There’s been another backflip in the queer case of Bert and Ernie.
For decades, the Sesame Street characters were just two blokes who live together, share a penchant for striped clothes and don’t mind seeing each other in the bath.
But in the past 24 hours, Bert and Ernie have become among the most talked-about figures in showbiz, even the day after the Emmys.
The twists in the story began when a former writer on the iconic US children’s TV show said in an interview he wrote Bert and Ernie as a “loving couple”.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were” gay, said Mr Saltzman, who told gay news site Queerty his own long-time relationship was his inspiration.
“I didn’t have any other way to contextualise them.”
Even as the comments lit up the internet – one post declared, “They’re official!!!!!” with an image of Bert and Ernie sporting wedding rings – the makers of Sesame Street declared the gay angle was fake news.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the Sesame Workshop said in a statement.
“They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.
Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”
That announcement was backed up by Star Wars puppeteer Frank Oz, who helped create Bert and Ernie nearly 50 years ago.
He took to Twitter on Tuesday (US time) to say “of course” the characters aren’t gay.
It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 18, 2018
Mr Oz’s comments sparked pushback from those who shared the importance of having gay and lesbian representation on TV, and drew him into a heated debate.
“You may have created him but you don’t seem to realise or appreciate what he meant to thousands of little boys growing up,” wrote one user.
One person wrote on Twitter that “having the flexibility to see” Bert and Ernie as gay “was good for me, and the more voices I see confirming that they definitely are not is what makes me sad.”
A third asked what the big deal is: “World they are puppets.”
The issue became big enough for the Sesame Workshop to release a second statement.
Please see our most recent statement regarding Bert and Ernie below. pic.twitter.com/gWTF2k1y83
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
Then on Wednesday afternoon (Australian time) The New York Times reported that Mr Saltzman had weighed back in, saying his comments were misinterpreted.
He said that he and his partner, Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003, were like Bert and Ernie, opposites who found a way to love each other.
“As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work,” Mr Saltzman told the Times.
“Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay,” he said. “There is a difference.”
The TV characters, he said, “are two guys who love each other. That’s who they are”.