On family structure and Sesame Street


Something hit me the other day as my son watched his Elmo toilet training video for the three thousandth time. We don’t see a lot of the Muppets’ home lives, but what we do see is generally pretty traditional.  Baby Bear lives with his parents.  Abby Cadabby talks about her mom all the time.  Prairie Dawn tells a story about underwear shopping (no, really) with her mommy on the DVD.  Cookie Monster has referenced both his mommy and his daddy, Grover has a mommy and a daddy too.  Elmo definitely lives with his mommy and his daddy, although I suspect the Muppet he calls mommy is secretly daddy’s second wife.

Basically all the Muppets have at least one parent around who they refer to every now and again.  Generally it’s a mommy, but there’s always at least one.

Except for Big Bird.

I have seen four thousand episodes of Sesame Street in the last two years.  I cannot recall a single time where Big Bird referred to either of his parents or they appeared on screen.  Who does Big Bird talk about?  Granny Bird.  His parents are nowhere to be seen.

And who does Big Bird actually live with?  Gordon and Susan.  Or, at least, he lives in his nest– which is directly outside their window.  When Big Bird needs something at night– and this has been the focus of multiple episodes– it’s Gordon and Susan who take care of him.  Gordon and Susan, by the way, who already have an adopted son, and whose nephew  Chris lives with them for some reason now.

Guys, Big Bird is a foster kid.  Am I the only one who never realized this?  Without visiting a wikipedia page, I mean?  Which I only just did?

Don’t misunderstand me: Sesame Street has always sort of put themselves at the forefront of social tolerance and showing the world as being a diverse place, and they’ve never been shy about showing different kinds of people and different kinds of kids and different kinds of families.  I’m just surprised that they’ve been stealthing this for effectively the entire lifespan of one of America’s favorite children’s characters.  That Wiki entry is hella more detailed than my sudden realization; Big Bird’s never been portrayed as having a mom and a dad, and Gordon and Susan are clearly meant to be his caretakers right now.  He’s a foster kid.  Why hide it?

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

6 thoughts on “On family structure and Sesame Street

    1. Closest you’ll get is Bert and Ernie. I’m pretty sure they’ve featured the occasional same-sex couple with kids in montages a few times, but if I’m being honest I can’t recall a specific example.

      That said, there are only two paired couples on the entire show if you don’t count Bert and Ernie. Both are straight, but there’s no evidence to speak of that Chris or Alan or Gabi or Bob or really anybody else are actually straight other than assuming they are. Alan in particular has set my gaydar off a couple of times.


  1. Perhaps Big Bird is like most birds where they leave the nest the don’t look back. Most other animals stay with their birth parents, and do you call parents of birds birth parents or hatch parents?


  2. Bert and Ernie are definitely gay, but I noticed the Big Bird thing a long, long time ago, when my kids who are grown used to watch. I guess being a foster child myself, I was more sensitive to it. Jumped right out at me.


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