Exile in Tubbyland

Apparently all those months I spent not watching television around Julian were for naught as he has developed a deep and profound affection for the Teletubbies. He will say to me, with an excited squeal in his voice "Tubbies" and then proceed to sit, calmly, on the sofa and wait for me to make the Tubbies appear. He watches with deep interest for most of an episode. Those of you who have met the unceasing ball of energy that is my son are probably scratching your heads and wondering if fairies sneak into my home and replace my son with a changeling for the twenty odd minutes we watch the show. The only part where he gets punchy is the little kid video, though he will usually tolerate it for the first run through and only starts asking me for the Tubbies when the second viewing begins. I can't blame him for this. I used to love Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but really only watched for The Neighborhood of Make Believe. If Comcast Digital Cable had existed when I was a child, I would have demanded that my mom fast forward through all the boring human bits too.

Alright, I exaggerate a bit. He doesn't really sit still for a whole episode. As the episode progresses, and his need for the tubbies begins to wane, he starts to climb up the sofa and jump off again

I only let him watch one episode a day and, really, this is more than enough for him.

I worry about what this is doing to his brain, how he is being trained to see in two dimensions when he really should be viewing the world in three dimensions, how he is being trained to watch TV and seek out television for entertainment, how there is surely more enlightening fare for me to serve up if I have to plop him in front of the TV.

But, on the other hand, I am glad it is the Teletubbies and not Caillou.

The Teletubbies have amused me for years.

Really, there is almost nothing I dislike about the Teletubbies. I do dislike the aforementioned video section, the little bit where the Tubbies get the broadcast from parts unknown and we all get to watch the human children doing something like make bagels, play tennis, or make squishy painting. It's dull, it really teaches us very little, they are classic moments of "don't do something, watch a TV show where other people are doing something", and, on top of all this, the whole thing is repeated. As I said, Julian can almost sit through one, but he starts demanding time with the Tubbies when the whole thing gets replayed.

The only other thing, thus far, that irritates me is some of the production values. I know, you read that and think "Alison, have you never watched Blake's 7?" Yes, it is true, a girl with a penchant for BBC sci-fi has no business expecting decent sets or special effects in her TV shows. The thing is, this is different. Go watch an episode of the Teletubbies and you will see that the production values have evolved since the days when Tom Baker was in the Tardis.

Total sidenote: Has anyone searched the web for the inevitable fan fiction wherein the Doctor visits Teletubbyland? Seriously, this is a piece of fan fiction, or mash up video, which is begging to be made, and I don't have that kind of time, so will someone please do that for me if no one else has already done it? Please?

Where was I? Oh right, the production values. Almost everything is perfect in Teletubbyland. I love that they have diaper bums. I love that the Noo Noo (their pet) is a sentient vacuum cleaner. I love the gigantic bunnies and the styrofoam flowers which sometimes have conversations of their own. I love that their bowls are spirals of clear tubing and they suck the bright pink Tubby Custard through the piece of tube left sticking out at the top. The only thing which REALLY rubs me the wrong way (aside from Tinky Winky and Dipsy, but that is another story) are the bibs they wear when making and eating Tubby Custard. Actually, the bibs that Lala and Po wear are fine, they are roughly the same color as their bodies and it makes perfect sense that Lala would wear yellow and Po would wear red. But, what is going on with the bibs chosen for Tinky Winky and Dipsy? Tinky Winky is purple and Dipsy is lime green. So why is Tinky Winky's bib magenta and Dipsy's a deep aqua? What, the budget for the show was too little that your costume designer couldn't find bibs which matched the characters? I'm sorry, it is ugly, it smacks of laziness, and every time I see it, I know that even if people aren't plagued with my desire for order, they are probably feeling a sense of dissonance whenever they see these two Tubbies in their bibs. Are they trying to say something about men, because these are the two Tubbies who are referred to as "he", something along the lines of "men are colorblind and can't find something that matches their entire bodies even when they are all one color"? Did anyone who thought Tinky Winky was some gay icon because he was purple and carry a purse even watch the show? Because I can't think of any self-respecting gay man who would pair that color purple with that shade of magenta. As I said, it is shoddy workmaship.

But really, as complaints go, that is all I can think of. Not bad, eh? As I said, it could be so much worse.

Maria used to say that if you put people in colored unitards in a black box and had them recite the Teletubbies transcripts, it would be German Expressionist Theatre.

Two girls on stage, PO and LALA. PO, wears a red unitard, LALA wears a yellow one. LALA is holding a gigantic pink ball, a ball so large she is almost having difficulty maneuvering it.

Lala throws the ball to Po.

Lala throws the ball to Po.

(LALA throws the ball to PO. It hits PO and knocks her over. Rolls offstage. After about three seconds, the ball rolls back onstage. PO collects the ball.)

Po throws the ball to Lala

Po throws the ball to Lala

(PO throws the ball to LALA. The ball bounces over LALA's head.)

I think she may have meant Bauhaus Theatre, but you get the idea.

Like Maria, I have always felt that there was a lot more to the Teletubbies than meets the eye, or rather, there is some seriously disturbing stuff happening in Teletubbyland. You have these lovable creatures living their lives in an idyllic paradise of bunnies and flowers. Their home is a space age type dome. They can get Tubby Custard poured into bowls by pressing buttons. The Noo Noo is around to do the tidying up.

Sometimes, without explanation, an object just appears and they get to play with it for awhile. The social order is disrupted slightly. Then, also without explanation, the object vanishes, and they are left to deal with the consequences.

There is a constant voiceover presence which tells the Tubbies what to do. It is disturbing to watch. You can see the Tubbies attempt to rebel against their powerful overlords, but it is ultimately too much for them and they must submit. (This is most noticeable at the end when they say "good-bye" and go away, but then reappear in the hopes that they may not, in fact, have to say "good-bye" to the television viewers after all. "Please don't leave us alone here in Tubbyland, you have no idea what happens once the TV goes off!")

Where exactly is Teletubbyland meant to be located? What are the producers attempting to convey? For awhile, I thought it was meant to make reference to science fiction. I thought it took place in the future, or in a land far away. Specifically, I thought of Edmund Cooper's Overman Culture. However, the episode entitled Animal Rhythms is making me rethink this.

In the episode, the Tubbies get the signal (the windmill spins and pink sparkles are sent through the air) that they all must report to the meeting place. They do and proceed to bump into one another. Then, they see, in the distance, a procession. It's a parade of animals, marching two by two. Tigers and snakes and flamingos and butterflies and giraffes and frogs and elephants and turtles (I may be forgetting an animal or two) all go by, two by two, oblivious to the Teletubbies. The animals are obviously CGI and not terribly well done CGI at that. But it is a strange sight to see and the Tubbies seem stunned. I was stunned. What does it mean? Are the producers suggesting that the Tubbies lived in the Biblical time right before the flood and that they were witnesses to the animals heading towards the Ark, and, perhaps most disturbingly, Noah failed to include them? Was God angry with the Teletubbies or were they just innocent bystanders?

It made the next bit, when the weird speaker raises out of the ground and the voice over calls out "Time for Tubby bye bye, time for Tubby bye bye" especially ominous.


Anonymous said…
Ok, since I have had to come up with a good explanation for the photo of the teletubbies on my computer screen at work (what? You aren't familiar with this line of neuroscience research? We're responding to an NIH RFA to investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying gender-related color ansynesthesia!) - I thought I would take a few moments from my very busy schedule to tell you that reading this has reminded me just how much I totally adore you!
Anonymous said…
I am so scared now. Even more scared of the Tubbies than I was before.
Lydia Netzer said…
Wow, I think I love you. I have always loved the Teletubbies, or, rather I have always felt ease and peace letting my kids watch the Teletubbies, where I would have expected to feel anxiety and discomfort.
Anonymous said…
I felt so scared when i read about the episode which some kind of animals walk two by two.A sensetional observation!

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