The Teletubbies Unleashed A Weird Reaction (From Adults)
Since 1997, the trippy world of Teletubbyland's existed on the TVs of many toddlers, and in a metaphysical sense, on the stomachs of its inhabitants, the Teletubbies. Four alien-looking creatures frolic a land where oversized rabbits munched on its grassy hills, and Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po eat nothing but tubby toast and its favorite companion, tubby custard -- a mix of mashed potatoes with yellow and red acrylic paint.
The snail-slow pace of the program and gibberish frustrated parents, especially in comparison to Sesame Street or even Barney, both considered more educational than a pack of nonsense spewing paint eaters. It got to the point that Norway and several other countries had heated arguments about the show at a global television summit. No to mention the bizarre homophobia directed at Tinky Winky from religious leaders. What was in the Teletubbies secret sauce, and what were they supposedly hiding?
Co-creator of Teletubbies Anne Wood is said to have dreamt the idea for the show. These alien, dream-like figures (or nightmarish depending on how you look at them) were actually inspired by astronauts, as co-creator Andrew Davenport thought that NASA crews moved a bit like "children exploring a new world." The show incorporated colors and relaxed movements, inviting its audience of preschoolers to believe they were a part of Teletubbyland. To see for yourself what is meant by that:
The predictability of the show gave little kids confidence in themselves to guide a story. Sedating its viewers one color at a time, the program had millions of audience members within the first couple of months -- unheard of for toddler entertainment back then.
According to The Center for Media, Tech, and Democracy, "There is an implicit expectation that children's programming, if it is going to exert such a strong control over the minds of young children, ought at least to be educational." Though one could argue that it was … in its own way. The Teletubbies were intentionally unthreatening and created to be somewhat dependent on the help of toddlers watching to figure their challenges out, such as Po's confusion in making tubby custard, making toddlers feel secure in their ability to help.
Frequently, entire segments were repeated, as were the occasional words from Teletubbies, such as when counting numbers. This kept the attention span of young children and pounded how to count to three into their spongy brains, despite parents complaining of its dullness.
Not all episodes of these colorful toddler astronauts were well received. "Seesaw," an episode introducing a lion and a bear, scared children and was banned in a few countries. As a full-grown adult, the unsettling sounds and creepy background track cannot be missed, and it's easy to see how a majority of children wouldn't necessarily feel safe while watching it. The echo-y tone of the bear eerily repeating "I'm the bear, I'm the bear," and the diabolical roars of the lion as he rolls around the grass installs both fear and confusion. Watching them both manically scatter across the screen does not ensure safety to its viewers.
You can see for yourself here the creepy monotone of the lion swishing around on the mountainous regions of Teletubbyland as if he owns the place:
Perhaps what would have been scarier to children was knowing that the Teletubbies themselves ranged from six to 11 feet tall to look proportionate with the scenery around them, despite their appearance of mouse-like size. Flemish Giant rabbits shared the land with them as well and were overfed to look bigger. Unfortunately, many died in the process (only seven of 11 survived).
The show gained so much popularity that on the 10th anniversary, the actors were revealed, and Tinky Winky actor Simon Shelton likened the experience to Beatle-mania in the '60s. Originally, Tinky Winky was played by comedian Dave Thompson, but "executives had issues with his interpretation of the role," which remains vague in description, though it was enough for him to be dismissed and replaced by Shelton.
The Teletubby saga ended in a voluntary flooding of the set's location, as tourists frequently trespassed the premises. Rosemary Harding, the property owner, recalled that "people were jumping fences and crossing cattle fields." The loss probably caused a paint chip eating level of headache for production when they rebooted the show in 2015.
Top Image: BBC