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Teletubbies popular despite controversy

November 28, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Ra'saan Mills of Chambersburg, Pa., points to a group of Teletubby dolls and says, "Uh-oh," echoing one phrase of his favorite television characters.

Uh-oh, indeed.

According to some adults, one of the talking dolls also says a nasty word. And repeats it six times.

The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., which licenses the toys, said the red Po doll is actually saying "fidit, fidit," inspired by the Cantonese for "faster, faster."

Some, however, interpret it as uttering an inappropriate term for someone who is gay.

"That's why my granddaughter didn't get the red one. We got the yellow one instead," said Carol Truett of Chambersburg, Pa.

Karinna, 5, asked for Po because she thinks it is saying something bad, although she doesn't know what the word means, Truett said.

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They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to Teletubbies, their gibberish is in the ear of the listener.

One teenager said she thinks Po is saying, "magic, magic."

"I couldn't make it out, myself. I just know not to get the red one," said Barbara Fry, 52, of Hancock.

Fry bought the yellow Laa-Laa doll for her 3-year-old granddaughter back in September, before the Christmas rush.

Other people are drawn to the doll precisely because it may be saying bad words.

Justin Poe, 20, of Chambersburg, Pa., who is no relation to the red doll, bought one for his girlfriend, Amanda Norcross, 19, of Shippensburg, Pa.

He thinks it also says "grab my butt."

"It's annoying, though," he said.

The controversy hasn't stopped Teletubbies from becoming one of this Christmas season's hottest toys.

If you can't find them in stores, it's not because they were pulled from the shelves. It's because retailers can't keep them in stock.

Hagerstown Wal-Mart Manager Robert DeMartino said one woman complained about the language, but when he explained what the doll was really saying she was not mad, he said.

DeMartino claims the newest dolls have been shipped with new sounds that can't be construed as offensive.

More than a month ago, Kmart pulled them off the shelves because of the controversy, but put them back a week later after the dolls were adjusted, said Susie Bonebrake, a department manager of Big K in Hagerstown.

Hasbro has also started inserting language cards in each doll's box to familiarize people with the Teletubby language.

The dolls are especially popular with the toddler set.

Ra'saan Mills, 18 months, wakes up every morning and asks to watch the show, said his aunt, Tabitha Ewing of Chambersburg, Pa.

But Teletubbies seem to appeal to all ages.

Gloria Graham of Scotland, Pa., bought Po for her daughter-in-law, Amy Helman, 23.

When asked what they like about Teletubbies, Emily Landis and Amanda Slick of Chambersburg, Pa., who are both 13, said in unison, "They're cute."

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