Purple passion 

On the eve of the Senate vote over whether to impeach the president, the most talked-about news story in the country was about a guy who got all freaked out because he thinks this one character's a queer.

The only person who could get their hackles raised over the sexuality of felt is holy roly-poly Jerry Falwell, the preacher who seems happily snuggled up to the deadly sins of gluttony and pride. I have to hand it to him. I thought I was good, but his smut vision is world-class, and he deserves the horny crown as the King of Nudge-Nudge Wink-Wink more than I do.

Falwell, the only guy who could say the Antichrist is going to be a Jew and still keep his job, has announced that one of the Teletubbies is gay. The Teletubbies. The sweet, baby-voiced, gourd-shaped PBS darlings with TVs for tummies who rise to an infant-faced sun and teach us how kids learn. Falwell thinks they have a genital agenda. His twitchy finger points to Tinky Winky. Tinky is purple, the gay-pride color. His antenna is shaped like a triangle, the official symbol of gay pride. And he carries a red vinyl purse.

Right and wrong

How come, if they represent the far right, they're always out in left field? Purpleness and sexual ambiguity don't mean Tinky is gay; they mean he's Prince. Besides, whatever Teletubbies are, their audience is made up of 2-year-olds. Two-year-olds are barely aware of what gender is, never mind its bendability. And what Ralph Kramden-era mindset pictures gay men as carrying purses? Gay men don't carry purses, and if they did, they wouldn't carry something as tacky as that red vinyl number of Tinky's.

It's even easier to say, well, duh, of course Tinky Winky's gay. What straight male allows himself to be called Tinky Winky? His belly screen never shows anything but Joan Crawford movies and "Dawson's Creek." A close look reveals wrist bands and hand stamps from all the bars in Teletubby Village. He's the only one of the characters with a gym membership. That purse is a Tommy Hilfiger, and you know what's in it? The Friday classifieds with all the good estate sales circled in red. So Chubby Smugs figured out that Tinky Winky is a Nellie-Tubby. Big deal. My mom could have figured that out, and they didn't even have gay people back when she was young.

Without a doubt Tinky Winky has said nothing but "uh-oh" ever since the outing, and that's not going to help when it's time for his Genre interview. He really should get Chastity Bono to help him through this. In the meantime, the rest of us are wondering, what's new? It's not as though children's programming hasn't brought us lots of lovable gay characters in the past.

Bert and Ernie might have separate beds, but so did Lucy and Ricky. Bugs Bunny was squeezing into drag and smooching Elmer Fudd every chance he got. Ren and Stimpy sleep in the same bed, and Stimpy dreams dreamy dreams of mothering Ren's children while Ren is cold and abusive. (Come to think of it, Stimpy doesn't suggest homosexuality so much as battered-wife syndrome.) There never were two bigger sissies in the history of animation than Disney's own "after you, no after you" Chip and Dale. And that butch Peppermint Patty had her little sidekick Marcie calling her "sir." With that roll call it seems very possible that about 10 percent of the population of Saturday morning cartoons is gay, statistically reflecting the population of the country.

Toy story

How do you even get to a point of such severe delusion that outing dolls is relevant to your spirituality? Compared to the real spirituality of those who don't have their own TV network, the Falwellian spirituality is like fat-free cheese: You can tell yourself it's great because it leaves you guilt- and blame-free, but you know it's not great, it's not even good, and it doesn't come close to being satisfying. We all feel that hunger of the soul, the pang of wanting to know there's something more to this whole mess. Don't tell me you get that itch scratched by looking for erections in "The Little Mermaid" or sex in the stars of "The Lion King."

Maybe Falwell was just jealous because the Teletubbies' creators are making such big piles of money without having to threaten anybody with the jaws of hell. Maybe, since they seem unable to get anybody riled up anymore over abortion or teaching evolution, the Christian soldiers just needed to find something else to shoot at.

You'd think they'd have learned from the whole Clinton affair, though, that people don't really care for hatefulness and dirt-digging, and most probably couldn't care less whether one or all of the Teletubbies are gay. It may be something that Falwell does, but most adults don't think like 2-year-olds. And most don't waste time saying "uh-oh" over and over, whether there is anything to uh-oh about or not.

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