedom to drive through posh Chicago in a sports car and dine at an exclusive restaurant the film’s antagonist Ed Rooney could never afford. Is it bold and individualistic to skip school? And to face no repercussions for your actions? Rooney doesn’t pursue Ferris for unjust reasons — it’s not like he’s a poor kid Rooney unfairly resents at the magnet school. Ferris is actually guilty.
I suppose it doesn’t matter because the presentation of the movie is designed so that you’ll ignore the actual substance. It’s a feature length commercial, which is why it’s impossible for the Honda ad to “sell out” what Ferris Bueller represents. Ferris is commercial culture. Now go buy a Dr Pepper.
Posted by Stephen Robinson on January 30, 2012 in Capitalism, Pop Life, Social Commentary
Tags: Apple, Dr. Pepper, Ferris Beuller, flick filosopher, Honda, Nike