Israeli Puppets Electrify Gay Rights Debate

A new series of ads from the Israel Electric Corp. featuring their popular spokespuppets Sheka and Teka have stirred speculation about the characters’ sexual orientation.

An interesting story hit the wire services today about Sheka and Teka, two puppets who have starred in a long-running series of ads and PSAs for the Israel Electric Corporation for the better part of a decade (they were last mentioned here on PuppetVision back in 2005).

Much as Americans have long speculated about Ernie and Bert’s sexual orientation on Sesame Street – for the record, Sesame Workshop adamantly maintains that they’re Muppets and don’t have a sexual orientation – Israelis have longed joked about whether or not Sheka and Teka might be gay too.  But the addition of a baby to the cast set in one of the latest commercials seems to have set off a fresh round of speculation in the Israeli press and on social media.

From The Associated Press:

In their latest ad, Sheka and Teka are seen in a living room, talking to a pinkish baby puppet with a tuft of orange hair. The scene then flashes back to a hospital nursery, where the baby is sucking on a pacifier and Teka congratulates Sheka on the birth of his child. It’s unclear who the mother is.

Later in the ad, the duo sits on a park bench with the child. They breathe in the fresh air the electricity company suggests is made possible by cleaner energy production. Teka sniffs and suggests that the baby needs a diaper change.

…The Israel Electric Corp. says it does not understand the fuss over the campaign. It says the puppets, who have been on the air since 2002, are merely delivering the company’s messages.

“They represent the concerned Israeli, who is really worried about the air quality he is breathing and the environment he lives in. The baby that was born now represents the next generation,” said Oren Helman, a senior vice president who is behind the commercial. “There are no hints or ambiguities here.”

…Gil Kol, a spokesman for the Israeli national LGBT task force, an advocacy group, said the criticism was far-fetched and that his interpretation of the pair’s relationship was clear.

“Sheka and Teka have represented the Israeli Electric Corp. for years and have been gay for years. Having kids and expanding the family seems to be a natural stage in the evolution of the story. That pretty much represents what is happening in the LGBT community,” he said.

To put this story in some perspective, although conservative, ultra-Orthodox Jews deeply opposed to homosexuality hold considerable political clout in Israel, the country is actually one of the world’s most liberal in terms of gay rights. Gay marriage does not exist – largely because there are no legal civil marriages in Israel (the Jewish rabbinate governs religious marriage and considers homosexuality a violation of Jewish law) – and some day-to-day discrimination remains a reality, but gay couples and individuals otherwise appear to have equality with their heterosexual peers.

So what to make of all the fuss? Personally, I’m opposed to any activist or group appropriating any creation to further an agenda (no matter how noble) because I believe it violates creator’s rights. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the reason LGBT advocacy groups sometimes try to lay claim to popular characters like Sheka and Teka or Ernie and Bert is because they’re largely underrepresented in popular culture?

What do you think?

Via Yahoo!