February 14, 1999
When we’re young, we live a charmed existence where the real and the imaginary are inseparable. From imaginary friends to monsters in the closet, the mind runs free on a playground filled with wondrous fancies and terrifying spectres. Hopefully, more of the former than the latter.
As we mature, the boundary between the two worlds naturally takes shape. We learn to distinguish the things we know from those we don’t know.
The price we pay for this acquisition of reason though, is disillusionment and lost innocence. The blissful, irresponsible world in which mom and dad took care of everything gives way to one of responsibility and pragmatism. It cannot be otherwise. We’re not programmed to be children forever. Just as we eventually lose our virginity (sexual innocence), we also grow out of our intellectual virginity (ignorance); at least, that’s how maturity is supposed to work.
Nevertheless, adults need to escape from the real world from time to time, so retaining a sense of wonder and awe is important. If we lose the ability to imagine, we become drones. In effect, we cease to be human in any creative sense of the word. Some people, though, retain too much of their pre-adult mentality, and end up wearing their inner child on their sleeve. These people still see bogeymen and imaginary threats. Take the latest embarrassing pontification from the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Falwell and his spiritual acolytes see things we ordinary mortals can’t. They can find moral turpitude in the most innocuous places. Thus it came to pass that the National Liberty Journal, which Falwell edits and publishes, declared that the children’s show Teletubbies might be sending a less-than-straight moral message to impressionable young minds. Tinky Winky, the Journal declared, could be (zounds!) a positive homosexual role model.
The evidence for homosexuality, of course, was there. All you had to do was look. As the article said: “He is purple—the gay pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle—the gay pride symbol.” The clincher is Tinky Winky’s “purse.” On a girl character, this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but Tinky Winky is a boy. Pretty strong meat, you’ll agree.
If ever proof were needed that crypto-homosexuality is infiltrating the daycares and living rooms of North America, here you have it. The threat that Tinky Winky poses to the moral well-being of our children is on a par with the Great Zoodles Scare about 10 years ago.
At the time, you’ll recall, a woman happened to glance at an upside-down can of Zoodles and noticed something no child should see. The tree with coconuts, now inverted, strongly resembled a man’s naughty bits—his meat and two veg; his twig and berries, as it were. A three-year-old could be scarred for life, or at least develop an unnatural craving for coconuts, or so we’re made to believe.
You have to wonder how the creators of Teletubbies, Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., thought they could get away with this moral subterfuge. A spokesman said the “purse” is really a “magic bag” and any connection between the bag and homosexuality is outlandish. Look at the evidence—purple colour, boy’s voice, triangle, “purse” (“bag,” whatever). Do you see a moral threat to the nation’s children; or a clique of intellectually arrested adults conjuring a closet monster out of thin air?
Falwell and his moral martinets are nothing more than garden-variety self-fulfilling prophets. Once they’ve determined to find fault with something, they’ll interpret or ignore data to justify their assumption. In the case of Tinky Winky, they saw something that isn’t there.
If a child is afraid of something imaginary, an adult can comfort and assuage. If instead of a child you have an adult who imposes his ill-informed fears on others, the results can be disturbing. Let’s say a hyper-devout nutcase decides that European geography should no longer be taught because Sweden and Finland resemble male genitalia. This land formation is evil because it could stir immoral feelings in our children. Maps of Europe, at least Northern Europe, should therefore be banned from public schools. Couldn’t happen? Maybe not, but people like this are taken seriously. Think: “Zoodles.”
The good thing about Falwell is that he is so bombastic, pompous and preposterous, that no intelligent person could take him seriously. Unfortunately, there are many others like him—post-adolescent children who live in a world where reality is contingent upon the imaginary.
Take the U.S. Congress—please. House Republicans launched impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton knowing that there are only 55 Republican Senators, 11 shy of the requisite 66 to impeach. Given the bitterly partisan tone of this year-long soap opera and the fact that the public does not want to see Clinton impeached, you have to wonder why the likes of Congressman. Henry Hyde and Sen. Orrin Hatch persisted in a losing morality crusade that could have ended with a negotiated settlement.
All these Republicans accomplished was to hold the presidency up to ridicule—all right, Clinton helped—and expose themselves as petty moralists bent on a vendetta. Hiding behind the U.S. Constitution, they sought to portray themselves as champions of democracy.
Some people never grow up, or let their minds come out of the closet.
(The headline of this column was featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Leno didn’t get the joke.)