Tinky Winky, the oldest and biggest of TV's psychedelic quartet of Teletubby children's characters, is purple. He's got a triangle-shaped antenna sticking out of his head. He carries a "magic bag," which looks suspiciously like a purse.
And the Rev. Jerry Falwell can't get the prancing baby-show superstar out of his head.
In the February edition of his National Liberty Journal, Falwell has published "Parents Alert: Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet," in which he interprets the Teletubby's purpleness (the gay pride color), triangle (the shape of the gay pride symbol) and "magic bag" as evidence for Tinky Winky's same-sex preference.
The claim caused an immediate uproar. Steve Rice, a spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., which licenses the Teletubbies in the United States, took Falwell to task.
"The fact that he carries a magic bag doesn't make him gay," Rice said. "It's a children's show, folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish."
Even in Washington, where sexual matters of a different sort are Topic A, the Democratic National Committee weighed in on what it called "Teletubby bashing" yesterday.
"So what if Tinky Winky is gay?" said DNC chief Roy Romer. "The radical right's usual anti-gay rhetoric is reprehensible, but attacking a plush doll is simply mystifying."
And what do homosexuals who aren't Teletubbies make of all this?
"Of course it's ridiculous. [Falwell] is just looking for any excuse to get publicity for his cause," says Michael Linnemann, coordinator of Baltimore's Gay and Lesbian Community Center.
"It's news to the gay community. We didn't realize we had a doll. Is Barney gay too, because he's purple?"
But based on his personal knowledge of Tinky Winky, does Linnemann think he might possibly be gay?
"I don't know Tinky Winky well enough," he says. "We don't speak the same language."
But then, who does?
All four of the Teletubbies, a British-born fuzzy foursome who have been beaming into American homes via PBS since April 1998, communicate in a cutesy-poo gibberish meant to appeal to an audience of 1-year-olds. The colorful stars have already been accused of being scary and pointless -- and of developing infant couch potatoes with their television-screen stomachs.
And Linnemann may not be aware of it, but Tinky Winky has been a gay icon in Britain since the show premiered there in 1997.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, even if Rev. Falwell disagrees.
So far, the sexual orientations of the remaining Teletubbies -- yellow, ball-bouncing Laa Laa; red, scooter-lovin' Po; and green, funky hat-wearing Dipsy -- have escaped Falwell's scrutiny.
But how long can it be before Falwell, who declared last month that the anti-Christ may walk among us (and, by the way, is Jewish), pronounces another seemingly harmless childhood plaything a threat to society?
Consider these possibilities:
Tamagotchi: Destroys the ideal of the nuclear family by encouraging single child-rearing of a digital pet encapsulated in an egg.
Furby: Undercuts the English-only movement by insisting on speaking in his own strange tongue, Furbish. Also promotes interspecies relationships.
Tickle Me Elmo: Encourages foreplay, and we all know where that leads.
Barney: A huge male purple! giggling dinosaur who hangs out with small children when their parents aren't around. Do we have to draw you a picture?!
Wire services contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/11/99