‘The New Yorker’s’ Bert and Ernie DOMA Cover Is Infantilizing and Offensive


What the hell, guys? In a week when we experienced an amazing achievement in the fight for marriage equality, The New Yorker has summed up the Supreme Court’s historic DOMA decision in next week’s cover image, conveniently posted online this morning because the click-baiting, buzz-obsessed culture we live in propagates infantilism. That’s essentially what Jack Hunter, the artist behind the cover image, and the venerable magazine’s editors have done: belittling the decades-long — hell, millennia-long — fight for equal rights by needlessly sexualizing a pair of puppets.

First of all, the notion that Bert and Ernie are gay lovers is ridiculous, and the propagation of the narrative is a childish statement that says more about the sexually obsessed and slightly homophobic tendencies of our culture. Homophobic? Absolutely: it’s a continuation of the idea that sexuality affects personality as much as it speaks of our obsession with outing the private lives of public individuals — in this case fictional characters that most of us grew up with. “Bert and Ernie are two boys who live together! They must be gay!” In what way is that not some borderline schoolyard obsession with the idea of two dicks touching each other? It isn’t nice when it’s aggressive, and it’s certainly not cute when it’s pushed upon two fictional characters in a supposedly charming attempt to symbolize an entire community’s struggle with acceptance and equality, even if the intentions are lighthearted and fun.

Because here’s the thing: there’s nothing particularly fun about being victimized and marginalized not just by the mainstream community but also within the community to which one belongs. There’s also nothing breezy about having one’s emotions manipulated or infantilized by a national publication whose primary goal is to sell copies of a magazine. You know what kind of image would have been nice to see on The New Yorker cover? Perhaps one of actual gay and lesbian couples. Were the magazine’s designers struggling to find one that anyone might recognize? How about Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, whose relationship was at the center of the case that determined DOMA was unconstitutional in the first place? Did they need help finding one? Here, I Googled it for you, New Yorker:

Wasn’t too difficult, huh? But instead, the editors chose an image that — and I’m not making this up — was sent “unsolicited, to a Tumblr.” Why bother using a thoughtful image of an actual pair of real-life people when you can forego any sort of rational editorial decision-making and instead lift what looks like a bad Photoshop cut-and-paste from the Internet? (I guess the rights to that poster of two camisole-wearing white women making out, so often found in college dorm rooms to inspire the masturbatory fantasies of 18-year-old boys across the nation, was too expensive?)

Instead, the whole ordeal was summed up in a conveniently cheap and cloying image of puppets looking at a frozen image of the Supreme Court justices on their TV. Because Bert and Ernie are now apparently gay icons, at least in the eyes of The New Yorker‘s staff. And that’s a shame, because I can list off a ton of names who have done more for the marriage equality fight with level-headed dignity and pride. Are these America’s most recognizable gay icons? Because that’s a shame. We deserve better — we at least deserve to be identified and recognized and treated with respect rather than belittled with the cheap and easy imagery used here.