Oz: "I created Bert. I know what and who he is."
Only two days after the now viral Queerty interview with former muppet scribe Mark Saltzman said he wrote Bert and Ernie based on his relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman, The Sesame Workshop has released their own statement and put the yellow and orange couple back in the figurative closet.
"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
In case you missed it, Saltzman told the LGBT publication that he was Ernie, and Arnie was Bert, "...with his paper clips and organization? And I was the jokester. So it was the Bert & Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street."
The former Sesame Street writer also said he pulled real-life situations from his own relationship to create the skits. "How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?" He adds that this was not something he revealed to the head writer at the time.
And it should be noted that when Saltzman came to the show Bert and Ernie had already been a part of that universe since its pilot episode in 1969.
Frank Oz, helped create the duo with Jim Henson. Oz took to Twitter to set the record straight as well and to ask about the line of questioning in the interview.
"It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are," Oz tweeted. "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."
This set off a stream of angry tweets from others criticizing Oz for limiting the scope of the characters when they should be open to interpretation.
"Why are they not?" asked one person. "Not arguing...just wondering...He said he wrote from that POV..."
Replied Oz, "I created Bert. I know what and who he is."
Twitter user Chris Swift tried to explain to Oz, why people are upset and may have interpreted his response as flippant. "I deeply appreciate you reading the replies here and listening to the perspective of those who were upset by your tweet," he wrote. "I’ll only add that LGBT people have historically interpreted characters in media as queer (accurately or not) because we’ve had almost no actual representation. Your tweet felt dismissive of those interpretations, which are extraordinarily important to a whole host of people that just want to see themselves represented as equals in pop culture. It’s an issue that extends WAY beyond Sesame Street. That’s why people were upset."
Oz said he understood, adding, "It must make you feel very alone. But please read what I wrote: I'm very pleased people see themselves and others in a character I created, but that does not change the truth of who or what that character is."
He logged off of Twitter after a while saying he "learned something profound," adding, "Thanks for those who tweeted with me. Next time I would be very interested to know: If Bert and Ernie were indeed gay, would they be different than they are now?"