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October 18, 2001
 
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Osama bin Laden poster
A poster at an anti-U.S. protest in Bangladesh shows Osama bin Laden with Sesame Street stalwart Bert. (Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters)
Osama bin Muppet
Terrorist Shown Side by Side
With Sesame Street's Bert

By Buck Wolf
ABCNEWS.com

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

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
We're Not Asking, But Bert's Not Gay  Muppet Love With Pamela Anderson  Why Not Pick on Big Bird?  

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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.

The Children's Television Workshop was even compelled to issue this denial: "Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future.

"They are puppets, not humans," the statement read.

Caught on Camera: Bert and Pamela Anderson

So what got into Bert's fuzzy little head when he decided to pose with bin Laden? You'll have to ask Web designer and Internet jokester Dennis Pozniak of Edmonton, Alberta.

The 20-year-old Canadian runs the "Bert Is Evil" Web site, which features photos of Bert in a variety of compromising positions. In one shot, he's side by side with Hitler. In another, he's smoking dope at Woodstock. Still another shows him making passionate love to Pamela Anderson.

Somehow, one of Pozniak's photos got downloaded, printed by a poster shop in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and distributed to demonstrators who were angry over the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan.

Mostafa Kamal, production manager of Azad Products, told The Associated Press he had gotten the images off the Internet. "We did not give the pictures a second look or realize what they signified until you pointed it out to us," he said.

The poster is a montage that shows bin Laden in several poses, holding a microphone, in military fatigues, and of course, with the menacing, open-mouthed Bert. About 2,000 were printed.

"No one could have been more shocked than me," Pozniak told The Wolf Files. "I never expected one of my fake photos to end up in a real news photo. It blew me away."

Pozniak took over the "Bert Is Evil" Web site in 1998, and says that it's now experiences the best traffic in its four-year history. At midday today, 25,000 people had visited the site, up from an average of just a few hundred daily visitors a few weeks earlier.

"It's building," says Pozniak. "I'd say there's a good chance I'm going to crash my server soon."

Why Pick on Bert?

Still, you have to ask, why pick on Bert? "You could do Kermit. You could do Miss Piggy. But Bert just has that perpetual scowl," Pozniak says. "You're always wondering what's up with him."

Pozniak depicts Bert at the JFK assassination, standing near the president's motorcade just before the shooting. "We have sources who claim that Lee Harvey Oswald and Bert were friends in Korea," the Web site reports. "Though no proof directly points to Bert's involvement in this ghastly shard of history … we wouldn't be too surprised if he was."

Bert also has a long history with the KKK, according to the site. "Some evidence points to the possibility that he is a founding member," it says. "The Klan's pointed cowl was actually patterned after Bert's head. In these photographs, Bert is seen at the burning of the crosses ritual."

Pozniak also accuses Bert of trying to market the "Shoot Me Up Elmo" doll for crackheads.

Pozniak says the makers of Sesame Street have never tried to stop him. "What I am doing is parody," he said.

But even a humorist has a heart. Like millions of others, Pozniak says he was overwhelmed when he woke up and saw New York's World Trade Center under attack. He took down the image of Bert with bin Laden, which had been posted more than two years ago in an item linking the Muppet to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

"Then all these people were e-mailing me, asking for it. Someone even sent me an image of Bert flying a plane into the towers like a suicide bomber. Now that's really in bad taste," Pozniak says.

"All my photo did was show Bert and bin Laden side by side. Eventually, I put it back up."

Pozniak says the Bert Is Evil site will live on. As long as there are wrongdoers in the world, we'll have a puppet with a tarnished image to blame.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.

 

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