Saturday, May 20, 2006
You may recall I mentioned earlier that we're all about trains at my house. Well, since that post, the situation has only escalated.
It's hard to believe that it was just this past Christmas that my boys got their first "Thomas the Tank Engine" video from my parents. Now our living room is no longer recognizable as a living room since it's been transformed into the Island of Sodor.
I think we passed the point of no return this past weekend when Leo turned three and we gave into the temptation to throw him a giant "Thomas the Tank Engine" extravaganza!!!
Well, giant for us anyway -- all we did was put little trains on his birthday cake and give him some more toy trains, train books, and train videos.
His daddy picked out for him a cool and complicated new set including a little mechanical crane to load freight onto the freight cars.
"Happy Birthday Leo!!" he said. "Your mommy will assemble this."
That's not as bad as it sounds. Actually part of the problem is how much their mommy loves setting up elaborate networks of train tracks all over the house.
My parents saw me doing this a bunch of times during their last visit, so when they sent a special double-decker train bridge for Leo's birthday...
...they admitted they meant it also as a present for me...
As fond as I am of trains, I was a little leery of the "Thomas" series when we played the first video of it we received. This was because I noticed pretty quickly that all of the locomotives were masculine, and the passenger cars were feminine. So Thomas loves the two coaches he always pulls (named Annie and Clarabelle), who were given to him as a reward for good work. I really have to avoid thinking too hard about any possible human analogy here because it's just too weird and maybe even a little creepy.
But I'm willing to forgive them because this was first written back in the forties apparently, and since then they've modernized it by adding some girl locomotives and other girl vehicles. Plus some of the cars that are pulled by the locomotives are masculine (especially the freight cars and cabooses).
Additionally I think it's pretty clear that James (the red engine) is gay. Now I hope my gay readers won't think I'm stereotyping here by saying that James kind of sets off my gaydar and not just because he's the most beautiful of all of the engines. But since the kids are clearly supposed to identify with these little anthropomorphic trains, I would just as soon go with the interpretation that one of them is gay. I even mentioned to my kids that James is gay. They have no idea what that means, but they can make a note of it for future reference.
You may have noticed that like a lot of parents who end up constantly watching children's programming, I can't keep from doing a detailed analysis of every tiny nuance, probably reading more into it then the writers ever meant to put there.
My dad pointed out to me a couple of times that "Thomas the Tank Engine" is a Christian series -- the original written by a clergyman. He told me this as if it were some sort of selling point. It's possible that he meant it as much as a selling point for Christianity as for the series (as in: "See? Christianity's cool! It has cute trains!").
I don't object to the Christian content as it seems mostly limited to portraying the local vicar as a nice guy and mentioning that the trains take the kids' Sunday school class on outings. I don't think we would let them watch it if it were like "Hey kids, let's all praise Jesus!!" This is largely for the same reason we don't let them watch "Barney", namely that when the kids watch their videos we end up having to sit through them as well.
Plus I think the overall message of the "Thomas" series is relatively positive. The point seems to be that all of the trains want to work hard and do a good job, simply for the pleasure of the accomplishment. And even though they have different abilities suited to different tasks, the most important thing is to be "really useful" by doing your job well. That seems to me to be an appropriate message for kids. Please parents, comment and tell me if there's some sinister alternate message I'm missing...
Because otherwise this is C. L. Hanson coming to you live from the Island of Sodor....