Individuality and freedom of expression are two tenets of American culture. Nevertheless, throughout American history, the LGBTQ community has faced adversity and suppression from numerous fronts to silence their voices and identities.
Although LGBTQ rights have risen to prominence in recent years, the conversation to address this shifting social paradigm is still heavily divided among parents, teachers and families alike. Embracing diversity and inclusion is one of the more vital values in rearing a child.
Therefore, the question remains how and when to introduce the concept of homosexuality to children.
The children’s television and entertainment industry currently grapples with the same question. Preschooler-aimed Sesame Street embraces conversations on race, gender, real life events and more, and continues to celebrate differences alike.
However, the show remained hesitant to clarify the relationship characters Bert and Ernie have, even though many adult viewers interpret their relationship as romantic. The debate surrounding Bert and Ernie was recently revisited after a former Sesame Street writer said in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie as lovers.
On Sept. 18, The Sesame Workshop released a statement via Twitter that denied a homosexual relationship between Bert and Ernie. The statement is as follows: “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics … they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
It immediately provoked backlash and outrage, prompting the organization to take down the statement and replace it with a new one that simply emphasized that Bert and Ernie were just friends.
Many still have criticized Sesame Street and its approach to Bert and Ernie’s relationship, voicing that it is imperative to show homosexuality on Sesame Street to be truly inclusive.
Contrasted with Sesame Street, shows on television channel Cartoon Network such as Steven Universe and Adventure Time have displayed LGBTQ relationships. Steven Universe broke ground this summer by showing a same sex marriage this summer, and frequently features a gender “fusion” of a main male and female character.
According to entertainment outlet TheWrap, the LGBTQ community applauds the show’s creator Rebecca Sugar, and the accolades and Emmy nominations received expresses additional praise. In Adventure Time, fans were excited to see characters Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen finally profess their deep care for each other, sealed with a long-awaited kiss.
The difference between the shows can be related back to audience age. Television shows and media geared toward youth are often very influential and entertainment must highlight inclusion in appropriate ways.
There is an argument to be made that the age group of Sesame Street watchers may be too early in their development to raise the issue of LGBTQ awareness. Steven Universe and Adventure Time are rated for an older audience, which is an age where their thoughts, emotions and identities are being questioned and defined individually.
Once a show is able to clarify whom and what age they want to market to, then they can best decide which elements of life should be illustrated.