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The middle of the street

Culture | Sesame Street tries to keep Bert and Ernie out of the culture wars
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 9/21/18, 03:26 pm

Sesame Street producers tried to set the record straight this week, asserting that puppet characters Bert and Ernie are not a gay couple. For generations, smirking teens have suggested that the roommates were more than friends, and former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman seemed to confirm it in an interview posted Sunday on the website Queerty. He said he always imagined Bert and Ernie as a romantically involved couple when he was writing scenes for them.

In response to the Saltzman interview, the show’s producers tweeted: “As we have always said, 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 … they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

That statement upset people who want to see more gay TV characters, and the show’s producers re-responded Tuesday with something more general about diversity and acceptance, saying Bert and Ernie “were created to be best friends.” As Sesame Street worked to find a middle ground with its pro-LGBT critics, Saltzman did the same for parents who want to protect their children from sexualization. He told The New York Times he didn’t mean that Bert and Ernie were gay, just that he had written from his own experiences as a gay man. Frank Oz, who helped create Bert and Ernie, also clarified on Twitter that the duo wasn’t gay, and raised the question: “Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s so much more to a human being than straightness or gayness.”

Sesame Street, Oz, and even Saltzman, who has resisted definitively arguing that Bert and Ernie are gay, are fighting an uphill battle not just against the demands of the LGBT movement, but also against the pressure to turn every commercial icon into a sigil in the culture war. Up until now, the cultish appropriation of symbols has been mostly the practice of teenagers and small subgroups. High schoolers in every generation knew what to wear and what not to wear to express their sexuality, politics, and stances on drug and alcohol use. In the intensity of today’s social and political climate, interest groups want to codify that symbolism, and brandmakers are complying. (Just look at how quickly the Nike swoosh recently went from symbolizing athleticism to expressing sympathy for Colin Kaepernick and opposition to President Donald Trump.)

The weaponization of cultural artifacts—whether it’s a brand logo or beloved children’s characters—is stifling to imagination and creativity, and Sesame Street creators are right to resist it. WORLD editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky put this way: “Do we really want a country, like Spain in the 1930s just before its civil war began, where you can look at a person’s shirt or shoes and instantly know his politics?” The answer is no. Let Bert and Ernie be puppets, not just for the children’s sake, but for all of ours.

Hat Tip Films Hat Tip Films Earl Billings in Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer

Word play

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is serving life in prison for atrocities he committed against women and children, but NPR insists on calling him a “doctor.” The Daily Beast reported this week that NPR censored an ad for the upcoming movie about Gosnell’s arrest and prosecution. Here’s the original text:

“Support for this NPR program comes from the film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. The film is the true story of abortionist Kermit Gosnell. A story the mainstream media tried to cover up because it reveals the truth about abortion.”

And here’s what NPR said was acceptable:

“Support for this NPR program comes from Hat Tip Distribution, with the film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, based on the true story of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Out Friday.”

Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis said an NPR spokeswoman told him the company requires its ads to be “value neutral” to “avoid suggesting bias in NPR’s journalism.” Lewis further revealed that the film’s producers offered to change the term “abortionist” to “abortion doctor,” but that wasn’t “value neutral” enough for NPR, despite the fact it has used the term “abortion doctor” in past reporting.

One upside? Maybe more of NPR’s pro-abortion listeners will go see the movie if they don’t know in advance what it’s really about. The film comes out Oct. 12 in theaters across the country. —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacqueline Larma Associated Press/Photo by Jacqueline Larma Bill Cosby leaves court after his sexual assault trial April 25 in Norristown, Pa.

Due in court

Bill Cosby’s sentencing hearing for his sexual assault conviction is scheduled to begin Monday. Judge Steven T. O’Neill has the option of ordering Cosby to serve probation, house arrest, or prison time. The maximum term is 10 years per count. Lawyers for Cosby, who is 81 years old and legally blind, are expected to stress his age and past philanthropy as reasons to keep him at home, while prosecutors may point to the roster of other victims as justification for putting him in prison. He’s currently on house arrest.—L.L.

Watch list

Fall TV premieres begin next week, though the most anticipated shows of the year are still a way off. The Murphy Brown reboot debuts on CBS on Sept. 27, Last Man Standing returns Sept. 28 on a new network (Fox) after a year off, and The Conners comes back without Roseanne Barr on ABC on Oct. 16.

Mark your calendar

Entertainment Weekly has new details on the Downton Abbey movie and a release date: September 2019. Can’t wait! —L.L.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Sun, 09/23/2018 08:10 am

    The fact that we are having discussions about the sexuality of puppets tells us more about the society we live in than what the final decision about that discussion is.  Remember, when we talk about the entertainment industry, it is an area controlled by progressives.  Progressives are fluid in their commitments.  Their firm commitments on a subject today may be a position they will want people prosecuted for in the near future. Certainly those of us who value decency must be ready to move away from those who would undermine it.  Better to do so early and gently rather than draw a line at some point and become very vocal but very ineffective.  

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Sun, 09/23/2018 12:10 pm

    Put so well, sir. Once again.

  • Marc Mertens
    Posted: Tue, 09/25/2018 07:58 am

    about the film Gosnell: the trial of America's biggest serial killer:

    If it must be value neutral: it has no value at all. There is not a thing like value neutral.

    If you want to get rid of God's standard, of the truth, that is already a value statement. So stop the nonsense about value neutral, gender neutral and lett's stay affirmative. If one can't stand the truth, one is living a ly. ABORTION is MURDER and serial abortions is serial murder. They can not wipe their mouths and say: we didn't do anything wrong. God's judgment will be without pardon. Now their is still a chance to repent. Tomorrow it might be to late. Heaven is real, Hell also.


    South Africa volunteer


  • TxAgEngr
    Posted: Tue, 09/25/2018 12:22 pm

    Amen, Marc.  And Ken Myers tells us that there is not even a religiously neutral way to define religious neutrality.