Friday, January 30, 2015

Train Wreck

When children's cartoons hide troubling messages

Train Wreck

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HIde the kids, it's Thomas!

My little nephew, like most of his almost three-year old contemporaries, loves Thomas the Train.  He calls him “Tommy Train” with a cute little twang (we have no idea where he got it) and delights in anything and everything locomotive.

 But I think I’m going to have to tell my sister to curtail his viewing habits.  Much to my surprise and disgust, I found out that Thomas is actually a subversive set of tales sent to us from England to poison the sweet, impressionable minds of young Americans.  More specifically, it is a sinister plot to turn Yankee tots into imperialist pawns.

 Thank goodness I came across Jessica Roake’s shocking essay in Slate (and none too soon, I might add!)  The scales have fallen from my eyes, and I now realize Thomas the Train is the caboose equivalent of Gunga Din, a throwback to the days when the poor (and probably non-Caucasian) minions were content to be ruled by the wise (and jingoistic) colonialist.

 What a perceptive woman that Jessica is, blessed with an ability to write prose like this:

 Yet the conservatism of Thomas and Friends is not the conservatism of America. Key to the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mythos in the United States is the notion that anyone can rise to the top with hard work and initiative. The Thomas series glories instead in true "white man's burden" style British imperialism. Our hero, Thomas, and his friends jockey for positions just below that of the bullying aristocrat Sir Topham Hatt but never seek to rise to his level. The stern, dour little Englishman in top hat and tails dangles meaningless honors like getting to "carry the most special special" to divide and conquer the trains.

 “White man’s burden?”  “Divide and conquer the trains?”

 I had no idea these kinds of subliminal messages were being fed to the sweet little souls who watch Sprout, Nikelodeon and La Plaza Sesame (which to those of you who still speak English is Sesame Street with salsa.)

 My adorable little nephew, who I am certain Miss Jessica would have no problem feeding a steady diet of “Heather Has Two Daddys,” is clearly in danger of becoming a heartless captain of industry or, perhaps, a Wall Street baron intent on destroying the economy so frail grannies will have to eat cat food for dinner.

 The shame!  And I thought it was just having good, clean fun.

 I’m so glad Jessica cleared that up for me.  Now, I hope she’ll do an expose of Dora the Explorer.  I mean, that kid is always moving from place to place.  Witness protection plan, anyone?


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See Christine Flowers on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

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