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Tubby Love


OK, 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 antennae.

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.

“At 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 York.

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.

—Jo Page

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