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to APB's in-depth coverage of the Tinky Winky gun controversy.
Lawsuit to Target Teletubbies for Gun Talk
'I Want Them All Gone' Declares Angry Mother

April 12, 2000

By Randy Dotinga

Tinky Winky, with his red bag, from Teletubbies
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (APBnews.com) -- Eh-oh.

A Southern California woman is planning to file a lawsuit and wipe Teletubbies from the face of the earth after a Tinky Winky doll allegedly talked to her baby daughter about guns.

"I want them all gone," declared Renee Michelle Taylor, who has hired a lawyer to help her sue the company that manufactures a set of talking Teletubby dolls. "They shouldn't be on the air. They shouldn't be on the shelves."

But the chairman of the company that licenses the dolls said the woman's threat of a lawsuit is "a violent overreaction to a situation that's clearly a misunderstanding." Kenn Viselman, chairman of the Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., said the Tinky Winky doll is actually saying "Again, again," in a snippet of audio taken from the Teletubbies television show.

Related Audio:
Listen to Tinky Winky Speak
Listen to the Po Doll Speak
Teletubbies are the cute, babbling creatures that star in a British children's show seen in this country on PBS. Teletubbies romp around green fields, hug each other, eat toast, slurp custard and watch videos.

Numerous toys are based on the TV show, including the Talk Together Teletubbies. The battery-powered talking dolls, sold exclusively at KB Toys, are equipped with infrared sensors that allow them to detect each other and hold "conversations." They initially sold for $59.99 but are now on clearance for $19.99 at stores in Southern California.

Words shock mom

Related Forum:

Is Tinky Winky promoting guns to kids?

APBnews.com Poll:

Which phrase do you believe Teletubby Tinky Winky is saying on the popular children's show?

"A gun, a gun"
"Again, again"

Related Story:

Is Teletubby Packing Heat?

Related Link:

"Tubbie Terror" Web site

Taylor, an unemployed office worker, told APBnews.com today that she bought a talking Tinky Winky doll a few weeks ago for her daughter's second birthday. The doll comes in a set with Po, another one of the four Teletubbies.

When Taylor tugged at Tinky Winky's left hand to make him talk, the doll spouted words that shocked Taylor.

"He was saying, 'I got a gun, I got a gun, run away, run away,'" recalled Taylor, 22. "My gut just kind of dropped."

She has no doubt that the toy was talking about a gun. "It's so clear to me that somebody would be a fool to say otherwise."

Taylor's daughter soon began to mimic the words of Tinky Winky and even pointed her fingers in the sign of a pistol. "The words out of her mouth were 'a gun,' and that's not OK," Taylor said.

Po allegedly in on it, too

Another Teletubby doll, a red-colored creature named Po, also says inappropriate things like "a gun, a gun," Taylor said.

"It's a sad thing that somebody would put a Teletubby on the market without knowing what it's saying," Taylor said. "Regardless of whether they're cute or not, they're not appropriate."

Taylor said she doesn't know why the toy manufacturer would make the doll talk about guns. "They could have purposely did it, or somebody could have been out to sabotage Tinky Winky or Po," she said.

Innocent victims?

At Itsy Bitsy headquarters in New York City, Viselman said the dolls are innocent victims of a misinterpretation, much like that of people who previously thought the Teletubby doll named Po was saying "faggot" when she was actually singing in Cantonese.

"Teletubbyland is a perfect place. It's innocent, it's harmless and fun and filled with hope and possibility," Viselman said. "As adults, we try to put a lot of negative into it."

He said the dolls are saying "Again, again" and "Run away," just like on the TV show.

The Teletubbies often watch short videos on their television-equipped tummies and demand that the images be repeated, yelling "Again, again." They also play games of hide-and-seek while yelling "Run away!"

Viselman was not sympathetic to Taylor's plans to go to court. "If she now feels that the best thing she can do is overreact and never let her child play with Teletubbies or watch them on TV, that's her choice," he said. "To then turn around and say 'I'm going to sue and make sure it gets off the air'... I feel very sorry for her."

Gay issue surfaces again

Back in Oceanside, Taylor also is upset that Tinky Winky is considered by some to be a gay icon. The Rev. Jerry Falwell created a storm of controversy last year by accusing Tinky Winky of being gay, pointing out that he has a triangle on his head (a pink triangle is a gay symbol), carries a red "magic bag" (which looks like a purse) and is purple (supposedly a gay pride color).

Also, Tinky Winky's best friend is Po, who is a female. "I don't think it's OK to run around with a little purse on the grassy lands with a rainbow color that signifies gay pride," Taylor said. "It's OK to be gay, but it's not OK to show it on TV or show it to kids."

Taylor has hired a lawyer in Oceanside, a suburb north of San Diego, and expects to sue to stop the spread of Teletubbies.

'It's absolutely shocking'

Taylor's lawyer, Matthew Palmer, said the doll is clearly talking about guns. "It's absolutely shocking to hear a child's toy that's supposed to be for a 2 year old saying 'I've got a gun, run away.' It's horrifying. It's a really cute toy, too."

Palmer compared the Tinky Winky doll to the homicidal doll that starred in a series of horror movies in the 1990s. "He's got this evil laugh. He sounds like Chucky."

Palmer hasn't decided what kind of lawsuit to file. "I'm consulting different attorneys to develop a legal strategy," Palmer said. "You have to look and see what the damages are. But the monetary damages aren't the primary goal. It's having these things taken off the shelf."

Viselman said the dolls are already being phased out, and he has no plans to do anything differently. "I feel badly that [Taylor] has misunderstood the message and the commitment behind the series," he said.

Randy Dotinga is an APBnews.com West Coast correspondent (randy.dotinga@apbnews.com).

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