Sunday, January 29, 2012

Inquiring Minds Need to Know: Thomas the Tank Engine Edition

Some things that are particularly disturbing about the world of Thomas the Tank Engine:

  • Am I the only person who noticed the fact that "Sodor" and "Mordor" sound very similar?
  • And that Sir Topham Hatt always has his eye on the trains?
  • The virtue on Sodor is "being useful," while the biggest vice is "causing confusion and delay."  Apparently, verbally abusing trains is A-OK.  
  • Am I the only person who thinks that sometimes, the trains should just tell Sir Topham Hatt to shove it?
  • With all the accidents that happen in just about every episode, how has Sir Topham Hatt's license to operate the railroads not yet been revoked?
  • What exactly is the role of the train driver?  The trains seem to make all the big decisions.  Why do the drivers not put their foot down when the trains are being reckless?
  • Am I the only person who abhors the classism inherent in Sodor society?  The trains aspire to be "really useful" and bicker amongst each other to get the "most important" of the menial tasks Sir Topham Hatt throws at them.  Mr. Perkins, the engine driver who is featured between stories, has a working-class British accent and is sickeningly deferential when Sir Topham Hatt calls on the phone.  (And don't even get me started on the exotic "oriental" train, Hiro!)  Everyone has their place in society and there is no mobility.
  • Speaking of accents, why does the obviously American narrator of the story pronounce "Thomas" in the British way?  And I also find it hilarious when he says these typically British phrases (e.g. "Sir Topham Hatt was very cross!") with an American accent.
  • Sir Topham Hatt's brother Sir Lowham Hatt was in one episode, and caused the dreaded "confusion and delay."  This helped me hate Sir Topham Hatt a little less, and understand why he turned out the way he did, given a childhood spent with this ne'er-do-well.  Still, it does not excuse the way he behaves towards the trains.  But more importantly, how did some useless nobody like Sir Lowham Hatt become a "Sir"?  Clearly he inherited the title, which furthers the case against royalism.
  • When will my child finally outgrow this horrible show?


Jenny F. Scientist, PhD said...

We refer to it as Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine. Mercifuly, we generally can divert to Dinosaur Train because Mama HAAAAAAATES Thomas. Topham Hatt has some serious white man's burden going on and I'm waiting for they day all the conductors stage a Gandhi-style sit-in across the tracks and the 'less useful' trains rise up in bloody revolt.

Shuttsie said...

I love initative is always followed by disaster. Thomas teaches blind obedience as a high virtue.

Rebecca said...

Shuttsie, you are so right! That was another incredibly disturbing thing about that show, but just I couldn't put my finger on it, so thanks for verbalizing it!

One angry feminist said...

Another thing - notice that with one or two exceptions the engines are
Thomas, Edward, James etc., while the cars they carry behind them are Clarabel, Annie, Henrietta etc.
Find the difference between the two groups...

Mustangtali said...

Its not so much blind obedience it teaches, but what can happen when you make the wrong choice because you didn't think it through. If you notice, the trains typically have a number of options to choose from, let's use Hiro as an example. Thomas knows Sir Topham would fix Hiro, however, he gets talked into lying, sneaking behavior, because he didn't do the right thing and tell Sir Topham, which then causes more trouble because the engines aren't doing their jobs. The lesson is to do the right thing and tell the adult someone needs help. Yes, they have menial tasks, but they're trains, so its to be expected, but the lesson is, no job done well is unimportant, because obviously, these jobs keep others going on the island, baker needs his flour, people traveling to work on the express, etc. Also, there are female engines, but clearly, the show would be a bigger draw for little boys than girls given the subject, i.e. trains, which tends to appeal more to the male gender. I have been watching Thomas for over ten years, between my five boys, and it is helpful to point out what the engines *should* have done, and why things went wrong, when watching with them. It is a "really useful" teaching moment to help your child learn good decision making skills. Yes, the characters have flaws, but that's true in life, so again, use it to talk to your kids, "do you think James was right for trying to show off his paint, instead of paying attention, and causing the accident? What could he do differently? Do you think it was good for James to be so focused on his looks? Is that a good way for people to behave? etc. You can't just take it at face value, but if you use the opportunity the good people who run the show provide, you can teach your child some valuable lessons, without having it happen to them directly, which in many cases, is the best way. Better to teach your child Gordon's uncaring, ungrateful attitude is wrong, without it being your child calling another names, and if someone does it to them, they will know to tell and adult. Its not a bad show all in all, though I do wonder how they can have so many accidents and not be shut down, but that's placing my adult real world knowledge to a child's fantasy land, which, after all, is what Sodor is.