I misread Julian Sanchez’s post and unfortunately mischaracterized his argument because of it. I still think we disagree, on some level, about what ought to be done regarding the representation of gays on Sesame Street. Julian did not argue that Bert and Ernie should be married or presented as a gay couple, but he does argue for the inclusion of gay muppets (it’s the title of the post, after all). I think the muppets should remain essentially without sexual orientation. The muppets are basically children, or childlike. Certainly they are not fully developed people with human relationships beyond the platonic. I see very little value added, all controversy aside, adding gay muppets to the show. Again, though, a gay human couple would be fine, quite likely a positive inclusion, and wouldn’t have to include any overt discussions of the nature of the relationship since sexuality is just not a topic on Sesame Street, for obvious reasons. On this I think Julian and I agree:
That doesn’t mean there needs to be overt discussion of sexuality, any more than the presence of black characters requires an explanation of the horrific conditions under which African slaves were transported to the new world, or how their ancestors won civic equality decades later. It just means that having a cast with human characters of multiple races is a choice, even if “race” is never discussed, and a choice that implicitly “teaches” something different from a show where non-white faces are never glimpsed, or where characters of different races are present, but never interact (even if, again, this fact is never mentioned). If the show had nothing but Muppets, of course, the question wouldn’t arise at all. But if, for 40 years, every human adult or child face on the show were white, we would not be much impressed with the defense: “Well, it is not Sesame Street’s mission to teach kids about race relations.” If the ideal community represented by Sesame Street were 100% Anglo-Saxon in a country that’s about 64% non-Hispanic white, the complete absence of race relationswould be teaching kids something about race relations. That’s one reason Sesame Street has always maintained a diverse human cast—and taught kids something precisely by showing all these friendly neighbors who don’t ever have to bring up the topic of race.
Of course, any addition of a gay couple – human or muppet, subtle or not – will be met with serious political backlash. It’s a culture war, after all.