For once, Jerry Falwell may actually be on to something.
Everyone who has not been residing beneath a rock for the past two weeks has inevitably heard countless jokes in reference to the “outing” of Tinky Winky by this ultra-conservative preacher. Obviously, to sane people, questioning the particular sexual orientation and accessorizing tendencies of this purple Teletubby is categorically absurd. However, despite the fact that Falwell’s homophobic proclamations are ludicrous, I have to give the guy some credit for drawing attention to something that has been bothering me for a long time. Teletubbies are profoundly disturbing.
For anyone not familiar with the BBC-imported TV show, Teletubbies (as the name cleverly hints) are colorful, quasi-monster-beings who are “tubby” and have television screens in their “tummies.” As if the very concept were not frightening enough (what sick, sick mind conceives of such horrors?), what I find so profoundly disturbing is that the TV show is specifically targeted at children under two years of age.
One marvels at the insightful television producer who discovered this untapped market of tiny tots, old enough to stare quizzically at the TV, but unable to fully appreciate the finer subtleties of Sesame Street. Admittedly, I know little about the cognitive processes of toddlers. But I would venture that, considering generations of children have matured intellectually despite the absence of age-specific television programming during their first years of life, Teletubbies are not fulfilling a great developmental shortcoming.
Could it be that this TV show has a more devious agenda? When marketing the show as appropriate for one and two year-olds, is a service being provided for the benefit of the children or of the parents? These days, overburdened parents grapple with innumerable family and work responsibilities. Television remains the most reliable and efficient of baby-sitters. These parents inevitably worry about the effect of TV on their children: too much violence, too little redeeming value; the list of nagging concerns is endless. Broadcasters are eager to assuage any guilty feelings by declaring that their program is “educational” or, in the case of Teletubbies, specially suited for the age group.
While I sympathize with overworked Moms and Dads, a child can not be raised by the claims of advertisers. Regardless of what “studies show” or “experts maintain,” depositing your child in a playpen under an intellectually stimulating mobile with Mozart blasting does not count as parenting.
The same logic goes for our friends in Teletubbyland. I’m not disputing the show’s infantilized ambiance. Bunnies hop across a bucolic (albeit Astroturf-covered) hillside; a giant sun in the sky is superimposed with the face of a gurgling baby. The pudgy Teletubbies speak in goo-goo-esque babytalk (as the four cast member’s names suggest: Po, Laa-Laa, Dipsy and the infamous Tinky Winky). The show is definitely directed towards toddlers, but it is made for the individuals who actually turn the dial.
The troubling aspects of this program are compounded by the very nature of these creatures. The evil inherent in Teletubbies is veiled, but don’t be deceived: those are televisions in their stomachs! When not doing “happy dances,” the Teletubbies watch each other’s abdominal video screens. The whole practice is twisted and perverse. What really throws me for a loop is that Teletubbies are basically anthropomorphized TVs. The creators of this show have ingeniously fused a highly marketable, Barney-like character with the medium of their livelihood. What better way to indoctrinate young viewers that TV is their friend?
This is not exactly an original idea. Advertisers have long used this tactic, turning their product into a chummy personality, appealing to youngsters. Maybe I should just be surprised it took TV so long to catch on.
I am not an anti-TV zealot. In fact, I’m a big fan of the small screen. But while TV is entertaining and relaxing, it does have a tendency to suck all redeemable thought processes from your mind. When I was a kid I came home every day and watched General Hospital on TV, then Phil Donahue, then cheesy sitcoms, and so on. It’s depressing to think of all the ways I might have better spent my formative years. Although I have retained an intimate knowledge of the hierarchical social structure of Port Charles (home of GH), this information has yet to do me any real good.
With the proliferation of channels, stations are becoming ever more desperate to hold onto viewers. This means more violence, sex and puerile comedy. More shows like “The World’s Funniest Groin Injuries” and “When Good Pets (Who Have Gone Bad) Are Involved In Celebrity Sex Scandals.” TV will not be improving its standards anytime soon. We can only anticipate much more of this drool-promoting programming.
No doubt, kids are going to watch TV. And probably a lot more of it, of decidedly lower standards. For this reason, I find it revolting that programmers even want to invade the crib. Isn’t it bad enough that television serves as a source of comfort and companionship for so many kids? At the very least, the first relationship a child develops should not be with a TV. Especially not one named Tinky Winky.