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Robert Galvin

Bert and Ernie sitting in a tree ... saying leave us the heck alone

It was a quiet morning. I was sitting at the table, eating my mandatory bowl of gruel — I mean, my delicious, fiber-filled, multigrain, plant-protein, good-for-me bowl of cereal — when I glanced out the window and saw that a half-dozen or so pigeons had descended on the backyard to peck away at whatever morsels had fallen out of the bird feeder.

“Oh, I love pigeons more than anything in this world,” I said out of reflex, “except oatmeal.”

I allowed myself a small chuckle at pulling out a “Sesame Street” line that seemed appropriate, when my moment of Zen ended with the pouring of reality’s cold water.

“Those aren’t pigeons,” my breakfast companion said. “They’re doves.”

Tomayto, tomahto … doves are just pigeons from a gentrified neighborhood, I decided. For that matter, I wasn’t eating oatmeal, either.

By then, though, my consciousness had floated downstream and I found myself contemplating the lover of pigeons and oatmeal.

I thought about Bert.

And, consequently, of Ernie.

The BFFs have been living together for nearly 50 years now — not that there’s anything wrong with that — and lately have suffered another oh-so-2018 kerfuffle that has upset their domestic tranquility.

Yep, their sexuality is being called into question.

Again.

This time, it was a former “Sesame Street” writer … who joined the show 15 years after Bert and Ernie appeared on the scene … who admitted that whenever he wrote for the pair, he did so from the perspective of them being a gay couple.

This, of course, brought the usual denial from the folks behind “Sesame Street.” Media members chimed in on various aspects of the long-running controversy — as sincere pleas for inclusivity rang out, conservatives blasted progressives for usurping the identity of a couple of Muppets, and soapbox pronouncements abounded about why it was important for children to see a loving LGBTQ2+ couple on their TV screens.

This bonfire quickly became a conflagration (Too soon? Sorry) when Frank Oz, who created Bert, was asked about the current flare-up and said that the pair were not gay … or straight, for that matter.

“They’re not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter?” Oz asked. “Why the need to define people as only gay? There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”

And, because this is how the world works these days, a full-fledged Twitterstorm broke out — with some of those who found they could identify with B&E as they were discovering their own identity said sure, Oz might have created Bert, but being the creator doesn’t stop the creation from becoming whom it will be.

After all, God created Elton John.

It was back in 1976 that The Artist Formerly Known As Reggie Dwight came out, announcing in that far-from-progressive time that he was bisexual.

“Saturday Night Live,” never one to miss an opportunity for drive-by social commentary, made note of Sir Elton’s less-than-surprising declaration on Weekend Update, following up with the related story that “Speedy Alka Seltzer came out of the medicine cabinet and admitted he was bicarbonate.”

Of course, Speedy Alka Seltzer wasn’t a real person … as opposed to, say, Bert and Ernie.

Earlier this year, the Tony-winning musical “Avenue Q” — a puppet-filled show that offers a somewhat darker take on a “Sesame Street” universe — ran at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

Through the puppets Rod and Nicky, it offers its own take on the sexuality question of BFFs who live together forever — only with such a heavy-handed dose of what can only be called in-your-face-ism that by the time Rod announces that he’s gay, it’s not only no surprise, but on the night I attended it drew almost no reaction from the audience.

The puppeteer-actor pulling Rod’s strings, so to speak, milked the audience repeatedly until a mediocre round of applause was deemed sufficient enough to allow the show to continue.

It was an odd moment of live theater; then again “Avenue Q” is an odd show — knowing that it’s shoving homilies down the throats of the dinner theater audience, while simultaneously serving up a self-conscious heaping helping of social manipulation for us to chew on.

“Avenue Q” twisted this concept even further with a throw-away one-liner about the LGBTQ2+ production of “Oklahoma!” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — which took audience members further out of their comfort zone as to what they were supposed to think about the performance, and the play, they were watching.

Eating my cereal, watching the high-rent pigeons, my mind wandered without necessarily getting lost until I landed upon a question: If we go to a cultural event to be entertained, do we feel intruded upon if served a side dish of political or cultural point of view?

In a landscape where Sofia Vergara can be in love with The Artist Formerly Known As Al Bundy, Joanie can love Chachi, and a Betazoid can love a Klingon — if “Sesame Street” went counter to the original concept of Frank Oz and Jim Henson and said that — yes — Bert and Ernie are more than BFFs, would it be greeted graciously as overdue affirmation, or would it open the door to another avenue for cultural tub-thumpers intent on putting their words into our mouths?

The word from “Sesame Street” is that Bert and Ernie, officially, “remain puppets.”

As do we all.

Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin, who can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com, agrees that breakfast is the best meal of the day.

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