Here’s a first: I’m totally aligned with the Reverend Jerry Falwell! I thoroughly agree with the guy that Tinky Winky is a Pansy Wansy—
we only seem to differ on what to make of this information. While Jerry’s convinced that the Teletubby’s supposed gayness is a menace to society, I feel it teaches kids the welcome lesson that it takes all types to make up the world,
from purple, flouncy moppets to blue-in-the-face windbags.
Incredibly enough, I may be indirectly responsible for Falwell’s remarks that Tinky is a cuddly receptacle for Satan. Early in ’98, I told Entertainment Weekly,only half tongue-in-cheek, that Tinky’s seemingly homosexual ebullience provides a great message to the impressionable— “not only that it’s okay to be gay, but the importance of being well-accessorized.” The comment went relatively unnoticed, but in their year-end issue, TV Guide gave it a bizarre “Jeer” that even raised GLAAD’s ire, and this was apparently one of the media moments that spurred Falwell into his all-too-predictable blatherings. Never mind that press discussions about this subject started way back in ’97 when the show debuted in the U.K. And forget that Falwell actually thought what TV Guide had printed was an interview with the Teletubbies‘ creators, in which they unveiled their elaborate plot to perpetrate a gay kiddie character. (That’s how Falwell’s office explained his motivations to a toy store’s publicist, as the flack later informed me.) Logic and real information go right out the window when you’re dealing with this level of invective. Whether he’s missed the bus or is just plain at the wrong station, Jerry simply has to vent.
And typically, he did so
without much backup, readily admitting that he’s never even seen Teletubbies. (Funny, it’s designed
for his intellectual peer group—
and it’s the only show on PBS that is.) “I believe that role-modeling the
gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children,” Jerry told the press, clearly nervous that, years from now, all those ‘Tubbies watchers will robotically choose anal penetration as a result of their babyhood viewing practices. Alas, Jerry’s off on some of the details. In his esteemed National Liberty Journal, he wrote that Tinky’s purple skin tone is the color of gay pride, “and his antenna is shaped like a triangle— the gay pride symbol.” Pardon my rainbow, but I seem to remember that lavender is more of an out shade, and a pink triangle is actually the symbol— though I may be betraying my own Martha Stewartloving sisterhood here. It doesn’t really matter anyway, since there are enough other queer signifiers to justify Falwell’s gay panic. Tinky carries a patent-leather handbag, prances around in a tutu, and does pretty much all the same things that I do. He’s so gay, in fact, that he verges on a stereotype— he’s as flaming as Richard Simmons, Bert, Ernie, and one of those kids on Barney combined. (Come on, you know which one.)
But Falwell should probably relax (just as a whole other bunch of idiots recently had to when they realized that one of the Teletubby dolls was actually not saying “faggot”). Beyond those superficial traits, Tinky couldn’t possibly get any action, since he has no orifices in the right places. The corporate types behind Tinky and his pals are probably sincere when they emphasize the character’s conspicuous lack of sexual organs or drive. It’s absurd, though, that they haven’t at least copped to his effeminacy— are they even less astute than Falwell? In the course of last week’s media mayhem, a damage-controlling rep for the ‘Tubbies’ American licenser made a point of announcing that Tinky’s alleged purse is actually a magic bag. (A fascinating distinction— I guess Boy George can pull a rabbit out of his Prada.) Another spokesperson repeatedly used words like sweet, innocent,and harmless in defending the program’s lack of gay content— the implication being, of course, that a gay character would be full of danger and blasphemy. A much higher-road approach would have been to say: “Yes, Tinky seems gay to some people, and that’s fine. Femmes should be loved, too— if they weren’t, we’d have to ban Hollywood Squares— and if a dwarf in a fuzzy suit who doesn’t even speak intelligibly is all it takes to ‘warp’ a child, there must be real trouble in trailer land.”
But despite all the spin control, I can’t be all that mad at the Teletubbies team. Unlike Falwell, I’ve actually watched the show, and happen to enjoy the characters’ diversity, their warmth, and the way they giggle under that big baby sun (though I could stand to hear “Again!” a few times less often). I even carry a Teletubbies handbag, though it’s not a patent-leather one, and it’s definitely not magical. What’s more, I’m fairly confident that the Sexgate-era masses— who for the most part have rejected the ambush against Clinton’s consensual sex acts— are way too sophisticated to heed Falwell’s maligning message. These kneepad-sporting swingers have had their earplugs in ever since Jerry urged sponsors to abandon Ellen, and more recently, they shoved in some extra swabs when he said the Antichrist is a male Jew who currently lives among us. (Who— Buddy Hackett?) By now, when we hear this putridhot-air balloon spewing about some imaginary evil, most of us have learned to respond: Again? Again?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 1999