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Teletubbies

Teletubbies is a BBC children's television show for toddlers, created by Anne Wood[?] and produced by Ragdoll Productions[?], which has crossed the age divide and become a firm favourite, particularly amongst students -- a woman named Dolly O'Neal had a short-run cable-access TV show about the Teletubbies called Dolly O'Neal with TubbyTalk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, making her and her Tubby backpacks local celebrities. A total of 365 episodes were produced.

The program features four colourful tubby creatures: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, who live in a surreal but natural environment, where the most dangerous predators in sight seem to be the herds of rabbits which pop out of their warrens placed in crucial photographic spots on the set. The four teletubbies have metallic silver-azure rectangular "screens" adorning their tummies. These are used to segue into short film sequences, which are generally repeated at least once. When the series is shown in different countries around the world the film inserts can be tailored to suit local audiences. Though they are actually over 7 feet tall, a fact disguised by the use of a very large breed of rabbit as the only other living thing for comparison, the Teletubbies have the bodily proportions, behaviour and language of toddlers.

The pacing and design of the show was developed by a cognitive psychologist, Andrew Davenport, who structured the show to fit the attention spans of the target audience. The repeating of practically every word is familiar to everyone who has ever worked with young children. The Teletubbies speak in a gurgling baby language which is the subject of some controversy amongst educationalists, some of whom argue that this supposedly made-up talk is not good for children. (A similar complaint was made forty years previously about another children's series, The Flowerpot Men.) Tubbies are at the stage of understanding speech but not yet fully capable of articulating it, exactly like their target audience. The Teletubbies' catch-phrases are Eh-oh(hello)- as in: Eh-oh, Laa-Laa to which Laa-Laa will respond Eh-oh, (other Tubby's name.), "Uh-oh" -- a common toddler response to anything untowards, "Run away! Run away!" -- especially from Dipsy, and "Bye-bye." -- at least four times in a row. Laa-Laa, when flustered, will explode with "Blubberly cheese!", which is as angry as they get.

The surreal landscape is like the world of a toddler, where they are ordered about, told to go to sleep, and wonderful and mysterious things happen without explanation. A prominent feature of each episode is a radiant sun that has an image of a leering baby superimposed upon it. The baby in the sun occasionally laughs out loud in short bursts. To adults the laughter does not seem to be in response to any stimulus or humorous developments in the plotline of the episode. There are some who believe the baby in the sun to be the most frightening "Big Brother" entity in the whole of children's television while others think it's the best part of the show.

Their diet seems to be almost exclusively Tubby Tustard (which is sucked through a spiral straw) and Tubby Toast (circular toast with a smiley face on it which some have taken to be representative of LSD), and they are spectacularly messy eaters. In one episode, the Tubby Toaster, the machine that makes Tubby Toast went seriously wrong and filled the Teletubbies' house with toast. Fortunately one of their companions is the Noo-Noo, a sentient vacuum cleaner.

Character summary:

  • Tinky-Winky: male, purple, triangular antenna, red vinyl "magic bag". Likes to fall down and to take walks alone. A very artistic personality.
  • Dipsy: male, green, straight antenna (like a car's dipstick), cowhide print hat. "Farmer" walk translates into being "cool". Likes to be with the rabbits.
  • Laa-Laa: female, yellow, curly antenna, orange ball. Very concerned with the welfare of all. Thinks she's the best singer. Party-girl and momma type.
  • Po: female, red, circular antenna, scooter. Bilingual-English (or broadcasting country's language) and Cantonese. Problem solver and best spider-fighter. Tomboy type.

Character mnemonics For parents and others who don't watch the show, but want to tell the characters apart, say, for a toddler who want you to get them a particular doll, the antenna shapes provide mnemonic clues:

  • Triangle: "T" for "Tinky-Winky"
  • dipstick: "Dipsy"
  • curLy: "L" for "Laa-Laa"
  • circle: "O" shape rhymes with "Po"

L'affaire Tinky-Winky One Teletubby, Tinky Winky, was the focus of a brief controversy in 1999 due to his carrying a bag that looks much like a woman's purse (although he was first outed by the academic and cultural critic Andy Medhurst[?] in a letter of July 1997 to The Face[?]).

A February, 1999 article in the National Liberty Journal[?], published by Jerry Falwell, warned parents that Tinky could be a hidden gay symbol, saying "[h]e is purple -- the gay pride color, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay pride symbol."

A spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co.[?], who licenses the characters in the United States, said it was just a magic bag. "The fact that he 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."

However, this did not stop people from wrongly interpreting the sounds that the original version of the Talking Po doll produced as "faggot faggot," when in fact they were "fidit fidit."



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