The Things That Shaped Our Year: And Finally, The Teletubbies (Damn Them)

From the death of Diana to the birth of Dolly, and from the rise of Bridget Jones to the fall of the Spice Girls - our writers choose the 10 people and events which made 1997 so special
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The Independent Culture
I Am not remotely interested in the Teletubbies. My middle daughter, at four, has outgrown them, and my youngest, at eight months, has not yet discovered them. So why should I, a grown man who has not yet found time for Captain Corelli's Mandolin (the shame!), spend even a nanosecond thinking about them?

So I don't. But I do wonder why, in 1997, so many intelligent fellow citizens have thought it interesting to declare their affection for these animated kids' toys? In office conversation, in pubs and at parties, perfectly rational adults in sophisticated clothes and with no obvious signs of mental imbalance, tell each other about their preference for the blue one over the red one, and of the artistic significance of the lawns and the bunnies.

Of course, some Teletubby lovers are real rebels, and will tell you how psychedelic Tubbyland is, how much more vividly one experiences it when on drugs. Following unknowingly in the footsteps of Schoolkids Oz, nearly 30 years ago, in which Rupert the Bear was given a phallus of Beardsley- esque dimensions (Aubrey, that is, not Peter), they believe it is subversive to take an image of innocence and apply it to the illegal and decadent.

But why do others feel the need to annex the images of childhood, to take possession of a new trend among kids? My dad didn't discuss the cultural phenomenon of the Woodentops when he was District Secretary of South Essex Communist Party, nor was a knowledge of the Clangers an advantage when chatting up women at university in the mid-Seventies.

It seems to be that many of us wish to be infantilised these days. We cannot cope with, say, whether the Exclusion Unit really will make inroads on the underclass, so we reach back into the nursery in search of nicer things to talk about. The same lack of desire to grow up and face the world may explain why more people in their twenties are to be found cluttering up the parental home. When I was 20-plus we couldn't get out quickly enough. And we only had cabbage to eat, and even then only as a treat.

Tellytubby mania seems also to be linguistically linked to those gruesome Valentine's Day messages which now disfigure our newspapers on 14 February. This year, expect thousands of greetings from Tinky Winky to Lala, to be added to all the "Snuggums loves his Cuddlebunny". Indeed, expect plenty of messages suggesting that many Britons have now renamed each other's genitals after these characters for toddlers.

We want to be adults, but we also want to be babies. It's the biggest reason why our marriages split up. Show me a young couple who just love the Teletubbies, and - five years and a real baby later - I'll show you a divorce.

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