Friday FREAK OUT! Bert & Ernie’s moment of joy on the New Yorker cover

The internet, Twitter, Facebook, and news outlets worldwide are freakin’ out about the cover of next week’s issue of the New Yorker, that appeared online today.

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The photo, titled, “Bert and Ernie’s Moment of Joy”, was submitted by independent artist Jack Hunter to a Tumblr page. He shared,

It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime…This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.

The reaction to the cover photo has been overwhelming, both in support and admiration, and strong criticism. What are the two sides saying (on Twitter, at least)?
PRO

CON

on a somewhat related note that was probably not the intention…

In response to an online petition for Bert and Ernie to get married in 2011, Sesame Workshop did issue a statement that Bert and Ernie are not gay, and do not have a sexual orientation. more on this story here.

What is the fearless sexuality educator response?
As with any media sensation that illicits a divisive response, it is important to examine the rationale behind both sides. Encourage participants to identify what the image says to them, without imposing the views that they may have heard already and ignoring anything that they may already know about Bert and Ernie. You might get responses including…
– It’s ok for two male-identified puppets to sit closely together on the couch.
– Looks like Bert and Ernie were watching the SCOTUS rulings (presumably on marriage equality, but as benschwartzy points out in his tweet, the voting rights act was also ruled on).
– They’re just puppets- fictional characters on a kids show.
– Dude, what are you thinking, that image has been on on the internet for a year already.

Also ask participants about what is unclear from just looking at the picture. Those responses may be something like…
– The nature of the relationship between Bert and Ernie.
– Whether Bert and Ernie have actually talked about their relationship.
– If it’s cold, and that’s the reason why they’re cuddling.
– If Bert and Ernie are sexually involved, is their sexual relationship healthy and consensual.
– How old Bert and Ernie are (there are rumors that they are supposed to be just 6 years old).

Follow up this discussion with some additional thoughts about media literacy (which is a common theme in my Friday FREAK OUT series) communicating that it’s important to reflect on the intention of the image, and what messages are explicitly and implicitly communicated. Ask participants that if they are going to share this photo on Facebook, what does it tell your ‘friends’ about your position? What would your tweet say? How might they respond if someone disagreed with your point of view?

I am personally torn. On one side, I appreciate the image that the author clearly stated the support of a national trend towards acceptance of same-sex relationships. On the other hand, it does assume a lot about the nature of the relationship of two fictional characters, and contribute to the notion that two men can’t just be friends and show affection. I’m not quite as worked up as Tyler Coates, but I’m also not about to make the picture my Facebook timeline background.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Nipplegate

Tsk Tsk! The New Yorker recently got in trouble with Facebook because one of their cartoons supposedly did not fit the Sex and Nudity guidelines, resulting in the temporary ban of the New Yorker’s entire Facebook page.

What was so offensive? Two dots, representing female nipple bulges.

I understand the need to have guidelines (enter teachable moment about boundaries!), especially for a social media platform where users can certainly misuse the site; however, this “infraction” should hardly warrant banning the entire page. It’s a good thing that Facebook reversed its decision and reinstated the page, but what does this ‘freak out’ say about our culture?
• Dots are nipples, and you can tell the difference between a male dot (OK) and a female dot (NOT OK)
• Cartoons are the same as real-life depictions
• There’s something about female nipple bulges that makes them in appropriate

I can’t help but draw the parrallel to my recent blog post about Olympic Boobs & Boners, where I highlighted that body-part freak outs could be contributing to problems with self-image and acceptance of our bodies. I mean, what do women do to conceal the presence of their nipples? Strategies range from band-aids to $34 silicone nipsticks (They hide nipples completely, yet feel natural). Are nipples so offensive that we need to go to such lengths to hide/deny their existence?

This recurring issue of body-part-media-freak-outs is also very relevant to US culture, and yet Europeans would not have bat their eyes at some cartoon dots representing female nipple bulges. Or many other regions, for that matter!

In the end, these issues present outstanding platforms for discussion in an educational setting, and I believe it is essential for those discussions to happen in order for us to process the freak-outs that might have us all in a huff about our own nipples.

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