Thomas the Tank Engine (Deconstructed)

Thomas the Tank Engine (Deconstructed) August 3, 2011

At Slate a certain Jessica Roake has made the case that the Thomas the Tank Engine series is laced together with British imperialism.

There is something rotten on the Island of Sodor, home to Thomas the Tank Engine. Viewers won’t find guns, violence, or anything even approaching a double-entendre. There’s none of the blatant racism of early Disney Song of the South or religion delivered through talking produce, as in Veggie Tales. Yet something about Thomas and Friendsgives liberal parents the creeps….

For example: In 2009, academic Shauna Wilton wrote that Thomascarried a “conservative political ideology.” Her report was derided as whimsy-hating “political correctness” by conservative media outlets. But wait: Thomas espouses top-down leadership, is male-dominated, punishes dissent, and is uninterested in the mushy sensitivity of its PBS counterparts. (Thomas and his “friends” often “tease” like this: ” ‘Wake up lazy bones! Do some hard work for a change!”) Its innate conservatism is as obvious as the liberalism of cooperative, solar-panel-building Bob the Builder and his band of hippie hammer-lovers. Given charges that Thomas is antiSemiticand that Sodor is a fascist paradise, Wilton’s assessment is mild. Obviously, it’s foolish to claim that Thomas is a fascist. He and his friends are clearly imperialists….

Since the company HIT entertainment took over the Thomas franchise in 2003, it has revamped the show’s original model-train style and done away with the incongruous narration of liberals George Carlin and Alec Baldwin. (Please imagine Alec Baldwin saying, “You’re just a small green engine with ideas above your station!”) The new Thomas is a CGI’d, multiple voice actor extravaganza with nary an iconoclast narrator in sight, and the cast of trains has diversified a bit. There are more female and foreign engines, the narratives have softened, and Sir Topham Hatt occasionally smiles. But once you have engaged in Thomas cultural criticism, there’s no going back. It’s nearly impossible to listen to lines like “being strong was only good if you were also really useful, and he had to be really useful” without hearing something sinister. Cast off your shackles and rise up, little engines! Down with Topham Hatt! Sodor revolution now!

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Thomas the Tank Engine (Deconstructed)

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