Role models: The Teletubbies?
In the United States of America, the conservative religious leader Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that the bag-carrying purple Teletubby, Tinky Winky, was promoting a gay lifestyle to children. The argument was made in the February 1999 issue of Falwell's monthly magazine, National Liberty Journal.
The article, entitled 'Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet', claims: "The sexual preference of Tinky Winky, the largest of the four Teletubbies characters on the series that airs in America on PBS stations, has been the subject of debate since the series premiered in England in 1997.
"The character, whose voice is obviously that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse in many episodes and has become a favorite character among gay groups worldwide."
Fearless in their pursuit of the truth, the NLJ reporters have, er, discovered what colour Tinky Winky is, amongst other soaraway revelations: "Further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have surfaced. He is purple -- the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay-pride symbol".
Obviously, no-one is safe from the sordid homosexual antics of the Teletubbies: "These subtle depictions are no doubt intentional and parents are warned to be alert to these elements of the series. However, many families are allowing the series to entertain their children."
Reuters News (10 Feb 99) reported that Laurie Fry, director of broadcast promotion at PBS, called the insinuations "mindboggling", and noted that the show's characters are toddlers and are not intended to have sexual orientations of any kind. She pointed out that the offending handbag was Tinky Winky's magic bag, adding, "This is a children's show, for goodness sake".
Dan Whitcomb, for Reuters News (12 Feb 99), reported that the mayor of West Hollywood had said the Rev. Jerry Falwell's charge that the big purple Teletubby was gay was "outrageous" and said children everywhere would have their hearts broken by the controversy Falwell has sparked. [Exactly why this would be heartbreaking was not specified].
"West Hollywood Mayor Steve Martin, whose city boasts the nation's only majority-gay city council," Whitcomb reported, "called Falwell's remarks 'irrational' and stood staunchly by Tinky Winky. 'Jerry Falwell has single-handedly crushed the hearts of many children by viciously casting Tinky Winky into a sexual controversy', he said. 'It's embarrassing that Falwell is so obsessed with gay issues that he forced the discussion of Tinky Winky's sexuality upon parents and their children... We are offended by [Falwell's] preoccupation with sexual orientation and his outrageous attack on Tinky Winky... Now, every purple children's character may be a victim of his vicious hate -- watch out, Barney, he may be coming after you next!'" [Barney is that big purple dinosaur from U.S. educational TV].
CNN reported that Steve Rice, a spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., which licenses the Teletubbies in the United States, noted that "The fact that [Tinky Winky] carries a magic bag doesn't make him gay. It's a children's show, folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish."
But the Rev. Jerry Falwell maintained that the "subtle depictions" are intentional and issued a statement that said, "As a Christian I feel that role modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children."
Steve Rice countered that Falwell was attacking "something sweet and innocent" to further his conservative political agenda.
The controversy even stole attention from 300 new Star Wars toys at the New York Toy Fair (also on 10 Feb 99). Variety reported that "the Toy Fair briefly became the center of an unlikely brawl as Teletubby marketer Kenn Viselman called televangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell 'stupid' for claiming the kids' television show promotes a gay agenda. 'He's just some politician with a political agenda that he's trying to achieve', Viselman said to an SRO crowd of journalists. Although Viselman found it curious the issue of Tinky Winky's sexual orientation has yet to surface in any of the other 50 countries exposed to the series, he claimed to have braced the Teletubbies' English creators to expect just such a controversy on negotiating the American rights two years ago."
Teletubbies and all related materials are the property of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Ragdoll Productions, and no infringement of their ownership is intended. Teletubbies illustrations are here for the legitimate purpose of cultural criticism and therefore do not infringe copyright.