Osama bin Muppet?

Terrorist Shown Side by Side
With Sesame Street's Bert

By Buck Wolf

Oct. 11, 2001 --   If you think any Muppet would have anything to do with terrorist Osama bin Laden, you'd better have your hollow felt head examined.

Yet anti-American demonstrators protesting in Bangladesh on Oct. 5 and Oct. 9 brandished a poster of Bert, a beloved Sesame Street character, side by side with the man wanted for masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Moreover, Bert was pictured with a decidedly sinister sneer. It suggested that maybe the pointy-headed puppet had ditched his pal Ernie and joined up with the bad guys. Maybe someone had sung "Rubber Ducky" one too many times.

Calmer minds knew all along that the picture was a fraud, even before the Sesame Workshop issued a disclaimer. In the age of Photoshop, Bert could just as easily have been shown driving a Nazi tank through Paris or leading a KKK cross-burning in Mississippi.

Still, why would anti-American protesters choose such an image? Were they trying to demoralize us by making us assume one of our most enduring celebrities had joined the Taliban?

If so, why Bert? Why not Elvis? Or Britney? Imagine Osama and Britney side by side. To be sure, it would give new meaning to her current hit, "I'm a Slave 4 U."

Not that We're Asking, But Bert's Not Gay

This is not the first time Bert's Muppet rep has been tarnished with lies and innuendo. Bert has also had to dispel a widespread myth that he and Ernie are gay (not that there's anything wrong with being a gay puppet).

Urban legends expert Richard Roeper says questions about Bert's sexual orientation can be traced back at least as far as a satirical work by Spy magazine founder Kurt Anderson, who jokingly wrote that "Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet."

Apparently, a lot of people didn't get the joke. In 1994, a North Carolina radio evangelist even started a campaign to have Ernie and Bert booted off Sesame Street. TV Guide received batches of letters railing against the duo.