Artistic intent versus audience interpretation

Ray Liotta is a working actor, but we’re not paying his bills.

new-yorker-cover-bert-ernieOne of my favorite Pete Townsend solo tracks is Let My Love Open the Door from his 1980 album Empty Glass. I recall that there was some conversation about whether the song was religious in nature, as Townsend occasionally hinted. or a romantic song.

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter. Whatever the artist’s vision of the work, how the audience perceives it will usually carry the day.

So I found the whole rather vigorous discussion of whether Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street were gay – it made several mainstream news stories – as rather beside the point. As Muppeteers Frank Oz and the late Jim Henson came up with them, the characters reflected their friendship.

When Sesame Street scriptwriter Mark Saltzman noted in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie with his longterm relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman, that was his process. He clarified to the New York Times, “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work. Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”

The Sesame Street folk responded, initially awkwardly. Ultimately, the audience decides what it chooses to believe.

Another showbiz buzz this month involved Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens found working at a Trader Joe’s market. Beyond the pushback against some trying to shame him is a more basic reality; you don’t always get that next job in the entertainment world.

It’s not for me to judge if GoodFellas costar Ray Liotta does a commercial for Chantix, an anti-smoking drug. He’s a working actor, but we’re not paying his bills. If he needs the money or loves the product or both, so be it.

Working actress Blythe Danner is still in those ads for Prolia, an injection to fight osteoporosis. Ditto for her.

That said, I STILL wish the flood of pharmaceutical ads would end in the US. But we’re quite unlikely to see that genie put back into the bottle.