Worst Take of the Week: The Lib Dems are Radical vs Bert and Ernie are Gay
More and more these days, we see the popping springs and suspicious smoke of the take machine sending itself into an almighty overdrive.
Image via Flickr, taken by username: See-Ming Lee
Welcome to Angus Take House – a weekly column in which I will be pitting two of the wildest takes the world's great thinkers have rustled up against each other. This is your one-stop shop for the meatiest verdicts and saltiest angles on the world's happenings. Go and grab a napkin – these juicy hot takes are fresh from the griddle.
What’s the story? The challenges facing the UK! The children! The world!
Reasonable Take: The solution can only be radical ideas. Ideas that acknowledge the depth and breadth of inequality in the UK and beyond.
Milky Brew: Sounds like a job for... the Liberal Democrats!
There is something desperately charming about the Liberal Democrats constant attempts to rebrand as something other than the Liberal Democrats; like watching a school-boy return every September with a new slick of hair gel or a chain attached to his wallet, convinced that this token gesture will be enough to elevate him beyond himself. Tragically, of course, it never will. However many winking gifs are churned out, the ship has sailed, if it ever existed in the first place. The Liberal Democrats are always going to be the Liberal Democrats. They had one shot at doing, or being, something other than that back in 2010, when everyone was temporarily convinced Nick Clegg was very cool indeed, and we all know how that ended.
Nevertheless they’ve been back at it again recently, largely through the antics of liberal zaddy Sir Vince Cable, who took to the stage at the Lib-Dem conference this week to make some political waves with some spicy barbs. Not content with describing Boris Johnson and Donald Trump as the “terrible twins of the rabid right”, he went on to describe Brexit as, yep, he went there, an “exotic sprezm”. At last! Somebody with the balls to call a spade a bloody spadzl!
Elsewhere ‘Mission Make the Lib-Dems Cool Again’ had a glowing endorsement in the column inches of the Independent, where former think-tank director Ian Kearns wrote a piece titled “I left Labour for the Lib Dems because Jeremy Corbyn isn't radical enough”. Now, obviously, this was meant to ruffle feathers, but read on and it’s clear Kearns actually means what he says. As he sees it, Labour’s 2017 manifesto only offered policies that would help the middle-classes and failed to tackle any of the serious challenges facing the country. “Did it offer a strategy not to fear robots, but to turn the UK into a global centre for building and programming them?” Which is very true. There was nothing in the Labour manifesto to assuage my fear of robots.
Now, it’s possibly true that the pledges Labour made didn’t include much on the subject of AI, but it’s probably fair to say that after seven years of Tory rule the main “radical” priority was putting across a clear anti-austerity option, as opposed to one obsessed with cyber-crime or green transformation. To be honest, having read the piece a few times, I think Kearns might have confused the word “radical” with the words “sounds a bit futuristic”. Really, of course what this piece is about, is Brexit – the Lib-Dems are the only party committed to a second “people’s vote” on the subject, something Kearns makes a point to mention several times. I’m not backing it myself, but I guess the truly ‘radical’ thing to do would be to go full steam ahead with Brexit and completely rewrite Britain’s social and environmental policies free from EU directives! But you get the feeling that’s not the sort of radical the Lib-Dems have in mind. No, sorry you’re confused, we meant radical as in putting solar panels on schools and stuff.
What’s the story? Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman, who worked on the show between 1985 and 1998, revealed in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie as “lovers”. Sesame Street then issued a now-deleted response claiming the characters have “no sexual-orientation”.
Reasonable Take: Yes, this is a cop-out from the good folks down on Sesame Street.
Sesame Toast: This is Muppet erasure.
People have spent, honestly, decades trying to get to the bottom of whether or not Bert and Ernie fuck or not. I’m struggling to think of two puppets who have spent their lives more dogged by controversy and speculation than these two, the poor bastards. Yes, there has been no rest for Bert and Ernie; a pair destined to have every single bathtime and throwaway musical number about friendship analysed with a scrutiny Statler and Waldorf have never had to worry about, quite frankly.
Things got particularly heated this week when writer Mark Saltzman revealed, in LGBTQ publication Queerty, that when he was writing the characters between 1985 and 1998, he based their dynamic on his relationship with his long-term partner. He explained: “When I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were [lovers]...I didn’t have any other way to contextualise them.” Which isn’t actually the “BERT AND ERNIE ARE GAY” revelation everyone’s been hyping it as, rather a touching note that one of the many writers who worked on the characters drew on his romantic relationship for inspiration. Which is why it sucked when an official Sesame Street statement was issued refuting this fact. Many fans of the show who had grown up viewing Bert and Ernie as gay icons were understandably upset by the firm-handed distance in the statement – particularly considering Miss Piggy and Kermit definitely shag.
Sadly however, as valid as disappointment in Sesame Street’s response is, the debate around the sexual orientation of two Muppets is a conversation that, when articulated across the internet’s endless permutations of opinion – takes, counter-takes, and counter-counter-takes – is first bewildering and then quickly abstracted from all meaning.
Following the first wave of outrage that Bert and Ernie were being retrospectively separated, then came the don’t-make-everything-about-sex brigade intent on submerging any sort of nuanced conversation about representation under a thinly-veiled blanket of the words: “They’re puppets!” After that the counter-counter wave splashed gently across the pebbles, as it was announced people who were insisting Bert and Ernie are gay were engaging in an act of asexual erasure, failing to acknowledge them as non-romantic homo-affection companions, at which point real life Link Hogthrob, Piers Morgan, got involved, stating they were definitely shagging on breakfast television.
Finally the whole thing culminated in the genuinely bizarre spectacle of Twitter users attacking Frank Oz, the creator and voice of Bert, for not explicitly making his character gay some 50 years previously, when the character was first conceived in 1969 – an era famously accommodating of gay puppets. The whole thing is basically a showcase in the maddening escalation of these kind of debates. Maybe at some stage there was a valid point, but then the takes got hotter and hotter, spicier and spicier. They started to unravel and undermine each-other, and before long people were yelling that the bloke who used to voice Fozzy was being being paid off by Sesame Street’s lawyers to claim two of his Muppets are straight. Have we broken culture? More to follow!
PRIME CUT: Exotic sprezms for all! Radical dude!