“They’re just friends.” This is the point the producers of “Sesame Street” insisted in response to an online petition to bring characters Bert and Ernie together in holy matrimony. In August, more than 10,000 people signed the document requesting that PBS host a wedding ceremony for the long-time roommates. Was this group asking the children’s television show to push a gay agenda and promote certain lifestyles?
Yes and no. In a world where LGBTQ youth are bullied and pushed to and beyond extraordinary emotional limits, we, as a society, need to start instilling tolerance at a young age. Children and parents tune in to programs like “Sesame Street” for the promotion of acceptance, education and respect. Those puppets are all different colors, remember? Living together peacefully while embracing differences is one of the most basic themes of children’s programming, and LGBTQ lifestyles are just another cultural difference to be represented.
But the entertainment industry, particularly “Sesame Street,” shouldn’t be responsible for manipulating 40 years of character development to fit a gay agenda. But adding new characters that support LGBTQ causes would be a great idea. South Africa’s version of the program now features an HIV-positive character to counter ignorance. Now, if Oscar the Grouch suddenly announced he had AIDS, the integrity of the show would be compromised because it violates the believability factor, which still has to be there even if more than half the characters are made of fabric.
Shows that incorporate homosexuality into our everyday lives are more fully representing our cultural reality. The entertainment business has every right to depict the lives of all people. “The Cosby Show” portrayed an upper middle class black family. “The Brady Bunch” showed Mike and Carol sleeping in the same bed. It’s the industry’s prerogative to portray cultural issues in any light. Today, shows like “Glee” and “Modern Family” are simply extending this idea to cover the cultural issues of the day, and they have every right to do so.
According to a Gallup poll, we are living in a country where more people support gay marriage than oppose it. It would be perfectly logical to have more programming with same-sex marriages. Putting the initiatives of LGBTQ causes in the plots of our sitcoms and feature films can create positive change.
But forcing characters to fit into certain roles disrupts the flow of a program.
“Modern Family” didn’t snag four Emmys by alienating its audience. Most episodes revolve around Cameron and Mitchell’s antics in finding a preschool for their daughter, throwing a birthday party and balancing their professional and personal lives. No episode has been 22 minutes of fashion scandals or gaydar analyses. Those motifs appear, of course, but they don’t dictate the show’s plot. If “Modern Family” was used solely to promote the gay agenda, it wouldn’t be the relatable, entertaining success that dominates primetime television.
If American culture has a gay agenda, fine. Let the entertainment industry promote tolerance and understanding, while still respecting its audience’s intelligence. Lily’s two dads should be able to say their vows on television, but only because they truly represent what it means to be a married couple, unlike two puppets I think we all know.