The New Yorker’s just-released cover for next week’s issue celebrates the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage with an image of Sesame Street Muppets Bert and Ernie cuddling in front of a TV set watching the justices on TV. It’s called “Moment of Joy.”
It is perfect.
Artist Jack Hunter created the cover. “It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” he said. “This is great for our kids, a moment we can celebrate.”
The cover was actually created last year for a competition, but with President Obama on the TV set instead of the Supremes and timed to the president’s statements on his evolving views on gay marriage. “While I’m certainly not the first person to speculate about Bert and Ernie’s more personal and private relationship, I thought they were well suited to represent how a lot of gay couples must have felt hearing Obama’s comments … After all, they’ve been together for almost 50 years … as ‘just friends’ or otherwise,” Hunter said at the time.
The radicalness of the cover is in how normal it is. There’s a very Norman Rockwell, heart-of-America vibe to the image, from the vintage black-and-white TV set with bunny-ear antennae to the couple’s comfortable embrace. Illustrating the landmark moment in the equal rights movement with an image of Bert and Ernie instantly conjures up nostalgia. They’re iconic, and almost every single American has an emotional connection to them.
We’ve always wondered what goes on behind closed doors at Bert and Ernie’s apartment. Portraying them as just like any other couple—just take the leap for this cover’s sake and pretend they’re romantically involved—that spend their nights cuddling in front of the TV is incredibly meaningful. It’s a striking depiction of what those who have been rallying for gay marriage have been saying all along. Love is love; it is no different when you’re gay than it is when you’re straight.
The reaction, for the most part, has been overwhelmingly positive. “We interrupt Morning Funnies to bring you this Morning Powerful-and-Touchingsies special report: The New Yorker’s Bert and Ernie gay marriage cover is perfect,” Elizabeth Thompson at Paper Mag said. The Huffington Post called it one of the New Yorker’s “most awesome covers of all time.” Rebecca Greenfield at the Atlantic Wire called it the “picture perfect symbol for gay marriage.”
Twitter was flooded with accolades …
… and a few dissenters.
I can't be the only person who thinks the New Yorker's Bert and Ernie #DOMA cover is a demeaning, cheap gag masquerading as witty pathos.— Andisheh Nouraee (@andishehnouraee) June 28, 2013
Fuck that New Yorker cover, basically.— Tyler Coates (@tylercoates) June 28, 2013
And there was June Thomas at Slate, who called the cover “a terrible way to commemorate a major civil rights victory.” It sends a counterproductive message, she said, as Bert and Ernie are, in fact, just friends and not a closeted couple. “As prejudice against gays and lesbians fades, more of these ambiguously gay couples will declare themselves. But that doesn’t mean that every pair of co-habiting friends is madly making out a nightly basis.”
Thomas makes another important point: “Does Ernie suck Bert’s cock? I don’t think so.”
Giggling over the “roommates” has followed Bert and Ernie for decades, so much so that Children’s Television Workshop was forced to declare that the puppets “do not exist beneath the waist.”
So not only is, as Thomas said, Ernie not sucking Bert’s cock, they don’t even have them.
Still, the assumption that the friends were actually lovers continued, and in 2011 there was a Change.org petition for Sesame Street to stage a wedding. What better tool for “teaching tolerance and saving the lives of LGBT children,” supporter Jillian Page at The Montreal Gazette said. Once again, Children’s Television Workshop was forced to respond. “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.”
True, Bert and Ernie are not gay, and many people are offended by the fact that in its iconic gay marriage cover, The New Yorker couldn’t be bothered to feature an actual gay couple. But the truth of the matter is that they are gay icons—probably the most recognizable gay icons in pop-culture history. That may be a “shame,” as Tyler Coates at Flavorwire says, but it’s true. Bert and Ernie are not gay, but the cultural narrative behind their relationship is a gay one. If The New Yorker was looking for a meaningful way to symbolize a decades-long struggle, given the connection so many of us have to Bert and Ernie and their “story,” the magazine couldn’t have depicted the moment with a more powerful image.
Plus, as Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress said, the cover is “a striking nod to the role that pop culture has played in changing public opinion about gay couples.”
The cover is called “Moment of Joy,” which countless people felt after Wednesday’s decision. And thanks to this heart-melting image, that moment is lasting a little bit longer.