Bert and Ernie
Needless to say, this was "controversial"
The June Thomas Salon article linked in that HuffPo article (I'm not going to credit it with a link here) ends with a little gesture of YayGayz! ("whoever goes to Pride this weekend dressed as Bert and Ernie is going to gay heaven"--to which I roll my eyes.) But even as it does so, it buys into the bizarre idea that to read Bert and Ernie as a gay couple is to sexualise them ("Bert and Ernie clearly love each other. But does Ernie suck Bert’s cock? I don't think so.") which is, in fact, simply to demonstrate one's own fucked-up mindset. Because, as I've pointed out before, no one in all the years of the Muppets has ever thought, "OMG, when Kermit and Piggy are portrayed as a romantic couple, that means sexualising these puppets, conjuring Kermy's frog tongue giving Piggy the best cunnilingus ever!" The disparity of reaction is prejudice in action. The straight romance escapes such prurient prudery but the gay romance is automatically collapsed to the sexual act itself: cocksucking.
And of course that article also trots out the statement from the Children's Television Workshop a few years back which could have said they didn't want to undermine the core intent "to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves" by making romantic love the factor over-riding difference rather than simple empathy, but that neither were they going to preclude the capacity of gay children to read into them a positive role model of same-sex romance; that they weren't going to change the entire point of the puppets by making them explicitly gay, but neither were they going to make them explicitly not-gay just to kowtow to reactionary prejudice. This would have been a perfectly legitimate stance, and even while refusing to cement them as gay out of artistic integrity, the CTW could have shown real ethical backbone by saying simply that, for the sake of those young viewers who saw a future for themselves in Bert and Ernie, they were not going to lend authority to homophobic influences who sought to deny a child that vision of love.
Instead though, the CTW came out with a cop-out: "they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." This is simply a chickenshit attempt to side-step the question in order to accommodate the prejudice without appearing to affirm it by labeling them straight. In some ways, it's reassuring, because the cowardly stratagem reveals a shame underlying the self-delusion; that they had to rationalise it like this speaks of a guilty awareness that the pressure against the queer reading is wrong, pure homophobia. They clearly saw that to authorise the straight reading would be homophobic and reached for a neutral position, one that did not join in the imposition of heteronormativity.
Still, that statement does rule out the queer reading, and in its disingenuous self-delusion it does so for Bert and Ernie while being blatantly untrue as regards Piggy and Kermit. It's not remotely possible to sustain the idea that Piggy and Kermit, as puppets, are absent sexual orientation. They may be desexualised but they are not de-oriented. They may not be practicingly sexual characters but they remain actively heterosexual in terms of emotional attraction--i.e. romantic love. Piggy and Kermit put the lie to that assertion as a generality, as a principle that muppets "do not have a sexual orientation." It's clearly only really applied in the specific instance of Bert and Ernie as an expedient falsehood, only applicable there because as long as the focus is on them desexualisation can be conflated with de-orientation--will be, in fact, because the inverse conflation of orientation with sexual activity (as per the automatic collapse of gay romance to cocksucking) is part of the prejudice. That it's not legitimately applicable there (or anywhere else) only becomes self-evident if we widen the focus to include Piggy and Kermit--which of course isn't likely to happen even among the queer-reading advocates because it's natural to focus in on the point of contention.
And in all this, I haven't even touched on the fact that Piggy and Kermit are, of course, a pig and a frog, that were the conflation of orientation and sexual activity applied to them as it is to Bert and Ernie, we'd be dealing not with a queer reading of two gay men in a touchingly healthy relationship of mutual tolerance which is collapsed by prejudice to cocksucking, but rather with a straight reading of a rather unhealthy relationship of abusive jealousy between an awkwardly batrachian male and a female barnyard animal in which the muffdiving is erased because, one can only presume, the heterosexuals are OK with bestiality as long as the different species is of a different biological gender.
If we even accept for a second the notion that those objecting to the perception of Bert and Ernie's relationship as a gay romance are doing so for the sake of the children, from a fear that the chastely asexual puppets will become a locus of confusion and temptation luring innocents to a healthily homosexual human/human life-partnership, well, we've no recourse but to judge them supportive of Piggy and Kermit serving as a comparable lure toward an unhealthily heterosexual inter-species relationship of abuse. It can only be that they condone the promotion of sexual relations between animals of different phyla let alone species. Why, clearly in their commitment to polarity in relationships, to the radically oppositional biological difference of one partner from the other, these vehement advocates of heterosexuality reveal it to be a slippery slope to bestiality.
Or as I like to put it: if we can't trust you to stick to the same gender, cuntfuckers, can we really trust you to stick to the same genus?
I jest, of course. (Or do I?) But the fact remains that Piggy and Kermit stand as an evidential demolition of every nonsensical rationale brought to bear by the opponents of the queer reading of Bert and Ernie. As I say, I'd actually support the CTW in cleaving to their core intent--because as a writer I recognise how specifying them to be gay would write out much of the import. If they're in romantic love then that becomes the predominant reason they overlook each other's foibles--not the caritas the characters were invented to illustrate. Were I a spokesperson for CTW, actually, I'd offer this as my statement, playing to the conceit of their actuality, as the muppets often do:
Bert and Ernie do, of course, have sexual orientations, but these are private matters to Bert and Ernie. It is clear that they have a deep and abiding love for one another that overrides all differences, and this is what makes them, we think, important role models for children. This is why they keep their orientations private. If both are seen as straight, they're a wonderful role model of friendship. If both are seen as gay, they're a wonderful role model of romantic love. We'd ask you to consider the possibility also that one is straight while the other is gay, and that they won't say which is which because they want you to see that either of them could be, and that such a difference wouldn't change their love for one another any more than all the other differences. We at the Children's Television Workshop respect their attempt to serve as role models for viewers of all orientations, and we hope you will too.
Still, until such time as I get to write the PR releases for the muppets, we're going to have the argument over whether they're both gay or both straight, erasing that other option. And we're going to get the obliviation of the straight muppet couple sustaining the absurd nonsense that "they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." In the aim of widening the focus then, I've made a few memes for you to take forth into the interwebs with you. Do feel free to blog and Tumblr and Tweet them. I rather think that image is eminently inviting of other captions, and easy to find by a quick Google, so do feel free to make your own too.
Labels: Fuck This Shit