Celebrity | Television

The Truth About Bert And Ernie's Relationship Leads To Huge Debate

PBS

Bert and Ernie are two of the most iconic characters in television history. But despite the fact that they are Muppets, people have constantly been looking for the "truth" about their relationship.

It's a debate we've all heard since we were kids on the playground, "Bert and Ernie aren't just roommates, they are in love."

Kids would debate it on the school yard, but nothing ever really came from it, at least nothing official, but now one of the original writers has spoken up about his original intentions for the characters.

Mark Saltzman was a writer for Sesame Street, and he revealed that in the time he was writing for the show he did consider them to be in a relationship.

Bert and Ernie
PBS

"And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [a gay couple]. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie [Mark’s partner] & I as “Bert & Ernie."

Saltzman went on to share that a lot of the stories he wrote for the characters had ties to his real life relationship with his partner Arnie.

"That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship," Saltzman explained. "How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?"

"I don't think I'd know how else to write them, but as a loving couple."

Bert and Ernie
PBC

"I wrote sketches...Arnie's OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was," he continued. "And that's the Bert and Ernie dynamic."

But he admitted to not sharing that with the other writers as he didn't think they would really understand the appeal of this little backstory.

"I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, “oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me. But those two, Snuffleupagus, because he’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…you had characters that appealed to a gay audience."

However, the Sesame Street Twitter account was quick to come back with a response.

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 human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.

Bert and Ernie
PBS

They followed this up by saying, "Sesame Street has always stood for inclusion and acceptance. It's a place where people of all cultural backgrounds are welcome. Bert and Ernie were created to be best friends, and teach young children that people can get along with those who are very different from themselves."

While Saltzman created some of the stories, he was not responsible for creating the characters. Frank Oz, one of Jim Henson's original partners actually commented on the whole situation as well.

Bert and Ernie
PBS

"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?" Oz asked. "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."

He received a lot of feedback over his comments, some more rude than others, but he actually took time to respond.

One user said, "it's important for characters to be explicitly declared queer, because the mainstream will code them straight by default."

Bert and Ernie
PBS

Oz responded his agreement, but with a stipulation. "Agreed. When a character is created to be queer it is indeed important that the character be known as such," he said. "It is also important when a character who was not created queer, be accepted as such."

He also tweeted out a message to Saltzman to clarify he wasn't upset by his comments.

"I hope Mr Saltzman doesn’t feel my comment was directed towards him. My comment was directed towards the question. He sounds like a caring person. He never said B & E were gay. But when others took that leap from his interview I felt I had to question the need for the question."

Oz does credit his tweets and the resulting comments for teaching him something valuable about the world and representation.

Bert and Ernie
PBS

"But I did learn something from [Twitter user Logainne]. Although it doesn't matter to me if someone is gay or viewed as gay, I learned it does matter to a great many people who feel they are not represented enough. The Tweet discussion was worth it for me to just learn that."

He also took the time to clarify his previous statement, explaining the characters are neither straight nor gay.

Bert and Ernie
PBS

"When I wrote “They’re not, of course”, did you think I was saying something like, 'They’re straight like everyone else?'  What I was  actually saying was 'They’re not, of course. Jim and I never created them to be gay.'  Just a misunderstanding. Thanks for for the discussion."

So I guess the moral of the story is that the creator doesn't have a problem with people seeing what they want in the characters, but if you want to know how they were intentionally created, it was without sexuality in mind because they are Muppets.

Source - Unilad / Deadline / CNN / CP24

Do you think they should have left it with the writer's opinion? Or is it better that they corrected it.

Tanya has been writing for Shared for two years. She spends too much time thinking about dogs, Marvel movies, and ice cream. You can reach me at tanya@shared.com