Bert and Ernie in Crisis


#1

Originally published at: https://www.geektherapy.com/bert-and-ernie-in-crisis/

#158: This week we discuss the new DC Comics event Heroes in Crisis and the comments by writer Mark Saltzman about how he wrote the characters of Bert and Ernie when he worked on Sesame Street.

Questions? Comments? Discuss this episode on the GT Forum.

Notes:

00:00:00 - Intro / Community Catch-Up

00:01:58 - Heroes in Crisis

00:06:17 - Bert and Ernie

00:30:36 - iTunes Rating Promo

00:31:32 - Media Matters

00:48:31 - Geek Therapy

00:52:02 - Plugs / Wrap-Up

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#2

Clarification: I realized after we recorded the episode that Mark Saltzman is not the creator of Bert and Ernie. The characters existed for 15 years before he wrote them and he’s only talking about how he contextualized and wrote the characters while he worked at Sesame Street.

Also, I’d like to make clear that I don’t believe that what applies to characters applies to real people. When I say that if a character is a gay to you, it is gay, I mean that you can relate to a character in ways that may not be intended by the creators, as in the case of Bert and Ernie.


#3

This was interesting to listen to. I didn’t even know about this whole conversation going on online but I’ve heard this said before. Mostly around middle school when it was used as a joke of sorts, another one of many ways that teen boys try to shove away all that “kiddy” stuff and the toxic sort of idealities that can pop up at the time. But I never gave it much thought myself.

I never really watched too much Sesame Street so I never thought about them much. I watched a few episodes as a kid and I recognize the characters but I never thought too much about it. I suppose for me, I’m fine with either way of going about it. I understand why Sesame Street made the statement they did officially, and I’m not personally upset with them over it, I get that companies kinda have to be away from any thing that can pop up like that, though I think they should have accepted it rather than deny. I don’t have enough context on a personal level to think of if I see them as a gay couple but I can totally see why people feel that way having seen some clips as I’ve gotten older. And I think even if they weren’t originally created as gay characters, if different writers have intended them to be that over the years, then maybe they are now. Not everyone is aware of their sexuality at the same point and I would think that even as they would likely be classified as “adults” by technicalities, that later in life perhaps they found that they are gay and love each other to a more romantic degree rather than as best friends. I like that idea certainly, and I think that’s because it is a bit of a mirror for myself, much like how Lauren mentioned that she always saw them as a gay couple because she had family in that relationship already. I didn’t know I was bisexual until relatively recently and so I think that Bert and Ernie being gay now is perfectly fine and good as something they’ve accepted for themselves after their history together.

The first thing that came to mind for me listening to this too was a somewhat similar conversation that’s happened in the Fire Emblem fanbase for a while, centered around Ike who people may know from his appearances in the recent Smash Bros games. It’s a long explanation for both sides of it but there are a few conversations and the epilogue that people point to as saying that Ike and Soren, his tactician, are in a relationship with one another.


#4

I think it was this episode, but I am just wondering. What is wrong with adding in representation of folks after the fact? In terms of the Harry Potter books, that was published in the late 90s. Diversity and representation weren’t at the forefront in the media during that time. Would it have been better to just not have any sort of added representation in it? I appreciate that the HP universe is evolving and changing to be more inclusive overall.


#5

My personal feelings are that trying to squeeze in diversity and representation after the fact “cheapens” it. Basically, it feels disingenuous. Adding it in later makes me think that it didn’t really matter to you (not YOU, you, but the author/creator you), and instead you added it later to get social approval or try and get more interest from audiences after the fact. It’s fine that JK Rowling imagined Hogwarts as mostly white christian students, but it’s a problem when several years later she says stuff like “Well, I never explicitly said Hermione was white!!” which then, if you examine Hermione’s character development as if she were actually a woman of color… well… it gets problematic extremely fast.

Something I’ve always loved about the HP community is how they’re NOT limited by JKR’s original texts; fanfiction is amazing and isn’t limited by canon. This is also a complex discussion because it’s not just a book series, the movies and various Potterverse related things add a lot of extra layers. Like you said, the books were started in the late 90’s, and we would be having a very different conversation if, say, the movies had hired a black actress to play Hermione, or tried to increase diversity on screen in any way really. If JKR used the Fantastic Beasts movies to actually examine/address/even mention Dumbledore being gay, I think I would feel differently. But because, even when given the opportunity, JKR chooses to say her works are diverse, rather than make them diverse, it doesn’t feel genuine.

Thanks for posting :smiley:


#6

My take on it is that, there being a character with a minoritized characteristic does not representation make. You can write a whole book about a character and later say they were gay, but regardless, they fact that they are gay adds nothing to the story and does nothing to actually include the experiences of gay people in the narrative, it’s just a descriptor. JK Rowling is a great writer and she knows how to weave complex characters. I have no idea how she suddenly decides to tack details on characters in an attempt to be more PC.

Its also like when she says that Hufflepuff is her favorite house, but the amount of effort she put into creating Hufflepuff characters and really representing the value and diversity in that house is null through an entire 7 books series!!!

It’s like saying that (hypothetically), oh Hermione struggles with bi-polar disorder. Sure you can retroactively read everything in the past and make your own cannon trying to support this claim, but she obviously didn’t put any effort to actually representing the struggles of a person that goes through manic episodes. Simlarly the fact that Dumbledore is gay is useless to us, because as far as we know through the actual books, he is a celibate asexual old man. Never in her books does she even mention the idea that he might have been interested in entertaining a relationship with anyone, so I don’t se how him being gay is relevant or adds to the story. Unless, of-course, they integrated it in Fantastic Beasts…