Friday, December 11, 2009 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Cheer Up, Canada: Thomas the Tank Engine Is Not a Conservative

A philosopher of my misspent youth, one Mr. William Idol, opined that it is best to be British because you can get away with more than the citizens of other English-speaking nations. While I cannot disclose the best proofs of Mr. Idol's theorem, (naming names is rude), its second-best proof is surely the always-interesting and often-funny British technology-news website The Register. An example: Only by actually writing with a British accent can you get away with calling those who brainlessly but militantly oppose the enforcement of copyrights "freetards."

I thus note that today, The Register bravely reported on the shocking results of some media research conducted by some Canadian sociologists:

Research by the University of Alberta has chillingly revealed that kids' TV show Thomas and Friends may be engendering a "conservative political ideology" in future generations--a repressive mindset which "punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles."

Shauna Wilton and friends from the uni's Department of Social Sciences analyzed 23 episodes of the programme, and noted that while it "conveys a number of positive political values...", there is a dark side to Thomas the Tank Engine.

Were Professor Wilton's work A Very Useful Engine: The Politics of Thomas and Friends correct, then it would represent a frightening discovery. After all, we parents all know that children's television is already awash in "conservative political ideology." The Barry-Goldwater-like messages of Sesame Street and Barney the Dinosaur are inescapable. Sociologists also warn that it is no coincidence that the baby-faced sun that shines upon the Teletubbies looks a lot like Rush Limbaugh.

Fortunately, in this case, the learned sociologists from the University of Alberta are dead wrong. If leftist ideologies fail, it will not be because Thomas the Tank Engine brainwashed Canadian tots into adopting a "conservative political ideology."

I know this because I am the father of an almost-5-year-old boy named "Thomas" who, (and this will come as a shock), instinctively and without parental prompting adores all forms of large, powerful machinery--trucks, trains, cars, cranes, you name it.

Naturally, my son thus loves Thomas the Tank Engine. Indeed, he loves Thomas so much that our attempted educational trip to the site of the British colony at Jamestown, Virginia, became a teary debacle when my son discovered that we were not actually visiting a town where we could meet James, the red steam engine who can be haughty towards the smaller and blue Thomas.

In short, I know Thomas and the other inhabitants of the Island of Sodor well. Really well. Consequently, I just scoffed when The Register reported that the Canadian sociologists who allegedly discovered Thomas' conservative ideology did so by reviewing a scant 23 episodes of his show.

You call that "expertise"? Ha! Have a seat, silly sociologists, and learn the cold, hard truth from a parent who has watched more than a mere 23 episodes of Thomas and Friends.

Thomas the Tank Engine is not a capitalist stooge. To the contrary, socialism is alive and well--at least on the Island of Sodor. Sodor's railroads are all nationalized. That is why Sir Topham Hatt, (who was called "The Fat Director" during the dark days of capitalism), is called "The Fat Controller." Thomas the Tank Engine is a thus a loyal and subservient employee of the State who wants only to be Really Useful.

So the sociologists can relax: Thomas is a perfectly healthy role model for the preschoolers of Canada.

Indeed, given that these learned professors got the facts of Thomas and Friends backwards, one might wonder whether I am worried that a cheeky socialist tank engine might be affecting my son with his happy tales of life in a socialized economy. After all. Professor Wilton warns:

We tend to think of children's TV shows as neutral and safe, but they still carry messages. Eventually these children will atain full political citizenship, and the opinions and outlook they develop now, partially influenced by shows like Thomas and Friends, are part of that process.
But I am not worried about that. I have already been through this with my 7-year-old daughter. Consequently, my worries about Thomas the Tank Engine have nothing to do with politics.

Rather, I worry that a day will come sooner than I think when I will have forgotten about that blue tank engine as I (again) assemble a donation bag by (again) cleaning out the bin of toys-that-no-one-plays-with-anymore. And there, at the bottom, I will find my son's now-favorite Thomas the Tank Engine, still smiling his slightly battered smile.

Only then will I realize--too late--that I miss that little tank engine almost half as much as I miss my own little almost-5-year-old Thomas. Sociologists who could discover a truth like that might be of some use to real parents.

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 12:11 AM | Capitalism , Generic Rant , Media Regulation , Security