August 3rd, 2006

Finding the Red in Blue

I love Michael Cabanatuan's critique of the Thomas and Friends mythology, which starts out with the distressing revelation that, "Thomas the Tank Engine, hero to many tykes and toddlers, and a few of those parents who get a little too involved in their kids' interests, is a fake," and then builds to frothy climax that manages that special sort of irony that fuses comedy and tragedy:
Sir Topham Hatt, the gruff patriarch of the Sodor Railway, makes appearances nearby for 25 minutes every hour. He must spend the other 35 rolling around in the cash. If you haven't noticed, Sir Topham, -- known in Thomas' less politically correct native England as "The Fat Controller" -- is quite the capitalist.

He scolds tardy engines, assigns them to odious tasks instead of jobs they like, and pronounces them "Very Useful" (not intelligent or wonderful or even "A Stinkin' Genius") when they do a good job. In other words, Sir Topham Hatt is The Man, working hard to keep the masses in their places, making them Very Useful cogs in the Sodor money-making machine.

And by that standard, even the fake Thomas is a Very Useful Engine indeed.
I always found Sir Topham Hatt disturbing. And Skylar clearly regarded him as a potential menace. Why can't the human interest in the Thomas and Friends series be a rank-and-file boilerperson?