I love the Teletubbies. I have always loved the Teletubbies.
And I have no skeletons in the closet to explain it: I am
just a somewhat well-adjusted, hard-working taxpayer.
Yes, it’s true I didn’t vote for George Bush—so many of us
didn’t. And I never watched The Passion of the Christ.
Nor did I ever claim to know who, in the evidently inevitable
and immediately pending apocalypse, might be “left behind.”
Call me lily- livered—I just can’t believe in a God who plays
hide-and-seek with our souls. Still, I swear none of that
had anything to do with my attachment to the Teletubbies.
I love the Teletubbies because they are at once both mind-alteringly
surreal and adorably mind-altering.
They had wide-sweeping kid-and-parent appeal, particularly
before they turned seven. They are 10 years old, now, but
still faring much, much better than their countryman, Rod
Stewart. Teletubbies don’t bother with special haircuts and
skin-tight pants. They don’t even wear pants, though sometimes
Tinky-Winky wears a tu-tu.
I bought my kids a double set of Teletubbies—one set plastic
and one set plush. Now that my kids are older they are retired
to their highly moral and organized life in our basement where
they worry about ill effects of mildew on their plush-toy
lungs. But still, even now, my daughters and I will gather
together and mutter semi-articulately “biiig huug!” as the
two tall teenagers hug their shorter and more Po-like mother.
I think, if you asked us, we would still be able to tell you
the color of their bodies and the specific shapes of their
Though I didn’t talk to all of my friends in great detail
about my deep fondness for the Teletubbies, I do have one
friend who, on his sickbed, came to feel the transformative
power of the Teletubbies. What other ensemble of mercy could
turn a morphine drip into a nostalgic acid trip populated
by vaguely animate, barely audible, slowly moving creatures?
None, I’d wager. Even now my friend speaks of Tubby Custard—the
pudding that keeps on giving—with unalloyed delight.
So who you gonna call? Teletubbies!
Yet that ardent Polish watchdog for Polish children’s rights,
Ewa Sowinska, isn’t so sure that’s a good idea. Though she’s
not on record with her views about the other three, gender-ambiguous
plush characters, she’s made an issue of Tinky-Winky, the
tallest of the lot and also the most purple. In particular,
she is troubled by his handbag.
first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby.
Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone,”
Reuters quotes Sowinska as saying. (The fact is I had a college
boyfriend who carried a handbag of sorts. I found his handbag
a rather gallant accessory. It was a great relief not to have
to tote my own wallet and lipstick.)
But that’s unimportant. The real question is: Is Tinky-Winky
a potential obstacle to the moral development of Polish toddlers?
Based on her impermeable logic, Ewa Sowinska thinks it’s possible.
As she sees it, Tinky-Winky is the tallest, and so therefore
must be a man. And yet Tinky-Winky carries a handbag, just
like the queen of England. The queen of England. Therefore,
on the basis of his (?) preference for a purse, Sowinska suspects
that Tinky-Winky must either be a very tall woman or a predatory
gay man corrupting the pre-school set by his flagrant cross-dressing.
Or he may represent some other kind of gender cocktail too
confusing to consider—a Long Island Iced He or a Brandi Alexandra.
I love the Teletubbies, but perhaps I haven’t given their
gender preference/sexual orientation enough thought. Why didn’t
I catch their sexual ju-ju?
Ewa Sowinska did. As did, it was rumored, the late Rev. Jerry
Falwell. In 1999, his National Liberty Journal virtually
outed Tinky-winky: “He is purple—the gay-pride color; and
his antenna is shaped like a triangle—the gay-pride symbol.
. . . As a Christian I feel that role modeling the gay lifestyle
is damaging to the moral lives of children.”
More to the point, as I see it, is that Tinky-Winky is not
real. Neither is the Teletubby lifestyle.
But Tinky-Winky is not alone in stimulating the imaginations
of the homophobic. Dr. James Dobson, addressing members of
Congress at a black-tie dinner in Washington in 2005, alerted
them to the possibility that the United Church of Christ was
advancing the homosexual agenda when it included SpongeBob
SquarePants holding hands with a starfish in its video on
teaching children about diversity.
United Church of Christ general minister and president, the
Rev. John Thomas shrugged off Dobson’s criticism, but observed,
“While Dobson’s silly accusation makes headlines, it’s also
one more concrete example of how religion is misused over
and over to promote intolerance over inclusion.”
He makes a point. Aren’t we always taught not to judge anybody
on the basis of their color? Or their address? Or their choice
of accessory? I’m pretty sure that’s the disclaimer you find
on the Plexiglass barrier when you climb into a cab in New
But Falwellian and Dobsonian logic poses some frightening
considerations. For example, my daughters always loved Clifford.
Clifford, the Big Red Dog? Have I unwittingly let my kids
fall sway to an oversized party operative cross-dressed as
a cuddly canine? Or that bastion of boredom, Barney? I have
always been suspicious of him and not just because he’s from
Texas. Big, purple, furry and unctuous, you can find him any
time of the day playing with real little children. I say let
Tom Perrotta have a go at him and we’ll just see if he’s as
pure as he’s cracked up to be. And let’s not even get into
Winnie the Pooh strolling Hundred Acre Woods sans pantalons.
Honestly, I don’t want to know.
Just give me one more day in the Chromedome with Tinky-Winky
and his friends, chugging down bowls of Tubby Custard. Before
Tubby culture is lost to us forever.