When Twitter (my new taskmaster – dare I say my new Sir Topham Hatt?) sent me to The Guardian and a piece by Tracy van Slyke titled “Thomas the Tank Engine had to shut the hell up to save children everywhere: Classism, sexism, anti-environmentalism bordering on racism: any parent who discovered these hidden lessons will be glad the show’s star just quit” (whew!) I knew I had to comment. Then, after commenting, I realized I needed to do more. Who would ever read what I wrote on some Brit site called “The Guardian”? If I really wanted to get my point across I needed to post it here for my reader. And for Amurica.
For those of you who have not had contact with a child in the last 69 years, Thomas the Tank Engine originated as a series of stories told to a child with the measles (Christopher Awdry) by his father, the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, who published the first book of stories (which did not feature Thomas; he came in book two) in 1945. Thomas is a small steam engine who does small jobs around the Island of Sodor, somewhere off the coast of England. That’s somewhere east of the U.S. He’s a “tank” engine because he carries his own fuel and water for his own steam generation and power in his engine rather than in a separate tender. (“And now you know.”) He is a Very Useful Engine.
The first successful TV series began in 1984 with model trains and stop action photography, and today grosses $17 gazillion from hapless parents and grandparents like me who buy DVDs, trains, tracks, backpacks, pencils, sleeping bags, t-shirts, and piñatas. They come out with a new engine every 1.7 seconds. There are close generic trains sold, but if you buy them, you receive the Stare of Death from your child or grandchild shortly before they slip into a coma.
Ms. Van Slyke uses the resignation of the voice actor who has done the American voice of Thomas for the last 5 years (actually, since I have watched, so I am unfamiliar with his work) to explore the dark underbelly of this children’s show. She appears to believe that this spells the end of the Thomas franchise. She should speak to both Messrs. Alec Baldwin and George Carlin about that.
She illuminated the deep archetypes and hidden meanings that the writers of Thomas had woven into the series to prey on the plastic minds of unsuspecting children while parents went on with their chores without a clue. She pointed out what appears obvious upon reflection – that the distinctions of dark smoke (bad engines) and white smoke (good engines) are clearly racial allegories, the lack of positive female role models, and, perhaps most striking, the invidious “Tickled Pink” episode mocking gays and sexual stereotypes (“girls like pink!).
Sadly, Ms. Van Slyke only scratches the surface of the deceptive depths of Thomas the Tank engine and its evil (eeeeeevvvvviiiiiillllll!!!!) and invidious conditioning of our children.
I will attempt to enlarge upon her critique.
Thomas, the main sympathetic character, is obviously an archetype for spreading of the Christian teachings of Thomas Aquinas and his papist Summa Theologica. The “Tank” not so subtly ties this in with the military industrial complex which runs the Western world.
Thomas’ color being blue is a subliminal invitation to children to view pornography; pornography has in the past been called “blue movies.” Are there no depths to which these people will not go?
Percy represents Percival of Arthurian legend, melding together both the Christian myth of everlasting life (Holy Grail) and subtly defaming homosexuality (the diminutive “Percy” being used historically as a name to mock gay men).
Percy is colored green, the color of conservation, yet he rides upon rails made of steel, a non-renewable product. The mockery could not be more evident.
I believe even the location where the series is set has dark meaning – the Island of Sodor can only be a redaction of SODom and gomORrah.
The absence of female engines is noted, but the misogyny goes much further than this. Annie and Clarabelle are two passenger cars, and among the few female vehicles.
Clarabelle is clearly named after Clarabelle the Clown, Howdy Doody’s silent red-haired companion. This reveals several informative layers, beginning with the antagonistic androgynous aspect of man/woman conflict. Next you have the fact that Clarabelle never spoke – thus the only good woman is one who does not speak. Finally, the red hair clearly is a reference to communism, and the “Red menace” our children are being indoctrinated against.
Annie is not so straight forward. Standard linguistic theory as propounded by Noam Chomsky might dictate that we analyze her in terms of Little Orphan Annie, a woman-child who never grew up, who was the target of a wealthy older man who was probably a sexual predator, and whose only true companion was a dog. But I suspect that who the Thomas creators really patterned her after was Annie Liebovitz, noted photographer, whose gritty portraits of the famous catch them in a light rarely seen, saying to our children “Beware! Women will betray you and show you as you really are!”
Thomas the Tank engine is, for anyone who cares to truly think while watching it, a deep, somber, brooding and malevolent show filled with undercurrents and subtexts designed to warp the psyches of our children. I know it sucked hundreds of dollars out of my pocket for toys, hours of time from my life as I spent watching it with kids and grandkids on my lap and building elaborate track sets around the bedroom and living room (and then there was the horror of the talcum powder snow incident…). I am so glad someone had the courage to finally expose this evil propaganda series worthy of Leni Riefenstahl for what it truly is.