The Teletubbies: A Psychoanalytic Approach
The recent "outing" of the Teletubbie Tinky-Winky
by Televangelist Jerry Falwell
and the subsequent tempest in a media teapot over these four characters brought to light several interesting aspects of this alleged "children's" program. As the author investigated the Teletubbies
and their world he was repeatedly struck by several obvious parallels which seem to exist between the behavior, motives and environment of the Teletubbies
and the philosophy of Analytical Psychology
as developed by C. G. Jung
and his disciples. The purpose of this offering is to present an exposition of these synchronistic
parallels in order to facilitate the continued propagation
of that esteemed psychological
"Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, La-La,Po: Teletubbies, Teletubbies! Say, 'Hello.'" With these words the Teletubbies enter into virtually every home in North America. What is the psychological import of the Teletubbies' environment and behavior and how might we interpret them in Psychoanalytic terms? Let us investigate these questions and see if we cannot arrive at some possible insights.
TELETUBBIES: CHTHONIC ARCHETYPES
The Teletubbies, like other many potently symbolic beings - The Greek Erinyes, Arabic djinns and German elves among them - have their origins in the Earth. At the beginning of each program they emerge from a central hole in the top of the Teletubbie Dome - itself a Mandala of the round, full fecundity and eternal pregnancy of the Archetypal Great Earth Mother - and, laughingly, proclaim their being. The ability to stand and speak immediately after birth is also found in the myth surrounding the birth of Gautama Siddhartha], the Buddha; arguably another Solar Child myth. Like the Python of Athena, the mysterious prophetic vapors of the Oracle of Delphi, the GoddessKore - Who brings Spring upon Her emergence from Hades, and the Living Waters which Moses brought forth from the Rock, the Teletubbies also are chthonic Beings. They are rich in the occult wisdom of the deep Earth, who magically renew themselves at the beginning of each program by popping out of the central point of the fertile, pregnant belly of the Earth Mother Mandala. In North American Indian mythology, among the Anazazi and later the Pueblo and Hopi Peoples, the kiva - a circular sacred space in the earth where in the Ancestors and Gods are contacted - and the sipapu - the central occulus in the ceiling from which the ritual participants enter and emerge - are substantive synchronistic parallels the Teletubbies' emergence from their Mandala Teletubbie Dome.
The only other mammalian life form present in Teletubbie land are large hares. The Hare is another symbolically potent, chthonic, earth-emerger. Like the eternally reemergent Kore - daughter of Demeter- the Hare comes forth from the Earth at the beginning of Spring and carries with it the archetypal charge of fertile life-renewer, Child of the Great Mother and the Solar Father. Teletubbies are synchronous with the Hare as life-renewer, Spring bringer, fertile Anima.
"Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies come and play...."The Archetypal Quaternity of the Teletubbies is particularly provocative in terms of the Psychoanalytic philosophy. As Jung noted in Mysterium Conjunctionis, "Psychologically, 'the four' are the four orientating functions of consciousness, two of them perceptive (irrational) and two discriminatory (rational). We could say that all mythological figures who are marked by a quaternity have ultimately to do with the structure of consciousness." There are four Teletubbie colors, four personality symbols, four power objects and four entrances and a central occulus to the Teletubbie dome. Similarly there are four directions and a center point, four animals representing the four Evangelists, four Personality Types and four Alchemical colours.
The Thinking Personality Type
The cerulean blue pelt of the Teletubbie Tinky-Winky refers the viewer to the realm of the Sun Child, to the abode of the Archetypes: the Cloudless Sky. His triangular personality symbol indicates the Thinking Personality type. Christian Wolfe simply and precisely says in his "Psychologica Empirica", "Cogitatio est actus animae quo sibi sui rerumque aliarum extra se conscia est." (Thinking is an act of the soul whereby it becomes conscious of itself and of other things outside itself.) Tinky-Winky's triangle and cerulean blue colour are symbols of the Thinking Personality since the triangle is a design which relates to other designs and has within in itself different angles, indicative of self-awareness. As Jolan de Jacobi remarked in her study of Jungian psychology, "...as a general rule, blue, the colour of the rarefied atmosphere, stands for thinking,...." The Thinking Personality is a rational one, i.e., thought orders objective reality consciously deciding which objects to reveal, which to conceal and which to ignore. This is the symbolic function of Tinky-Winky's red bag (which had been arbitrarily branded as sign of his homosexuality by Mr. Falwell). The controversial handbag is, mythically, a magic bag wherein Tinky-Winky conceals the secrets of his rational, orderly personality. Tinky-Winky is not a Teletubbie who manifests the Animus/the Masculine exclusively, the Anima aspect of his personality celebrates Itself in his dance and pervasive gentleness. He stands more towards the Anima end of the spectrum than the Animus. In much the same way as Adam Kadmon, Tinky-Winky may also be seen as celebrating an hermaphroditic personality. It is no accident that Tinky-Winky always leads the line of Teletubbies whether they are walking in line or dancing, as they often do. The Thinking Personality, rational and orderly but not without his grace, gentleness and secrets, individuated with the Solar Sky Child, leads the way along the path of personal individuation.
The Sensation Personality Type
The other rational Teletubbie is Dipsy Wipsy. His rationality is manifest in both his colour: green and his personality symbol: an erect phallic wand extending from the Crown/ Sahasrara chakra. As such, Dipsy Wipsy is the Sensation Personality type par excellence. The phallic symbolism is evident and reflective of Dipsy's unity with the phallic shaft which supports the Solar Windmill. His Green colour manifests the Earth Mother's color during the Spring; the renewal of the crops and herds. As Sir J. G. Frazer noted in his seminal work, The Golden Bough, "Among the Carinthia...the chief figure in the procession (of St. George's Day) is a young fellow dressed from head to toe in green birch branches known as Green George who is carried through the town....In some places thecattle are crowned and driven to the river to the accompaniment of a song: "Green George we bring,Green George we accompany,May he feed our herds well, If not, to the river with him!" Dipsy, green in color, is crowned with a cow hide top hat/ phallus. Dipsy manifests a solidly self-assured Animus in his walk, in his actions and most clearly in the style of his dance. Dipsy firmly stands at the center of the Animus section of the spectrum. His power object is a top hatmade from cow hide - recall Green George's association with the herds - which he proudly wears as a cover and an extension of his phallic symbol. It is as if Dipsy, in celebration of his individuated personality, recognizes the cow skin top hat as referring back to the Horus - Osiris myth wherein Horus slays Isis's sister Nepthyus - a Cow Goddess - by cutting off Her head only to reanimate Her by placing Her Cow's head on Isis'. In another regenerative, green theme, Jung notes in Mysterium Conjunctionis, " In the sphere of Christian Psychology, green has a spermatic, procreative quality, and for this reason it is the colour attributed to the Holy Ghost as the creative principle...God is equated with greenness in the Chrubinisccher Wandersman, "God is my sap, The leaves and buds I show, They are His Holy Ghost,
by Whom I grow."
Dipsy manifests renewal, regeneration, the Masculinity/ Animus and, by his greenness, the Sensation Personality Type's transpersonal individuation: earthy, tangible immediate and vegetative.
The Intuitive Personality Type
The primary irrational Teletubbie is the delightful La-la whose yellow colour - the colour of the Sun Child - illuminates her personality type: Intuition. La-la's grasp of things, events, personalities is direct and immediate. In a flash of illumination she comprehends the origins and actions of objects and events. The squiggle - flexible and aformal - atop La-la's head symbolically illustrates the manner in which the Intuitive Personality type approaches life situations.
La-la's power object is a sphere or ball which is constantly being bounced and spun. The Intuitive type has a holistic, one might almost say circular or - in three dimensions - spherical view, in which he or she apprehends and intuitively appreciates all instantly. The constant motion of La-la's ball reflects the ever expanding variety and flux which is the reality perspective of the Intuitive personality type for whom "both" is indeed "each". Perhaps the aspect most revealing of La-la's personality is the "Secret Dance" where she clearly dances in the epicenter of the Feminine/Anima spectrum.. It is through her Secret Dance that La-la most aesthetically celebrates the totality of her Anima as well as transpersonal dimension of her intuitive personality. The Secret Dance - elements of which carry over into every other dance La-la performs - is a complex and multi layered celebration of the Intuitive personality. It flows gracefully and spontaneously from one position to another using diverse, multicultural hand and foot positions, all reminiscent of transpersonal rituals as diverse as the Roman Catholic Mass, Santeria Orisha possession dances, Tibetan Tantrick dancing and some of the initiatory rituals of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
The dance is conducted in secret, i.e., away from the other Teletubbies and within the privacy of the Teletubbie Dome. When other Teletubbies enter the Dome, La-la would pretend to be asleep in her bed; upon their leaving the dance would resume. As C. G. Jung observed, " The regression of libido makes the ritual act of treading out the dance step seem like a repetition of the infantile 'kicking'. The latter is associated with the Mother and with pleasurable sensations, and recapitulates a movement that was already practiced inside the Mother's womb. The foot and the treading movement is invested with a phallic significance, or with that of reentry into the womb, so that the rhythm of the dance transports the dancer into an unconscious state." Symbols of Transformation, Two: The Dual Mother. Clearly there is a connection between "treading out the dance steps of" La-la's Secret Dance and sleep, "an unconscious state" and the gate through which one accesses the dream realm of the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. Clearly the stylistic elements of the Secret Dance emerge from that fertile vortex of symbolism and myth in celebration of the Intuitive grasp which permits their being realized.
The Feeling Personality Type
The littlest Teletubbie, Po, sports a deep red pelt and as such manifests the Feeling Personality type. "Red, the colour of pulsing blood and fire,...of the tearing and surging of profound emotions...of wounds and death throes...." Jolan De Jacobi. Po is an irrational personality type, whose every effort requires the involvement of his entire body, all his feeling. These sensate feelings and efforts are the exclusive realm of the Feeling Personality. Po's Circular Personality symbol at the top of her head reflects the perimeter of the totality of her feelings.
As Jung observed, the circle corresponds to the ultimate state of oneness; in Po's case, that oneness is with the totality of her physicality: with all her feelings. Po's power object is a two wheeled scooter which she alternatively pushes and rides all over Teletubbie land. This object requires maximum physical effort to get going and, significantly, requires a sense of balance to ride. Although Po is the totality of Feeling she is also balanced and individuated. These aspects of her personality must not be overlooked or dismissed as they are reflective of her complete involvement with and perfect participation in the ritual activities of Teletubbie land. Po is essential to the paradigm for its balance and completeness.
Po's dance style is more imitative than originative and, of all the Teletubbies, in their community dances, she is the most likely to mis-step. She generally extends both arms and, lifting one leg spins about. This often results in her falling down but she always laughingly, gets up and rejoins the dance. Po is also the least verbal of the Teletubbies. This lack of verbal skills underscores the primacy of Feeling as her personality type.
No study of the Teletubbies would be complete without a consideration of the Teletubbie Dome. The Dome is a very large tumulus which sets in a valley, itself described by four taller hills. In the far distance, no doubt to the East, stands the perpetually counterclockwise turning Solar Child Phallus' Windmill. Were it not for its architectural features - doors, windows and the occulus - and for its perfectly hemispheric shape, the Teletubbie Dome would be indistinguishable from the green, rolling hills which surround it. It is precisely these architectural devices, however, which create the form and structure of the symbolic aspect of the Dome; which make it a Mandala.
Viewed from above, the Teletubbie Dome as Mandala become immediately evident. A large green circle set with four tube like doors extending out slightly past the edge of the circle/dome into each of the cardinal directions. Further back, on the top of the Dome itself and more to the center are four tube like windows placed as high as the tops of the doors and closer to the central occulus pointing to the Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and Northwest. The entire ensemble has a central occulus, surrounded by four windows oriented to median directions with four tube like doors oriented to the cardinal directions and extending slightly past the edge of the circle which is itself surrounded by four hills. Four hills, doors, windows and the occulus total thirteen (13). Traditional Numerology would further reduce that number to (1 + 3 = 4) four which Jung identifies as the number of wholeness and completion. The Teletubbie Mandala symbolically represents both these profoundly important qualities.
C. G. Jung noted in Mysterium Conjunctionis, 535, Section V. Adam and Eve, " The circular arrangement of the elements in the world and in man is symbolized by the mandala and its quaternity structure. Adam would then be a quaternarius, as he was composed of...dust from the four corners of the earth." This is the world circle with the luminous Transpersonal Self as the center. It hides and manifests the ego simultaneously. "Whereas in the beginning the urobrous existed at the animal level only, so that the ego germ contained within its midst was almost hidden, in the unfolding flower of the mandala the animal tension of opposites is overcome, transcended by a self which blossoms forth into a corolla of opposites." The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann. This evokes the spectrum of gender-sexuality we referenced earlier.
The Teletubbie Dome is also the residence of their community and contains their dormitory, refectory and kitchen. Within the Dome are numerous marvels: machines which sustain literally every aspect of the Teletubbies' lives. Chief among these machines is the "Nu-nu" which rolls about the interior of the Dome cleaning everything and keeping everything in working order. He manifests a pervasive characteristic of life in the Mandala Dome. All tasks are easily and successfully accomplished through an interactive, universal balance between the organic and inorganic. They are fed by machines, cleaned and maintained by machines. There is no dust in the Teletubbie Dome. If something spills, the Nu-nu, an intelligent machine, comes and cleans it up. The organic lives of the Teletubbies are intrinsically and intimately bound up with the function of the inorganic technology which serves the Dome and the Teletubbies.
This synthesis of organic and inorganic elements are of interest. A "purpose" of the Mandala is to assist in the development and sustenance of the transpersonal Self. What has been described here is, in essence, a technological Eden wherein the full spectrum of Personality Types and gender possibilities are manifested, celebrated, nurtured, individuated and tranpersonalized. As Adam Kadmon played in the pre-Christian myth of Eden so the Teletubbies, each in their individual uniqueness, play in balance and harmony under the gaze of and sacramentally in touch with the Solar Child.
THE TELETUBBIE EUCHARIST
The presence in the sky of the Solar Child/Sky Father Archetype (presented as an infant's face surrounded by stylistic sun's rays) carries deep mythic significance. This pre-verbal and therefore irrational/intuitive Being whose laughter instructs and directs the Teletubbies in their ritual and community activities is symbolically amplified and has a critically important element on the surface of Teletubbie land: the Solar Child's Windmill Phallus. Alone and erect in splendid and unapproachable isolation, on the top of a hill visible from anywhere in Teletubbie land is an enormously tall shaft at the top of which is perched a child's windmill. Usually accompanied by the Celestial Laughter of the Solar Child, the windmill rotates in a counterclockwise fashion (widdershins) and from it is emitted sparks of brilliant blue-white light: the Solar pneuma. The counterclockwise rotation is significant of a descent into the Collective Unconscious, as Jung noted in his essay on the Roman Catholic Mass, of the activation of Conscious awareness of the Archetypes Themselves. Additionally, this element may be synchronous with the Solar Wind/Phallos Archetype which Jung first encountered in his well known treatment of a schizophrenic who dreamt of a flexible tube extending from the Sun from which flowed a wind which in turn directed activities in the dream.
In most instances, shortly after emerging, the Teletubbies receive non-verbal instructions - through the laughter of the Solar Child - to run together towards the Solar Phallus. This is the commencement of their community sacrament, their Eucharistic ritual. As they run up hill toward the Solar Phallus, the Teletubbies - not entirely unlike Sts. Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration - are laughingly knocked to the ground by the spiritual power - pneuma - of the Solar Wind . The personality symbols perched atop their heads on antennae growing out of the Seat of Consciousness, the Sahasrara Chakra - glow momentarily as they writhe on the Earth giggling in delight. Clear symbolic parallels may be seen here between this and the "slain in the Spirit phenomena" so common in televangelist religion not to mention the raising of Kundalini energy in Tantrick yoga and activation of the Crown, or Sahasrara Chakra. Having each been sacramentally touched by the Solar Wind from the Solar Child's Phallus, they stand and announce their names - affirming their individuated personalities - each is once again potentiated through the glowing personality symbol on their head.
In the next rubric, the brilliant counterclockwise spinning blue white light directs which one of the Teletubbies shall receive transmission from and sacramental union with the Solar Child. Next, one and only one Teletubbie's personality symbol consistently glows and his or her navel area, where the television screen is built in, is illumined with the counterclockwise spinning sparkles of Solar Wind. This particular Teletubbie Priest is now in a transcendent state of Being whereby his or her Personality, while individually tranpersonalized in a unitive ecstasy, is simultaneously the vehicle whereby the entire Teletubbie community is sacramentally tranpersonalized and brought together. The omphallic imagery cannot not escape us. The navel or Manipura Chakra ("City of Gems" in Sanskrit) is, in Tantrick yoga, ruled by the Sun. The Solar Child's Pneuma drives the counterclockwise turning of the wheel in Teletubbie land which generates the rubrics for the Eucharist.
The navel-television-chakra reveals images of a world entirely different from Teletubbie land. More often than not, this world is populated by children who are engaged, with minimal adult interaction, in various creative and artistic activities. The pre-adult, pre-sexual world, confected and illuminated by the Solar Wind, reminiscent of the Christian Mandala of the Garden of Eden: is an icon of totality and innocence. The world illuminated by the navel television chakra is a transcendent place, wholly other than Teletubbie land. It is indeed a "City of Gems" - innocence and creativity, play and celebration. The Teletubbie who is sacramentally with this with this transpersonal experience, who is receiving the transmission, cannot himself see it except intuitively since it occurs in his navel but the others can and are, in turn, enlightened and vivified by the experience. The community as a whole benefits from the sacramentalization of one of its members to the extent that, when the transmission ends, they chant, "Again, Again, Again!" and the sacrament is retransmitted. Again the images of children at play, in celebration, creativity and innocence are mysteriously transmitted through the chosen one's navel chakra.
These symbolic images, in turn, reawaken the Mandala of the pre-Christian Garden where an hermaphroditic Adam Kadmon innocently played and mythically created the world, naming the animals and plants in celebration of his personality. The Archetype of Adam Kadmon/ Homo Ludens emerges and mythically affirms His central place within each Teletubbie. He is homo inter omnes, child of the eternal union of the Solar Child and the Earth Mother. This second coming binds the Teletubbies together in a "Big hug!'.
It is perhaps also significant that the sacrament is transmitted twice. Adam Kadmon is, after all, an hermaphroditic Archetype, possessing, like Christ, the perfection of two natures: masculine and feminine/ Divine and human. The dual transmission of the sacrament and the subsequent celebratory binding together of the Teletubbies may be seen as presenting, in a transpersonal fashion, this hypostatic mythos especially through the symbolism of the "Big Hug". At the conclusion of that rubric the Eucharistic mystery is concluded and each Teletubbie retires to his or her particular activity, each going in an opposite direction.
Verbal Skills, Gender, Sexuality
As we travel through the spectrum of the Teletubbies, their verbal skills reflect, among the other elements we have examined, their personality types. Tinky-Winky, the Blue Thinking Personality, is the most verbal, recall that he is also of an indeterminate gender having weaker elements of Animus and stronger aspects of Anima. It was, no doubt, this gender ambiguity which provoked Rev. Falwell to condemn him. Dipsy, the Green Sensation Personality Type, is somewhat less verbal than Tinky-Winky but has distinctly Masculine behavioral patterns: he is the Animus of the Solar Child. La-la, the Yellow Intuitive Personality Type, expresses herself not so much with words but primarily through the dance and by creatively playing with her power symbol; she is distinctly Feminine: the Anima of the Solar Child. In Po we find an almost pre-verbal personality whose Redness symbolizes the Feeling Personality. His pre-sexual, pre-gender based behavior is, like Tinky-Winky's, hermaphroditic but Po more strongly reflects Animus than Anima.
The Teletubbies cover a vast segment of the spectrum of human sexuality; from the somewhat feminine with masculine overtones to the completely masculine balanced with the totally feminine and proceeding on to the somewhat masculine with feminine undertones. The Teletubbies present in colorful celebration - from Thinking, through Sensation and Intuition, to Feeling - the entire spectrum of the Four Personality Types.
Cirlot, J.E, A Dictionary of Symbols, Philosophical Library, New York, 1962
Johari, Harish, Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vt., 1987
Jung, C. G.,C. G. Jung Speaking, ed. by Mc Guire and Hill, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCVII, 1977
Symbols of Transformation, trans. by R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press,
Bollingen Series V, 1956
Mysterium Conjunctionis, trans. by R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series, 1963
Neumann, Erich, The Origins and History of Consciousness trans. by R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press,
Bollingen Series XLII, 1954
The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. by R. Manheim, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLVII, 1974
Wood, Anne and Davenport, Andrew The Teletubbies, Ragdoll Productions (UK) Ltd., 1997
Editor's Note: Formated by Xamot 05/24/2001