Bert and Ernie
Maybe it’s my age—or maybe life really is getting crazier—but even for California, it feels ever more to me that we have slipped down a rabbit hole. The latest evidence for this is the push to have the characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street get married. I don’t know what’s crazier: that the idea has gotten airtime, or that the show’s management felt compelled to issue a denial. I grant that Sesame Street is an institution for many (though not for me; I’m too old, and my childhood puppet show of choice was the very hetero Fireball XL5). It is also obvious that many gays want prominence in institutions—the Episcopal Church and the US Armed Forces come to mind. But I have three major objections to the current effort.
The first, and most obvious, is the real crime of embroiling children in sexual issues—“no child left behind” is fast becoming “no child left alone,” as Governor Brown and the queens of our State Assembly might tell you. In a society ever fearful of pedophile priests, it is astonishing that either state or media should play the role of sexual initiator. It is fashionable to denounce the notion of the latency stage; but while I am no Freudian, it is obvious that there is an intermediate stage between toddlerdom and puberty when kids are uninterested in sex unless, shall we say, it is brought to their attention. Coincidentally, this is also the period when their basic outlook forms—doubtless so that they shall deal with the Sargasso Sea of sexuality from more of a position of personal power (to the degree that anyone can). It is no shock that child molesters who were themselves victimized in youth or childhood are generally attracted to those of roughly the same age that the crime was done to them. Nor is it much of a shock that most cultures try to fill the heads of children of that age with whatever the society considers heroic, moral, or uplifting. This outlook dominated, for example, the artwork in such major public libraries as Los Angeles and Boston. It might be (and has been, ad nauseam) argued that such views were unrealistic, given the number of children who are sexually molested. But one might as well assert that since some children are beaten or starved, the rest should be in order to purge them of illusions.
Secondly, if we are going to sexualize children—and not just through puppets enjoying gay marriage, but through sex ed, ever more explicit sexual references in kid shows, slutty teenybopper fashions, and the kind of kiddie beauty pageants to which the late JonBenet Ramsey was subjected, it is time to stop persecuting as slime the ranks of molesters and kiddie-porn purveyors and start embracing them as pioneers. In a society that constantly encourages everyone to have as much sex as possible, it must be recognized that all who respond to that call will do so in accord with their own bent. If, as a culture, we wink at the aforementioned practices but jump all over molesters when caught, we are simply being teases.
Lastly, it is a bit annoying to have imaginary characters dubbed “gay” according to contemporary tastes. Bert and Ernie are suddenly gay because they are best friends and have shared a bedroom for 40 years. One supposes Holmes and Watson must be as well. Or the Three Musketeers. Or Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. Or Frodo and Samwise. Or Robin Hood and all his Merry Men. (Because she is the author, one has to bow to J. K. Rowling’s assertion that Dumbledore is gay—but you could not tell from reading the Harry Potter books). But, of course, the issue is all about building gay self-esteem.
The same quest has caused many gay scholars to annex for themselves various historical episodes, places, and people. The late John Boswell, for example, saw gay marriage in at least some Church-sanctioned male-bonding ceremonies but which were in fact Christianized forms of blood brotherhood—akin to compadrazgo. Gay Boston history maven Douglass Shand-Tucci affects to see in married architect and conservative thinker Ralph Adams Cram and his circle a sort of queer cabal (to which Ethan Anthony, current head of Cram’s firm replied in his own book on the master, “I have found no evidence to support his [Shand-Tucci’s] theories”). Of course, Shand-Tucci also asserts that Anglo-Catholicism in general is simply homosexuality in cassocks and surplices. Most historians would doubtless cite this sort of theorizing as proof that you can find anything you want to, if you want to hard enough—though wanting it does not make it so.
The fact is that sexuality—yes, and homosexuality, too—winds its way through history and literature, through childhood and life. But it is only one strand, and—save that it continues the species—not always the most important. The point of educating children is really to teach them how to live well and what is worth dying for, in a manner appropriate to their age. Before puberty arrives to cloud one’s vision (as it does until death), it is vitally important that a child have his values and morals firmly implanted. The heroic, the beautiful, and the social are what he needs—standing by one’s friends, telling the truth, loving his family, his country, and his God. When he comes of age, he will in the course of things decide for himself what is true or not (and pay the price for any mistakes in judgment). Without such a foundation, however, he will be at the mercy of whatever he sees or is told by his rulers in government or media.
Nevertheless, it may yet indeed be necessary to have a pair of puppets engage in a gay-marriage ceremony on television. If so, I nominate Mayor Tony Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (former mayor of San Francisco). Their union would bridge the state’s gap between North and South, Latino and Anglo, and the fact that both are aggressively (even adulterously) heterosexual would spell out how truly open we are. As societal attitudes evolve, Governor Brown could join the marriage, thus mainstreaming polygamists and necrophiles as well. But it would be a strictly adult show.