Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jim Henson's dead and gone, but his muppets still live on.

I ran into Bert today. You know, that big yellow unibrow-spoting fellow from Sesame St. who may and or may not be in a homosexual relationship with a man who eats cookies in bed.

Yeah. That Bert. The muppet.

And I have never been so scared in my fucking life.

Co-workers and I are heading to Cold Stone not so long ago, and we walk out of the office onto the landing we share with Montecito Bank & Trust and who comes up the stairs with balloons but an overwhelmingly tall, walking muppet.

My immediate response, after the uncomfortable laughter we all experienced, is to get as close to the wall as possible and act like he can't see me. I duck down behind Rose, who is only about 5'3" and a few centimeters, she says, so that wasn't terribly effective. Bert definitely saw me.

Bert says to us, "Was it something I said?" apparently as bewildered by our reaction to him as we were by his countenance. I want to go down the stairs and run away. But I can't because BERT IS ON THE STAIRS! He is physically preventing me from escaping. This is horrible. I cower.

Bert says, "Hey, do you guys know where Kevin Something-or-Another hangs out?" (I'm not censoring his name for poor Kevin's sake. I just don't remember because my fight-or-flight instinct had kicked in and I was trying to keep from huddling in a ball in the corner.) We point to the bank. I run down the first flight of stairs as Bert tries to buzz himself into the bank. He is allowed inside (though I have no idea why any sane person would allow this) and I hide in the corner, laughing uncomfortably as he immediately starts singing "Rubber Ducky" when he sets foot inside the bank.

It takes me and my coworkers about 5 minutes of uncomfortable laughter and me squeaking, "What the fuck?" to process this strange occurrance.

Until this point, I did not know that I was actually this terrified of life-sized dolls/puppets/singing telegrams. I've been afraid of dolls, the creepy porcelain or life-sized kind for quite some time. Puppets I am simultaneously attracted to and repelled by. But the dreadful combination of life-sized doll AND puppet is too horrifying for me to bear. And then there was the singing.

I tried to find the name of the singing telegram company that could have sent this monster near me, at least to show you all a picture of his terrible yellow face on his uncomfortably tall body. I wanted to share my horror with you. But instead, I found something that disturbs me even more:

That would be Bert and Ernie telling little Dutch children the tale of Sinterklaas, which is discussed by my fiance here in his holiday blog. The Sinterklaas story tells of how St. Nicholas delivers all the presents to the little Dutch children with the help of 6 to 8 black men. This story is also brilliantly recounted in "6 to 8 Black Men" by David Sedaris. I cannot tell it as well as either of these men, but the image above makes me wonder about why Bert gets to be good ol' St. Nick and Ernie has to be his Moorish slave. I won't get into the odd and inherent racism in the Dutch story, which the Dutch, as I understand it, do not see as a. odd or b. problematic. I am more interested in how this picture, and the racial roles it implies, may help the "Bert and Ernie are queer" argument.

The Sub/Dom roles are obvious, but that extends to hetero relationships as well. I'm interested in Ernie playing the role of the Moorish slave in the Dutch Christmas pageant because, in a number of literary works I read in Foster's 165GL, the gay body is often conflated with the racial body as a mark of otherness. Consider the homosexual encounter between two young boys in a slave cabin in Gore Vidal's The City & The Pillar. Here, gay sex is marked with the same otherness as the racial otherness experienced by slaves. Is Ernie, perhaps, othered in a similar fashion with his Black Man #5 mask? Does that increase the amount of minority otherness on his furry little crumb-loving muppet body? Why does Bert, then, get to be Sinterklaas . . . other than the fact that the mask fits his head better? Is it because Bert, while he may live with a man with whom he shares a bed, manages to keep an outward appearance of "muppet-u-linity" that keeps him on the proverbial "straight-and-narrow?"

I don't really know where I'm going with the Sinterklaas thought. I was mostly just continuing to be creeped out by my visit from Sinterklaas/Bert and then was doubly creeped out by the fact that there is a Sesame St. Sinterklaas book in existence.

So now you know. I am afraid of singing telegrams.


Bri said...

Did you see the episode of Family Guy that features "Homicide: Life on Sesame Street"? Bert is a detective that gets called out of bed in the middle of the night to go investigate the death of "some poor bastard who got killed in front of a joint called Hooper's." He gets out of bed--naked--and takes a swig of something alcoholic while Ernie plays the dame in bed worried about his drinking. It's cute.
Also, saw this and thought of you:


Stevi said...

The folks at V-Day Intl. actually emailed all the organizers a note about that particular incident. What that theatre owner is doing is technically not legal. If the play is going to be produced at that theatre, it must be performed in its entirety and unedited. That's the catch if aren't paying for the rights to the play, as campus organizers do not. The production is actually being produced by a nearby college campus, and they are simply renting the theatre from this man. He's getting money from them to put on their show--why should he care what the marquee says?

Good fucking Christ that makes me angry. The fact that the theatre owner said he changed it in response to a drivers complaint that she had to tell her neice what a vagina was is the point of the fucking production. That poor little girl! Now she knows what her vagina is! Boo hoo! Is she supposed to be ashamed of it or something? that she has a fucking vagina?

Sigh. I hate people.

And yes, on a note that makes me much less angry, I have seen "Homicide: Life on Sesame Street." It was not nearly as traumatizing as seeing Bert in the hallway of my building.

Marcus said...

I find it funny nobody has mentioned that it is Ernie who sings "Rubber Duckie" and not Bert.