Osama bin Muppet?

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

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.

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