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A 'Tubby' Ache For Jerry Falwell

By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 1999; Page C01


The Teletubbies, from left, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po. (AP Photo)
Maybe it was the time Tinky Winky gave that "big hug" to Dipsy. Or maybe it was the time he "fell on his back," if you catch the drift.

Whatever the tip-off, the Rev. Jerry Falwell has determined that "Teletubbies," that children's show created by foreigners, is out to pervert your little ones. "PARENT ALERT . . . PARENT ALERT," he blared in this month's issue of National Liberty Journal, a Falwell magazine. "Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet."

"The character, whose voice is obviously that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse," reports sleuth Falwell. "He is purple -- the gay pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay pride symbol."

Falwell forgot to mention Tinky Winky's favorite activity: dressing up in a tutu, as he does on the cover of "Teletubbies: The Album," and gyrating to technobabble.

For those who have never seen this subversive material, here is the secret file: The Teletubbies are four fuzzy dumplings with TVs in their tummies who live in Teletubbyland, a kind of neon Vermont filled with plastic flowers and real bunnies. A typical episode goes like this: Laa Laa puts some "Tubby custard" on some "Tubby toast" and hands it to Dipsy. Dipsy hands the toast to Po, and so on. At the end they all scream, "Again! Again!" -- and the toast goes around again. It is revolutionary mostly for being the first show designed for viewers who still chew on the remote control.

It is true that Tinky Winky's accessorizing has been the buzz on gay Internet chat sites since the Teletubbies went on the air in England in 1997. When the BBC, which produces the show, wanted to fire the human who plays Tinky for dancing in the streets wearing only a balloon, gay groups protested. And many a gay hipster has been spotted in England wearing a Tinky Winky backpack. David Smith, editor of the British Gay Times, calls the fondness for Tinky a "camp affectation, amusing in a kind of once a month en passant sort of way," whatever that means.

The "Teletubbies" American distributors ignored the gay rumors until Tinky Winky was outed last month, right here on these pages. In its New Year's IN/OUT list, The Washington Post anointed "Tinky Winky, the gay Teletubby," as next year's Ellen DeGeneres. The distributor drew the line there.

"The Teletubbies haven't even hit puberty yet," Steve Rice of itsy bitsy Entertainment said at the time. "It's a children's show." He did not return calls about Falwell yesterday.

As for the gay groups, just because they claimed Tinky Winky as their own didn't mean they wanted Falwell to say they did. And when his editorial was faxed around yesterday by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, many gay-rights groups were not laughing.

"Jerry Falwell's paranoia about gay people has reached a new and ludicrous high-water mark," said another David Smith, this one a spokesman for the Human Rights campaign. "As farcical as it may sound, Falwell's latest ranting has serious consequences."

Anyway, by these standards, a lot of children's shows might be suspect.

"What about Laa Laa and that phallic symbol sticking out of his head?" asks Andrew Sullivan, gay, British and author of "Love Undetectable." "Clearly Bugs Bunny is gay. Just the other night he was dressed in drag and seducing Elmer Fudd. When Pinocchio goes to Boys' Town, he is clearly in a gay leather bar. And Batman and Robin, what's going on there?"

Falwell is not the only one searching for meaning in "Teletubbies." Some parents have spotted a "teledruggie agenda" in the show's psychedelic pink stars and rotating pinwheels. PC parents have complained that Po, who mutters "fidit, fidit," is actually saying an anti-gay slur and have demanded it be removed from toy stores. In Norway, the Teletubbies are banned for their power to get infants hooked on television.

As Tinky Winky might say, "Uh-oh."


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post

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