Apr 2, 2015

What's Gay about Sesame Street?

Come and play, everything's a-ok
Friendly neighbors there, that's where we meet.

Sesame Street premiered in 1969, with the goal of giving inner-city kids a "head start" in reading and math skills.  We didn't get it in Rock Island until our PBS station arrived in 1972, when I was too old to have muppets teaching me numbers and letters.  But my baby sister watched, so I saw some episodes.

Was Sesame Street a "good place"?

1. Beefcake: None.  Some of the human characters were cute, such as Alex (Alexis Cruz, left, who starred in Rooftops with Jason Gedrick).  And there was a never-ending supply of hunky guest stars, from Tony Danza to Zac Efron, but I don't recall a single bare chest.

2. Lack of Heterosexual Romance:  No.  There was no hetero-romantic interaction among the muppets, but among the humans: Bob dated Linda, Maria dated David, and finally married Luis.

3. Homoromance: No.  Neither muppets nor humans expressed any particularly strong same-sex friendships.  Indeed, pairings seemed mostly random.

The exception was Bert and Ernie, who were shown living together.  Some people have pointed to them as a homoromantic couple.  The Children's Television Workshop has issued a homophobic statement strongly condemning any suggestion that any character on Sesame Street is gay -- apparently gay children are unwelcome on The Street -- but that in itself should compel us to look for a subtext.

I still don't see one. Their friendship is neither intense nor passionate enough to qualify as homoromance. They behave like brothers.  Bert, the older, has concerns that little kids would find boring -- a paper clip collection, a devotion to the letter "W" -- and finds Ernie childish and naive.  Meanwhile Ernie keeps trying to  get Bert to play with him or read to him, exactly as a younger brother might.

They live together, but they are not homodomestic partners, like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.  They do not have adult responsibilities, like paying the rent and buying groceries.  They are children, not adults; their parents must be hovering about nearby, supervising their play.

4. Validation of Difference: Yes. The muppets are unique in temperament, and often "queer" in interests, tastes, and abilities: Oscar the Grouch's love of trash, the Cookie Monster's obsession with cookies, the Count's compulsion with counting.

But validation of difference (other than gay difference) is not enough for Sesame Street to qualify as a "good place."

See also: Burr Tillstrom, the gay puppeteer behind Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.

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