Precious Over-Read, My Ass!

January 3rd, 2006  |  Published in old and busted

Now that the latest episode has had a chance to be out there, I’ll discuss the new character briefly.

Sunday morning is my morning to get up with Ben. I make coffee, make us both pancakes, then we settle in for some quality PBS Kids time: “Bob the Builder,” “Plaza Sesamo,” and “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

I’ve started turning it off when Thomas comes on, because I can’t stand the fucking show.

Here’s the scenario:

On the island of Sodor, there are pretty much two species: Humans (who are often lords and ladies) and their mechanical servants, who take the form of sentient trains and heavy lifting equipment.

The humans run things, and the trains do their bidding, and each episode is usually premised on the notion that our hero, Thomas, has been tasked with an assignment from the humans that puts him at odds with some other factor in his environment, the other trains, or even an existing directive he previously received from a human overlord.

Most of the episodes center around Thomas’ attempts to reconcile the contradictions in his instructions and please his masters. He has one reliable ally (Percy) and a collection of acquaintances in the Sodor workforce who range from sometimes-friendly to openly antagonistic.

Thomas will predictably have to not only overcome the challenges posed by his instructions, but the obstacles thrown up by the more disagreeable trains roaming the island.

Some observations about the “lessons” of Thomas:

  • When a train fucks up, it will be scolded by a human.

  • Even if the mistake wasn’t the train’s fault, it will be expected to take the dressing down then get on with its mission to the best of its ability. It will not, no matter how reasonable the mistake, utter a word in its own defense.

  • In fact, the only time a train will generally speak to a human is to volunteer for more work. Thomas spends a lot of time volunteering for more work, but even the bad engines know better than to talk back to a human.

  • The humans will demand the engines do things to make them happy (“Take my guests to the most beautiful spot on the island so they can paint a picture of it!” or “Deliver these cakes to the birthday celebration!”) but seldom do much in return. In fact, the “rewards” they offer are for being clean and shiny, and those rewards are grudgingly doled out, often to more than one engine, diluting their overall value.

I’m as sick as the rest of you of the “precious children’s programming over-read.” Like any child of ’70s Saturday mornings, I’ve heard the stupid “secret drug message of Scoobie Doo” blather, and the “there are GAY subtexts in the Smurfs!” bong-dribble more times than I want. If we hadn’t ruined it for ourselves, the leering forehead that is Quentin Tarantino came along and made sure to shovel the last bits of dirt over the novelty of the exercise with “Reservoir Dogs.”

But this isn’t overread … it’s just looking at what’s plainly there.

From my perspective, the life lesson Ben’s being taught by Thomas and his friends comes down to this: “Do what you’re told, ask to do more, and even if the boss nails you with a bum rap, keep your yap shut because the boss doesn’t care either way.”

Some of you are saying “Well … yeah … but that’s the way it is in real life.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be if people were raised with better expectations than shows like Thomas are providing.

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