Don't ask, don't teletubby

Falwell's charge: Homophobic comment isn't first to burden fictional icon with a social message.

February 12, 1999

THE REV. Jerry Falwell is crazy -- or crazy like a fox -- for denouncing a character on the preschooler's "Teletubbies" television show as a sinister symbol of homosexuality.

Mr. Falwell's foolish, homophobic statements don't normally garner headlines. But when the fundamentalist preacher and founder of the Moral Majority criticizes the sexuality of an androgynous make-believe character on a hit public-television series, his denunciation makes news. He issued a "Parent Alert" in this month's issue of the National Liberty Journal, a magazine he publishes that is also available on the Internet.

Mr. Falwell isn't the first to drape larger symbolism on a fictional character of pop culture. For example, one of Dan Quayle's more memorable vice presidential moments occurred when he rebuked prime time's "Murphy Brown" as a glorification of single parenthood. Last year, Time magazine concluded that feminism is dead because female viewers enjoy "Ally McBeal," a TV show about a rail-thin attorney who wears miniskirts to court and frets about her ticking biological clock.

And, in a mirror-image of Mr. Falwell's paranoia, the homosexual community years ago lambasted Disney for depicting the villain in the animated movie "The Lion King" as an effeminate lion.

In each case, more objective observers are left to wonder, "What am I missing?"

The Teletubby character Tinky Winky looks to be the product of a union between a space alien and a teddy bear. Though it unnerves Mr. Falwell, Tinky carries a purse-like "magic bag." That is no more sexually significant than the fact that human toddlers -- boys and girls -- love to grab handbags or clomp through the house in their mothers' shoes.

There's more than enough sex in today's culture without searching for it where it is not.

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