Teletubbies: Childhood Myth, or Farsighted Preparation for the Impending Apocalypse?

This is a post I had on a former blog from 12/11/2007. I liked it, and that blog is sure to get wiped out by hackers at some point; it’s old and the security is years out of date. Thought I’d move it over before it disappears forever:

Considering that I am an adult, I think I have watched way too many episodes of the Teletubbies. I doubt that there is a person on the planet who has not heard of these sweet little dimwits. Four monochromatic pudge-pots with televisions built into their stomachs, only slightly less annoying than their producer’s next project, Boobah. That one pretty much takes the cake for insipid entertainment. But for anyone save a two to three year old, Teletubbies are up there pretty high on the annoy-o-meter. It was around my hundredth episode (hey, I love my kids, OK?) that I started to really wonder what kind of mind could produce such an educational travesty. I mean, I know that the Tubbies have been subjected to interpretive criticism before. I personally found the US Senate had hearings on the sexual orientation of one of them to be fascinating and penetrating. But those kinds of complaints are just situational; just little nibbles at the truth. I prefer a wholesome chomp whenever I want to dig my fangs into something, and this was no exception.

I ran through some ideas, and put some thought into each one before discarding it. But I got nowhere and in fact found the truth to be quite elusive. In short, I swiftly came to an impasse in my deconstruction of the Teletubbies. But one fateful day I brought the subject up with my brother. At the time I was playing with the idea that the show was a multi-layered expression of naturalism. I mean, on a philosophical level the Tubbies can’t seem to figure out what the heck is going on. For all they know the magic fairies come at night and leave them cool toys that they play with until their inner Gods speak to them through their stomachs. They also seem dedicated to expressing social mores in non-verbal ways so as to inculcate the babes in the audience.

On an an artistic level the thing looks like its shot on a set, but the outside scenes are really well done, and the lighting looks as natural as any I have ever seen. That part is kind of beautiful, like that new iPod advertisement where the people are standing outside on a street on an early summer evening in front of a black tarp.

From a hedonistic perspective, as far as I can tell those little buggers are naked as jaybirds.

But I was getting nowhere. I could not reconcile the Baby-in-the-Sun image, which seemed to me to be more of a zoo keeper than a benevolent and warm God figure. I also couldn’t get my mind around their habitat, which seems to be a submerged saucer, and has a definite industrial feel to it. Then there is the robot, and when I mentioned that, the light shined on my brother’s face. “Dude,” he said to me. “What if this is a SF genre story?” I was a little taken aback at first, not because the idea was shocking, but because that was pretty much what I had been talking around for weeks. “Of course!” I said. So we spent a little while analyzing the imagery in the show.

In a nutshell, here it is. There are four chubby moon-faced morons, Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, La-La and Po, who spend the entire show interacting with each other and simple objects. The four each are of different sizes, signifying different ages, have different body colors, and most importantly, have different facial skin colors from pasty white to mulatto, and one with an East Asian looking skin hue. Every fifteen minutes or so a pinafore-looking radio tower sends out a TV signal that is received by the antenna each Teletubby has on their head, and shown on the TV screen in one of their stomachs. The shorts that they watch together usually show a human child interacting with the world and experiencing some new phenomenon. Sometimes there are African children looking at exotic animals. Then a British kid looking at frogs in his back yard. Or an Aussie kid looking at a car, or something basic like that. When they are not watching shorts, they are playing with simple objects that they find around their home, such as balls, bicycles, doors, and the like. Toys and simple machines only. That is pretty much the show, but there are some setting and background elements that are relevant here.

As I mentioned above the Teletubbies live in an underground saucer of sorts. In their domain they are cared for by a snout-nosed vacuum cleaner/robot that helps them get food (“Tubby-Toast), cleans up after them, and tells them how to do certain things. Each morning the sun rises, of course, but the inside the sun is the visage of the face of a caucasian baby. The baby only giggles, but whenever he does so, it seems to prompt the Teletubbies to action. The Teletubbies live and sleep in the underground saucer, and wake up every day to go out into the world to experience what ever has been left for them by some unknown hand. Moreover, the Tubby’s saucer is in the bottom of a little valley, which the Tubbies never leave. We see nothing outside the inner rim walls. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a glimpse of a ruined Cleveland or Detroit over the rise! The depression itself has a few small trees, lots of flowers, and giant bunnies all over the place.

So from a genre point of view, this show looks post-apocalyptic to me. The Tubbies are GM versions of the various races who have been brought back to life from the preserved corpses of the war dead. Unfortunately the aliens who did this had no adult humans to show them how to raise children, since they obviously came so long after the nuclear deluge, but they do have children’s videos, and they show them to the Teletubbies every fifteen minutes or so during the day as a way of teaching them how to behave like a human should. They concentrate on human baby stories because the Teletubbies themselves are so immature and need the basics first. The saucer is a bunker of sorts set up by the alien overlords, whose avatar watches the Tubbies through the artificial sun. The fact that the thing is shot on an outside set only reinforces the feeling that the world is manufactured, not naturally occurring. The bunker is buried in the Earth to prevent too much radiation exposure during the night. I think that the dim-wittery of even the largest (thus oldest) Teletubby is indicative of the damaging amount of radiation in their post-apocalyptic environment. They basically start out as little morons, like all humans did, and age into bigger morons because of the radiation’s effects on their immature brains. I must admit though, the giant bunnies confuse me a bit. If I let my imagination run wild, I could easily see ordinary rabbits evolving because of massive background radiation into something fierce with lots of bulk, fangs and a bad attitude. Kind of like that drawing in the original GM’s guide from TSR’s game Gamma World. My hypothesis is that the alien overlords took those ferocious creatures and modified them to be docile again. That the Tubbies never approach the bunnies very closely only shows an inherent fear in them, perhaps of still remaining fangs and a wicked case of proximity anxiety. Or, perhaps the bunnies are there to teach the Tubbies to live in harmony with their environment, and thus eliminate the possibility of the Tubbies descendants ever going to war again. Or maybe the Tubbies are being taught animal husbandry skills, for when they mature and grow their molars. I don’t know.

There are obviously some unanswered questions. Are the aliens like the helpful kinds of aliens from the movie A.I. who want nothing more then to bring us back from the dead and understand us? Are the slightly more self-motivated kinds of aliens who want to bring us back and take our genetic material, like the Oankali in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy? Or do they just need an army of soldiers to recapture their home planet from Ming the Merciless? Anyway, I think I’m on to something, but I haven’t found anyone else on the web that agrees with me. Perhaps those seeking the truth will find this in a Google search and witness their beliefs to me by comment.

So you know, I did eventually find some other sites on the web that took up these issues.  Here’s a comment from that blog:

Maybe Im not as nuts as you all think?

HA!  I feel somewhat vindicated.

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