Apparently people have been citing shows like Will & Grace and Glee as reasons why the national attitude on homosexuality has changed, although whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on who’s doing the citing. I’m surprised none of them said Sesame Street, what with the persistent rumor that Bert and Ernie are gay.
Evidence suggests that this joke started in 1980 with The Real Thing, a book by Kurt Andersen. Of course, representatives of the actual show have contradicted this, with the excuse that Bert and Ernie are puppets. Not that this necessarily means anything. There are sometimes couples among Muppets, even on Sesame Street, so why not a same-sex couple in addition to the male-female ones? Obviously they’re not going to go into details. It’s Sesame Street, not Sodomy Street. But this seems suspiciously familiar to the spurious argument that same-sex relationships are automatically more adult. I’ve also seen it suggested that Bert and Ernie are supposed to be children, but I don’t think there’s ever been any official word on this, unlike how Big Bird is perpetually six. Bert and Ernie live in an apartment and do their own shopping, so I just figure they’re adults with childish personalities.
No, I think the more successful argument against Bert and Ernie is a couple is, well, why do they have to be? Can’t two best friends live together without there automatically being assumptions that there has to be hanky-panky going on behind the scenes? Sources that have been mentioned as inspirations for the Muppets are The Odd Couple and the friendship between their original puppeteers, Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
They’re a good example of the roles of the goofy guy and the straight man (no innuendo intended). From what I’ve heard, Oz originally disliked Bert because he found the character boring, but later turned that into a strength. Bert has an obsession with oatmeal, collects bottle-caps, and reads books of Boring Stories.
The two date back to the pilot episodes of Sesame Street, where they were better received than the rest of the show, influencing the decision to feature more Muppets. And really, whatever they want to do behind closed doors is none of our business.