Since the Culture Wars of the 1980s, the Children's Television Workshop has several times officially announced that Ernie and Bert are “just good friends.” These days, though, it would be rare to see these two engaged in one of their famous bickering-in-the-bedroom scenes. While it is not unlikely that the Workshop rotated these skits out of Sesame Street, in part, to eliminate the gay panic once and for all, Ernie and Bert were doomed by the 1990s simply because they were too old for the show. In the years since the introduction of Baby Bear and Elmo, the sort-of-grown-up Ernie and Bert have become expendable.
Yet they live on via the diffuse phenomenon of Ernie and Bert slash. I say diffuse, because it’s hard to call this stuff slash in the strictest sense. (If you are looking for something hot, seek out K/S, not E/B.) While the main thrust (ahem) of slash is to give viewers a charge, sometimes a chuckle, and often food for thought, the goal of manipulated Ernie and Bert footage is often to point to the ridiculousness of a true E/B pairing, simply turning on the crude premise that it’s funny to pretend that puppets could be fags. The typical move is to cut in bleeps whenever Ernie and Bert converse in the bedroom. The best bleeping approach to Sesame Street I’ve seen is not E/B specific—and it comes from mainstream TV, not resourceful fans—but at least it is dirty without being mean spirited.
My favorite E/B video, though, gets everything just right. The Dutch audio is simply a translation of what the characters say in the U.S. version: Bert is excited to read about the big National Pigeon Show, while Ernie tries to hog the newspaper. The subtitles tell a different story, in which the characters bicker over gay marriage (don’t ask me what’s up with the short PSA in English that follows). The whole thing works not because the dialogue is funny—though it is—but because it reveals what made E/B a couple all along. Not that they lived together and shared a bedroom, but that they bickered constantly like an old married couple. Bert was the bitchy top; Ernie was the goofy bottom, the one who really wore the pants in the relationship. In other words, the original Dutch footage centered on the newspaper shtick is every bit as gay as the subtitled, reworked scenario.
The Workshop always had one trump card they used to prove that E/B was “really” a straight coupling: the characters were originally based on Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple. Need I say more?