Teletubby Teleology

tinky winky pastoralLeading Teletubbies theorist Adam Roberts, in his 2011 essay “Time for Teletubbies: Radical Utopian Fiction”, has some interesting things to say about Teletubbyland. After establishing some evident-yet-unspoken basics, such as the fact that the Teletubbies are cyborgs and the show is science fiction, Roberts moves on to his main thesis: that the Teletubbies are essentially a perfected version of the Eloi, those childlike posthumans in HG Wells’s The Time Machine. Where the Eloi have lost their intelligence and capacity for negative affect, the Teletubbies are even more advanced in their degeneracy, having also lost their sexuality, eliminating that final, fraught complication of adult emotional life.

I think this is right. I also think there is more going on here than meets the eye.

When reading a critical essay, one often finds oneself skimming the opening paragraphs, with their perfunctory potted recapitulation of the text’s story; but still, there’s something oddly nice about them – both in the amusing implication that a given critical piece, no matter how bizarre, is actually meant to function as some readers’ introduction to a text; and in the opportunity to see a text’s most basic elements refracted through the idiosyncratic eyes of another. So: Teletubbies is a British children’s television series which originally ran from 1997 to 2001. It follows the intensely repetitive, borderline ritualistic adventures of Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po, four colourful, infantile creatures who live in an inexplicably high-tech bunker. Upon their heads are skin-covered aerials; upon their bellies are screens. Teletubbyland is dominated by two focal entities: the sun, which has the face of a baby and observes the Teletubbies with perpetual amusement; and the windmill, which broadcasts short documentaries featuring contemporary children, which the Teletubbies pick up on their head-aerials and watch on each other’s belly-screens. The Teletubbies frolic in the fields and hills surrounding their domed abode, but they never stray far; episodes feature mild variation – a new toy appears for the Teletubbies to play with, for example – before they return to their dome, the sun sets, and the cycle begins once more.

All of which suggests a question: what the fuck are they?

It may be helpful to consider the name. “Tele”, because their bodies physically incorporate televisions. “Tubby”, because they’re fat. They are fat televisions. These two fundamental elements, “tele” and “tubby”, express between them the show’s design philosophy – its hopes and dreams. The four Teletubbies represent human toddlers at varying stages of maturity: Tinky Winky is relatively tall and mature, almost lingual; Po is young and inarticulate, little more than a baby; and Dipsy and Laa-Laa are somewhere in between. The show was made before Let’s Plays and nightmarish algorithmically-generated YouTube videos existed, in a lost golden age when watching television really was what toddlers loved doing the most. Teletubbies seeks to place itself at the centre of children’s telly by placing children’s telly at its centre. The show’s recursion – real children gather round televisions to watch Teletubby children gather round televisions to watch real children who, we might infer, gather round televisions to watch Teletubby children in turn – is a good gimmick. The real genius, however, lies in the additional step – the merger of child and television. Since the belly is the most visually straightforward, least disturbing part of a childlike character on which to place a screen, that’s what the show’s creators chose. As a result, the creatures’ essential tubbiness takes on totemic significance. It’s not a whim: it emerges organically when you expand toddlers to the larger-than-life world of sci-fi metaphor, bypassing the hormonal-neurological processes of adolescence, preserving their juvenile minds and, symbolically, their fat distribution. They must be “tele-”, but they must be “-tubby”; if they were not, they would no longer seem like toddlers, and the show would collapse into its foundations.

Speaking more specifically: the Teletubbies resemble gigantic toddlers in hooded one-piece bodysuits, each one enclosed in a single garment that leaves only their face uncovered. If we look closely, however, we can see an odd vertical zipper running along each Teletubby’s spine, and distinct horizontal necklines where their head and body don’t quite connect. Presumably the production team are simply hoping their audience won’t notice, but these details raise some intriguing questions: are Teletubbies, within the narrative, creatures designed to be unzippable? Are they assembled rather than grown, like Frankenstein’s creation? If so, how much of a Teletubby’s exterior body – the colourful hide, the screen and aerial, the rigid beatific face – is part of this suit? Is the creature inside significantly different – more human, or less?

It’s worth affirming – not despite, but because of how silly it might sound – that Teletubbies is a masterpiece. The show holds up considerably better than the vast majority of children’s television. Mesmeric and eerie, it’s far superior to the mawkish and sanitised Sesame Street, or its various offspring. Like Adventure Time, which would establish a new high-water mark for quality children’s fantasy television a decade later, the surrealism of Teletubbies is presented in a breezy and unapologetic manner that refuses easy explanation, providing the young mind with moments and images of genuine, deep strangeness, and stories without easy resolutions.

The documentary sections are, by a vast margin, the worst part of the show. Interchangeable toddlers waddle about their home or local area, happily explaining their lives to the camera in a mixture of coached dialogue and general babbling. In a frankly baffling misstep, each episode shows its documentary clip twice, in full, back-to-back, with no changes. The Teletubbies’ eagerness to tune in is the most truly alien thing about them: no child wants to watch other children. Kids viciously reject Barney the Dinosaur the moment they are even slightly too old for him, but it’s not because of the great purple homunculus himself: it’s because of his coterie of children, beaming and saccharine and focus-tested. Teletubbies, for the most part, avoids this pitfall; the broadcasts at its notional centre represent its only failure to understand its audience.

Part of what makes the show so much better than the competition is that, documentary clips aside, it never condescends to its viewers. It does not pretend to be educational or instructive. It has more interest in colour than in character, more dedication to mood than to narrative. It is unapologetically nonsense for children, making no concessions to an adult audience, and achieves through this decision a quiet dignity. Nobody loves Dipsy the way people love Kermit the Frog or Mister Rogers. Nobody tearfully champions Teletubbies as a great work of art with important moral lessons for adults, the way people do with Steven Universe. (Small mercies.)

It must be admitted that Teletubbies cannot quite match the raw, rough, uncanny weirdness of older British children’s television – series such as Clangers, or Thunderbirds, or early Doctor Who. That timeship has sailed: the world has become slick with CGI, transfixed by rocketing screen resolutions, and certain affects have become almost impossible to achieve. Teletubbies seems quite slick and professional compared to some of its antecedents. There are occasional reminders that it isn’t just a sci-fi show, but very specifically a 1990s sci-fi show: compare the theme song’s main synth line to that in the X-Files music. Still, though, it does retain something of that primal British strangeness. The 2015 YouTube video setting black-and-white Teletubbies footage to Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” didn’t go viral because the combination was stupid or funny – it went viral because the Ian Curtis’s anhedonic, living-dead affect in its post-punk soundscape cast into sharp relief something that was always there in Teletubbies, and that its viewers have always sensed.

The show seems significantly influenced by a vague cultural memory of early Doctor Who. It’s very easy to imagine Doctor Who and the Teletubbies as a William Hartnell serial – with its cheap but outlandish wardrobe, quasi-theatrical format, and polarised science-fictional society, the Voord-like Teletubbies and their Chumbley-like Noo-Noo would fit neatly among such stories as The Web Planet and The Space Museum. One of the recurring fixations of Doctor Who is the idea of alien civilisations slaved to media signals, in thrall to cybernetic implants or gestalt computer brains; the Teletubbies are essentially this concept reconfigured for a preschool audience.

Visually, Teletubbies echoes that other great British dreamtime, Middle-earth. The grassy hill under which the Teletubbies live, with its comfortable interior, low ceiling, and circular door and windows, is essentially a Shire hobbit-hole with a coat of science-fiction paint. This may remind us of Tolkien’s hints that hobbits continued to evolve away from mankind after the Third Age, and withdrew further from our world, becoming smaller and quieter and stranger, eventually inspiring our myths and legends of little folk who live in the hills and untamed woods.

Evolution, it seems, is the key to understanding Teletubbies. Roberts proposes that the show’s world, with its technological trappings, were created by the race who became the Teletubbies – that they offloaded their physical and mental caretaking onto these inventions before essentially lobotomising themselves. This reading casts an interesting light on what the Teletubbies might mean for the way we understand ourselves and our future. However, it has one complication.

In The Time Machine, our unnamed Victorian narrator, the Time Traveller, discovers that humanity evolves into two distinct species: the fey, docile Eloi, who spend all their time in simple-minded leisure on the Earth’s surface; and the monstrous, intelligent Morlocks, who live underground and farm the Eloi for their flesh. If the Teletubbies are Eloi, that implies the co-existence of Morlocks – a separate, parallel race of entities who control and shepherd them. And, sure enough, the show gives us evidence that such beings exist.

Teletubbies is narrated by a genial unseen presence. The narrator’s nature is never revealed, but it’s clear that they exist as an entity within the diegetic world. Generally, events are narrated before they happen. In the first episode, a male voice announces, “One day, in Teletubbyland, something appeared,” and a flag pops into existence. “Po decided to wave the flag,” says the voice, and Po, hearing this, proceeds to do so. The voice’s role is essentially parental. The Teletubbies occasionally engage in mild mischief – when it’s “time for Tubby Bye-Bye”, they hide and play peek-a-book with the camera rather than going to bed – but they always fold when the narrator intones, a little more firmly, “No.” Disobedience cannot be countenanced in Teletubbyland.

Taking all this at face value, it’s clear that the Teletubbies are being controlled, groomed, and manipulated by some higher order of beings. Roberts’s suggestion that everything has been set in motion by the Teletubbies’ precursors – that they created their technological prison before reducing their own complexities to maximise their contentedness – doesn’t fit with the show’s pervading sense of a contemporaneous controlling force.

Teletubbies is, if not a fundamentally Christian text, at least one with a fixation on Christian mythology and iconography. Most obviously, the setting resembles Eden: like the prelapsarian Adam and Eve, the Teletubbies frolic in their garden, innocent and asexual; they eat, and sleep, but never work; and they submit fully to the authority of a powerful, disembodied father-figure. Had Eve rejected the serpent’s temptations, the whole Bible might have continued in the vein of its initial status quo: simple-minded immortals ambling about their perfect free-range zoo, day after day, their omniscient creator nudging them into repetitious adventures like a child with an ant farm. Rather like, well… like Teletubbies.

As with the Elohim in the Book of Genesis, there’s some ambiguity regarding whether the Teletubbies narrator is an individual or plural being: the narrating presence follows the Teletubbies, explaining their actions to us even as it commands them, but it sometimes alternates between male and female voices. Despite its omnipresence, it also relies on loudspeakers that emerge from the ground like periscopes to recite the basic phrases that summon the Teletubbies in the morning and send them home at night.

At the end of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Archangel Michael shows Adam a vision of everything that his descendants will accomplish. Adam witnesses the murder of Abel, the coming of the Flood, the crucifixion of Christ, and the end of the world – history already mapped out when it has hardly begun. Everyone who gives Teletubbies a moment’s thought seems to decide that the television broadcasts are documentaries – that the Teletubbies are aliens or posthumans, watching footage from 20th-century Earth – but we should also consider the inverse possibility: that the broadcasts are prophecies, revelations. Perhaps the Teletubbies are not our descendants, but our ancestors – not the posthuman inhabitants of some future Eden, but the proto-human denizens of the original.

The existence of four Teletubbies rather than two is an intriguing difference from Genesis. There were, of course, other inhabitants in Eden: consider Adam’s first wife, Lilith; or the other one, whom he saw God creating from his rib and was too frightened and revolted to touch. Perhaps Teletubbies depicts another attempt by God to create his perfect creatures, prototypes or refinements of Adam and Eve (like the characters in Robert Shearman’s “The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World”, which might be the best short story I’ve ever read).

Teletubbies somehow balances the incompatible senses of past and future, of prelapsarian innocence and science-fictional utopia. It feels like a representation of both extremes, our beginning and our end, at once. There’s even some indication that it might somehow be set in the present day: the horror-lullaby mantra “Over the hills and far away / Teletubbies come to play” seems to frame the Teletubbies as somehow contemporaneous with their late-20th-century audience. The children in the windmill broadcasts certainly seem to address the Teletubbies, though they never mention them directly, or acknowledge that anything science-fictional is happening.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. We might even imagine that Teletubby cosmology is cyclical in nature – perhaps the show’s point is that the innocent purity of our mythic past and the bliss of our transhuman future are, in some sense, the same. Like the vaguely embryonic contents of “The Jar” in Ray Bradbury’s short story, the Teletubbies are no one thing, but everything: a mirror showing us that from which we came, and that to which we will return.

It’s not at all clear whether the sun baby is literally our star, somehow transmogrified into a sentient cosmic infant, or some kind of artificial sun; its rapid, capricious movements, detailed appearance, and audible voice all suggest that it’s no more than a few hundred feet away, and likely just a hologram, but one can never be sure about these things. Roberts suggests that perhaps the solar infant is the nexus of the machine intelligence which controls the Teletubbies’ world, but I don’t quite buy this: it may be radiant and all-seeing, but there’s no indication that it has any power, or even any directed will. Rather, I would suggest that it represents the show’s assumed viewer, literally as well as figuratively. It is the Platonic ideal of the Teletubbies audience member: always amused, always captivated, never questioning or actually doing much of anything but stare at Teletubbies. Note that neither the narrator nor the Teletubbies ever engage with, or comment on, the sun. I believe this is because, implicitly, they’re always engaging with the sun – that everything they do is a constant performance for its amusement. We, the audience, clearly have some presence in the show’s diegetic world: the Teletubbies frequently address the camera (though it’s not clear what they see it as), and the narrator addresses us directly (though he never mentions what he thinks we are). I would suggest that the answer in both cases is the same: we are the sun baby. This is why each episode begins with sunrise and ends with sunset. When the Teletubbies face the camera, they are facing the sun. That’s why the sun appears only in close-up scene transitions, and is never on-screen at the same time as the Teletubbies. This show is a radical utopian version of Peep Show.

At the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the astronaut David Bowman, having come into contact with the unseen alien beings who guided humanity’s development, is transformed into the Starchild: a numinous, godlike baby embodying the next stage of humanity’s evolution. The story ends with the Starchild returning to the vicinity of Earth. Perhaps he Teleformed it.

Every now and then – not in most episodes, but in some – the show’s formula is broken, and something strange intrudes upon Teletubbyland. The windmill spins a second time, the music glimmers in anticipation, and the Teletubbies gather excitedly on the hillside to watch some weird visitation manifest for their entertainment or edification. These sequences are lengthy, tense, and borderline ritualistic, like elaborate Final Fantasy summon animations. They don’t fit the show’s televisual central conceit – it’s as if the Teletubbies are children who’ve spent their lives watching TV and are now being taken to the theatre as a strange treat, to witness an older, more powerful form of storytelling.

In the most memorable of these intrusions – a moment of genuine sublime horror, which terrified countless children – a googly-eyed cardboard-cutout lion on wheels chases a grizzly bear, also a cardboard cutout, back and forth across the hills. It’s ostensibly a pageant put on for the Teletubbies’ amusement, but the lion’s glaring, hollow eyes and formless, non-specific desire to get the bear are authentically nightmarish, this injection of mild but real tension into the show’s zero-tension universe a genuine violation. Perhaps most importantly, these sequences break down the barrier between viewer and Teletubby: there’s a certain disconnect when the Teletubbies are doing something as abstract as watching irritating kids on their belly-screens, but seeing them gather on a hillside to cower before an apparition they don’t understand feels somehow atavistic and real.

Considered in light of the show’s biblical overtones, these sequences take on a vaguely religious quality. In another of these intrusions, the whole of Teletubbyland is flooded but for the hill on which the Teletubbies lay; three computer-generated ships sail into view, delighting the Teletubbies; and then they sail away, and the water rapidly drains into the ground. In another intrusion, the Teletubbies witness a long line of CG animals marching through the hills – marching two by two. It’s not difficult to see why the diluvian myth, albeit in scrambled form, is so strongly represented here: the story of Noah is one of cataclysm; of destroying a fallen world in the hope of starting a better one; of the line between utopia and dystopia, and its toll. Other intrusions include: a miniature house containing a singing Scottish puppet; a gazebo containing another bear (this one a CG tap-dancer); and a Little Bo Peep who glides Poppins-like, orbited by a cloud of sheep, and moves in beautifully uncanny stop-motion. Like angelic messengers, all of these beings manifest to reveal cryptic truths; descending from the sky like UFOs, their inexplicable majesty and conflation of creature and architecture recall the “living creatures” from the Book of Ezekiel. “Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.” This is clearly a description of the dancing bear and his aethereal craft. No fewer than six Bible verses include references to both lions and bears – together they are Christianity’s iconic shorthand for predation. Is it any wonder that the show so prominently features both lion and sheep – the two beasts which represent the paradoxical aspects of Christ? And what are Bo Peep and her wayward flock if not a metaphor – an instructive portrayal of the helpless Teletubbies themselves, corralled by their unseen pastors?

The windmill which towers over Teletubbyland is a fascinating symbol. On one hand, it evokes a wind turbine, and so suggests environmentalism and green energy, ecology and science. On the other hand, its windmill form is clearly divorced from its function, which is closer to that of a television broadcast transmitter. In any case, it’s clearly the main instrument of whatever force governs the Teletubbies.

There’s something faintly christological about the windmill: a lone structure on a hilltop, sacred and powerful, commanding its adherents to regular Mass-like attendance, radiating power from its mast like a cross in an illuminated manuscript. The more pertinent similarity, however, is an Old Testament one: what else stands alone in the middle of an idyllic garden, surrounded by simple-minded naked inhabitants who are captivated by it but can never touch it, this thing put in place by the God who rules their world, and which has the capacity to reveal to them certain generative truths? The windmill, of course, is the Tree of Knowledge.

In another sense, the windmill also evokes The Time Machine – not Wells’s novel in this case, but George Pal’s film adaptation. In the film, the Morlocks control the Eloi by means of a siren – the same air-raid siren that the Time Traveller hears during his visits to the 1940s and 1960s, the implication being that the species’ divergence can be traced back to a 20th-century nuclear war. When the siren sounds, the Eloi seem to lose what little self-awareness they still possess; they wander like Romero zombies to the stone sphinx which stands near their settlement, down into the caverns below, where they will soon be eaten by the masters who bred them. The juxtaposition between “sphinx” and “air-raid siren” is an ingenious filmmaking decision, its semiotics incredibly dense and loaded. Consider all the associations that sphinxes have (Oedipus and Ancient Egypt, riddles and hybridity…), and the associations that air-raid sirens have (modernity and the Blitzkrieg, 20th-century warfare and civilian casualties…). How often are you compelled to consider such disparate things together, let alone without their names being spoken? It’s a properly surrealist combination of visual and aural – not just “surreal” in the debased general sense, but actually surrealist, in that same dredged-from-the-shores-of-the-unconscious way as the best paintings of Salvador Dalí or René Magritte. The television-broadcasting windmill in Teletubbies captures precisely this essence of surrealist juxtaposition.

This is not the only reason to suspect a George Pal influence on the show. Where the novel has the Time Traveller explain his anthropological deductions to us through narration, the film adds a sequence where the Eloi show him the “talking rings” – a recording medium which is ancient to them but futuristic to him. When these metal rings are placed on a table and spun, they emit voices which recite historical information, offering us a glimpse into the Eloi/Morlock schism.

So, the Teletubbies are not just neutered Eloi: they are Eloi who have been modified to apprehend their history on a physical, biological level. Where the film’s Eloi react with indifference to the talking rings, failing to understand their historical import, the Teletubbies love history: they have it beamed directly into their heads every day. Perhaps a more precise ethnography, then, would be that Teletubbies are Eloi whose sexuality has been replaced with a love of history.

In addition to the thematic parallels, it may even be possible to read Teletubbies as a literal sequel to The Time Machine. If so, the Teletubbies themselves might be the direct descendants of the Eloi – bred for lower intelligence and libido, their reproduction presumably now handled in vitro, with the crude siren and talking rings merged into a more sophisticated system of media control – while the Teletubbies’ unseen masters, the architects of the technology that keeps them alive, are, of course, the more refined descendants of the Morlocks. If this is the case, Wells also provides us with the future of both races: the Teletubbies will evolve into the grey, rabbit-like creatures encountered by the Time Traveller in the excised chapter “The Grey Man”, and their masters will become the great metallic centipedes who hunt them – evidently another sort of cyborg.

What do the Teletubbies’ masters plan to do with them? It’s conceivable that they’re simply free-range cattle, being allowed a pleasant life before the slaughterhouse; but given how easily they can synthesise Tubby Pancakes and Tubby Custard, it seems more likely that the Morlocks’ descendants will have moved on to more ethical food sources. Perhaps the Teletubbies are a delicacy, bred for a particularly reactionary demographic among the post-Morlocks; or, most likely of all, they’re simply zoo creatures, kept in a pleasant cage for the amusement of post-Morlock children. The only other organic Teletubbyland denizens we see with any frequency are the rabbits and the talking flowers, those dual reminders of the Teletubbies’ obliterated sexuality. The presence of actual rabbits alongside the proto-leporine Teletubbies perhaps speaks obliquely to some cultural tendency among the post-Morlocks. The whole of Teletubbyland could even be inside something like the Carnival of Monsters miniscope, perhaps with the sun baby being the specific child who happens to own it. One wonders what would happen if the Teletubbies ever wandered further afield: would they collide, Truman-like, with the dome of a false sky?

The 2011 revival, Teletubbies: The Return, is a slick update with all the original show’s rough, interesting edges sanded away; for the most part, a pointless, forgettable endeavour. However, it does make one important change: it introduces baby Teletubbies. These “Tiddlytubbies” are wretched creations: sickeningly sweet computer-generated babies with grotesquely expressive and animated faces, an abominable contrast to the placid demeanour of the classic Teletubbies. Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po are serene and tactile beasts, the lunar masks that form their faces rigid and oddly beautiful; the Tiddlytubbies feel more like cuckoo invaders from the world of Elsa and Spider-Man. Their name holds no meaning.

As an expansion of the mythos, however, they are somehow thought-provoking. The Teletubbies never interact with the Tiddlytubbies directly – rather, they crowd together at the door to the nursery, and marvel as the infants crawl about. The Tiddlytubbies’ introduction was met with speculation over which of the classic Teletubbies were the parents, but this is misguided: the dynamic is clearly that of four toddlers who are excited to see their new sextuplet siblings. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Tiddlytubbies is how they emphasise that, for all that has changed in the intervening years, the four Teletubbies we know have not matured or developed at all.

A far more intriguing addition to the mythos was revealed to Tumblr user and Teletubbies theorist Elodie Under Glass in a 2017 dream. I assume that this was some manner of divine revelation and can therefore be considered canonical.

In the dream, she stands on the rear deck of a rural cabin, looking out into the wild autumn woods, and is privileged to witness the esoteric, ritualistic mating-dance of two gigantic Teletubbies. The dreamer realises that the ones in the television series are, in fact, infants of the species. “The adult Teletubbies,” reports Glass, “have more branching, complex antlers and shaggy coats. They are less brightly coloured. They are terrifyingly large. Their strangely human faces, emerging from the thick fur, are unquestionably adult; remote, serene, reproachful. Their television screens are glitchy, esoteric and unknowable. They are cryptids whose public exploitation has undermined their rarity and their strange, alien dignity. In my dream my feelings of awe and peace turned to great sadness at the fate of the captive toddler Teletubbies. I realised that I had to be the scientist who brought this discovery to the world and raised awareness of their plight. And I also questioned: are Teletubbies like axolotls? Do they exhibit neoteny? (Axolotls … can breed in their aquatic juvenile form, and most spend their whole lives in this form. Deprived of their wild potential, will the Teletubbies ever mature? Or are they merely experiencing a long childhood, natural for a species that is unimaginably long-lived?)”

It is one of the basic impulses of the modern media consumer – and perhaps even of the modern human being – to reclaim the stories that occupied us as children; to find meaning and value in the things that shaped us in our earliest, simplest days. We are inverted clams, searching for some pearl buried at the core of our gritty adult lives. At its worst, this impulse causes grown adults to retreat into a comforting, amniotic safety of superhero movies and children’s cartoons, a place from which anything complex or challenging or upsetting, anything that engages with the fraught and tragic majesty of the real and outside world, can be rejected and ignored. At its best, this same impulse allows for a creative mental archaeology: we can examine juvenile media and how it relates to our adult occupations, considering it seriously without losing perspective, and we can come to understand our inner child more deeply without ever letting it into the driver’s seat. The “adult Teletubbies” dream is a paragon of this latter category: a thoughtful, haunting extrapolation of a children’s story, illuminating the obscure beauty of the Teletubbies without descending into lame parody or adolescent darkness.

Part of the appeal of the Teletubbies is that they are iconic in such a systemic, modular way. The features that distinguish them – skin colour, aerial shape, favourite accessory – are all very easy to reconfigure, and randomise, and expand upon. Consider: a dark-blue Teletubby with a candelabra aerial and gigantic mirror sunglasses. A bone-white Teletubby with a cross-shaped aerial and a crown of thorns. The possibilities are endless. The dream recounted above, as it liberates the Teletubbies from their toddler form, also introduces new elements, new layers of complexity: grand and ancient antlers, and screens as variegated as all the monitors in human history. It transforms the Teletubby into a cybernetic forest god, a living fusion of the natural, religious, and technological sublimes, channelling all into human shape. The idea of a courtship ritual also indicates – in an appropriately elegant, non-graphic way – the restoration of sexuality to the Teletubby species. It’s no wonder that Glass’s post was so widely circulated, and inspired an entire microgenre of spectacular and chilling fan-art: it articulates vividly the sense of the Teletubbies transcending their enclosure, and growing, as we all do, in strange new ways. This dream, I think, is a path forward. Try applying its aesthetic logic to some other children’s stories, and see where it takes you.

How might this understanding of Teletubbies as cryptids, as the infants of a race of serene titans, be reconciled with their nature as Edenic and Eloian, as alpha and omega? Perhaps the answer lies in another question: are we to understand that the Teletubbies might precipitate their own fall from grace? Will they one day be cast from their garden?

teletubbyland lost

For a Teletubby to decline to follow the voice’s narration would be to render the narrator a liar – to render God fallible. This, surely, would be a grievous sin. Where Adam and Eve were forbidden to touch the Tree of Knowledge, the Teletubbies are forbidden not to attend the tall, radiant structure that looms over their own garden. As such, it’s not difficult to guess what the Teletubbies’ original sin might be. One can imagine a Teletubby – perhaps with some notion whispered in their ear by the lion, or the flowers, or the singing Scottish puppet, or one of the other wretched demons that stalk the moors and skies of Teletubbyland – deciding, in a moment of mischief, to refuse the windmill’s summons. You can only watch so much of anything before you start to want something more, and that Tinky Winky has always been a handful. One can imagine the other three joining in the fun, staying in their dome, outside the signal’s reach. The narrator panics and pleads. The loudspeakers rise, and a furious cry echoes throughout the hills: Where have the Teletubbies gone? Where have the Teletubbies gone? The infant sun begins to weep. When the masters at last understand that their subjects have rebelled, that they have rejected their nature, their hearts grow hard. The Teletubbies are banished from Teletubbyland, cast out into the wild wastes beyond. They will grow, and multiply, and the earth will tremble beneath the feet of giants.

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