Is Bert gay? Bloggers on a number of gay websites have recently become seized with the conviction that two of the characters on Sesame Street, the muppet show for pre-literate children, share their sexual identity. Apparently Bert, who has a roommate called Ernie, recently used the word "mo", which is US slang for homosexual. The show's producers immediately rushed out a refutation.
Much the same thing happened last week when the Vatican, which really should have better things to do, claimed that another stalwart of US children's TV, Homer Simpson, was a closet Catholic. Again the producers felt compelled to make a public contradiction. Homer was a PresbyLutheran, they said, and anyway spent most of his time in Church asleep. These are revealing cultural battlegrounds. Why, you might wonder, is anyone bothered? In times gone by no one cared what Morecambe and Wise were doing chatting in bed, or asked whether there was a homo-erotic subtext to The Odd Couple.
Humour and story are supposed to work on many levels, some of which require the effective suspension of disbelief. Children, fortunately, are intuitively smart enough to understand this. When adults are not, the best response is to borrow the favourite phrase of Homer Simpson himself: D'oh!