Cartoons & Caricatures: Falwell on Tinky Winky and Dobson on SpongeBob

I was preparing this morning for my fourth interview on the life of Jerry Falwell when I thought I’d look into the strange case of his taking on the Teletubbies. This was a man, after all, who took on pretty big foes: Bob Guccione and Penthouse, Larry Flynt and Hustler, the liberal news media, the Democratic Party….

So what was he doing “outing” Tinky Winky?

Almost every article I looked at this week mentioned Falwell going after Tinky Winky, the purple, “magic-bag”-toting Teletubby as a covert normalization of homosexuality among the preschool set. And how risible everyone seemed to find it: Jerry Falwell attacking a cartoon character who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously as a symbol of gay pride.

–Except that Falwell was right.

I don’t know of Falwell finding a “smoking gun”: an internal memo, say, or an interview in which the producers declare their intention to promote homosexuality.

But the record shows that lots of people got the same message from Tinky Winky, and not just on the Right. CNN was among the first media to remark on Tinky Winky as a “gay icon,” having a male voice, but also sporting a red purse (the “magic bag”) with a triangle (symbol of gay pride) on his head and, indeed, coloured purple (symbol of gay pride). The Village Voice concurred, as did at least one gay newspaper.

Suspicions were heightened when, according to The Washington Post, the actor inside Tinky Winky was going to be fired for dancing in the streets wearing nothing but a balloon, and gay groups protested.

Far from “outing” Tinky Winky, then, Falwell was merely passing on to his constituency what he had gathered from other media. But who noted that fact this past week? Did any mainstream journalist allow that there was actually something to Falwell’s concern? Did anyone in the major media pause to consider the non-astounding idea that maybe Tinky Winky was indeed part of a culture-wide agenda to normalize homosexuality via benign media portraits–what I call the “Will & Grace-ing” of homosexuality?

More recently, James Dobson of Focus on the Family got into similar trouble for calling SpongeBob Squarepants a homosexual, to the loud and sustained hooting of the mainstream media, let alone the blogosphere to Dr. Dobson’s left. When he dies, you can expect SpongeBob to be derisively mentioned just as Tinky Winky was this past week.

–Except that Dobson didn’t call SpongeBob gay. What Dobson did was to note with dismay that SpongeBob was included in a film and curriculum for school children that he feared would advance the pro-homosexual agenda. And there were understandable grounds for such fear, as even the producer of the video allowed to The New York Times.

I recognize Brother Falwell and Brother Dobson as Christian kin, even though I have deep and passionate disagreements with both some of their beliefs and some of their tactics. Since they are fellow Christians, I naturally don’t want them to be caricatured.

But even if I simply hated them, as many people obviously do, I should get my facts straight, especially if I pride myself on being a good journalist.

I got these two stories straight with about 15 minutes’ worth of Googling. That’s not too high a price to pay for fact-checking, is it? Unless the stories are just too good to be not-true….

0 Responses to “Cartoons & Caricatures: Falwell on Tinky Winky and Dobson on SpongeBob”

  1. david

    Thanks for clearing that up!
    I was also not a Falwell fan – although I am a Christian, but the media should speak truthfully when trying to critique someone else, elspecially someone they didn’t like.

  2. Tim Perry

    Tinky WInky did come up on the Michael Coren show on CTS this past week.

    The exchange went something like this:

    Critic: He thought Tinky Winky was gay!

    Coren: So did the New York Times. Falwell was only passing on information.

    I don’t remember what Critic said after that, but I believe that it was derisive and designed to change the subject of conversation.


  3. Bene Diction

    People did cover it accurately.

    The people factor is a part of the whole, the anger on and off line at the harm Falwell’s brand of fundamentalism caused in exploitation of others is a story within it’s own right. A bit harder to pin down than the facts you found so easily, and you are correct – those facts have been out there a long time. Doesn’t lessen the pain and hurt people have experienced, and I’m not referring to just the GLBT community.

    You posted on the Tinky Winky angle, brother in Christ or not. It’s a traffic grabber.
    And again you are correct, when Dobson dies, there will be innacuracies about Nile Rodgers video and subsequent SpongeBob inclusion in Dobson’s speech to congressmen.

    There are other examples of accurate Falwell/Tinky Winky reporting, as you state, you can Google to find them. Thanks for pointing out inaccuracies.

  4. John Santic

    John, thanks for this post….

    perhaps one of the issues that people have with the fndamental right is their blatant demonizing of cultural icons that are contrary to fundamental christian belief. It does lead to somewhat of an aggressive posture toward that which is non-christian. I think that is what makes many believers who strive for a missional engagement with the world cringe as well.

    But as you noted, he did have a point. The question is whether advancing a political agenda to do something about it the right approach. Americanizing Christiaity is on one sense just as scary as Talibanizing Islam…

    Thank you for reminding us that he was Christian kin and our attitudes should reflect that regardless of how we disagree with him.


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