After The New Yorker published their great “Bert and Ernie” cover celebrating the recent same sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court, there was understandably much debate. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association called it child abuse. And he has been somewhat supported by the Children’s Television Workshop who claim that, “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
I’ve never thought of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, but they do represent an archetype the same way as Oscar and Felix on The Odd Couple and Frasier and Niles on Frasier. No one is suggesting that these characters are doing the nasty off screen. But they provide in a metaphorical sense something that we rarely see on television: married couples who are equals. But Bert and Ernie do something that we never see with similar characters: they sleep in matching twin beds in the same room, just like married couples in the golden age of movies:
What I find interesting about the magazine cover, is that there is nothing specifically sexual about it. What it shows is intimacy. And that is what Bryan Fischer is angry about. It upsets cultural standards that dictate that men should never be gentle or close with each each. Anything beyond a slap on the back or a punch in the arm might lead to anal sex in a public park. (I assume that people like Fischer spend a good deal of time imagining men having anal sex.)
But I think these kinds of proscriptions are what make men so screwed up. In social interactions between men, I estimate that half of all the time is spent communicating, “I’m not gay!” And that has led me to believe that most men are a hell of a lot more gay than they know. Or at least that unless they keep up all this macho bullshit some gay guy will come onto them. Louis CK has a brilliant routine about when he was younger how this gay bar owner was constantly trying to have sex with him. Twenty years later, he talks it over with a friend and figures out that the actual story was just, “There was this gay guy.” Regardless of how ugly or out of shape a guy is, he thinks everyone just wants a piece of that.
I think much better of Bert and Ernie. I suspect they do cuddle on the couch as they watch TV at night. The one thing I would take exception to is their choice of content. I think they would be more into comedies and musicals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.