Has Thomas Been Framed?


Ciremi tackles on the subject of modern day moralistic Thomas being an educator for our children...

I have the "pleasure" of working at a ToysRUs in New Jersey. In that ToysRUs as I recently came back to work after the long trudge through freshman year at college I was surprised to find two train tables had been set up. The majority of the engines that had been ripped from their packaging and placed on the table by parents were all Thomas the Tank Engine models. I smiled at this, seeing as how a younger generation was still enjoying Thomas like I had when I was younger. The only different was that the toys were die-cast and plastic when I was young, and today's major toy was mostly constructed of wood and lacking in little nuances of detail.

I went back to work and eventually found myself at the table again, putting a returned Thomas item back on the shelf. A small boy was seated with his mother at the table, pushing one of the engines around. I picked up a bunch of coaches off the floor and stuck them on the table. The small boy acknowledged the presence of my train on the same track and suddenly the race was on. Who was going to get the farthest along the track before the other had to back down? In the end, neither of us did, as the boy happily derailed both of our trains off the track (sound effects included!). His mother, happy that I was in fact, playing trains with her son, did not seem to care at all. This got my wondering, what are all the mothers in the world so scared about? Why does it feel like within the past 10 years or so that everyone has tighten up, and why do we all seem to be afraid of each other? Thomas did not teach the boy to be destructive and cause the trainwreck. Males are naturally destructive. How could Thomas take the fall for this?

THe children of today grow up in a world where everything is blurred and distorted because the parents of today wish to shield their child from the horrors of the world. But if the children of tomorrow aren't aware of these horrors, then how will they react when they are 20 and they realise that they have been lied to? One cannot stop his car on the highway and cover up a piece of roadkill simply because he fears that children will see it. Another cannot try to censor or change a media because it might lead the children down the wrong path. Simply put, we CANNOT shield our children from all bad facets of life. The more and more we try to limit what the children see, the harder it is for them to live on their own.

If Billy grows up watching Thomas and Friends, learning about morals and values, what is he going to do when he learns and/or is offered sexual intercourse? The two aren't directly related, but Billy has been kept in the world of fluffy sheep, bright colors, and is he expected to react in such a situation? Does Thomas say to try new things? Does Thomas teach you not to smoke? "Well if Thomas smokes out his funnel and puffs down the line," says Billy, "then it is okay for me to puff marijuana and smoke cigarettes." Is this a statement that frames Thomas? Indeed it is, and then next thing you'll see is a revamp of Thomas and Friends to "Thomas the Environmental-Friendly Train and His Fellow Engines Who Are On Good Terms with One Another."

Simply put, Thomas the Tank Engine should not be responsible for teaching our children. Stories about railways can only remain didactic for so long and to such an extent. Thomas is never going to actually approach issues about how to treat handicap people, or how to deal with depression, or how to cope with death. We keep our children exposed to morals about being friendly to one another, making them so myopic that they become less self-reliant. Mothers will gobble it up because they feel that Thomas can babysit the children and teach them the facts of life. Thomas cannot, I am sorry to say. He can entertain us with his stories and antics, but he and his friends are puffin--pardon me, CHUGGING on tracks atop eggshells, for one crack and one group of angry parents can cause millions of dollars to be wasted.

Who framed Thomas the tank engine? Who made him so pristine and so foregettable that he has changed his ways, incapable of being reverted? The answer: We did.

As I left the train table to straighten the Star Wars merchandise (aimed for youths who can't even fathom what the film is about, much less enter the theater) I thought about where society stands today. With terrorist acts, violence, and new technology have sprung up new fears. We are scared of EVERYTHING, and we may never be able to resuscitate society again...

Additional Comments
Ryan: Personally, I reckon you're right with what you say. We live in a society where nowadays our TV shows are working to suit do-gooders who think we should all be happy and nice. Believe it or not, IT DOES WORK. You may well think it doesn't, but these reinforcers do prompt according behaviour. I'm not saying it's the right way to do things, but they DO work.

Television is a powerful tool, but I reckon the idea that was present before worked better. A story should be just that. A simple story that kids can follow and be entertained by. Worked for me when I was a kid, TV was for entertainment, then in the real world, I'd learn about friendships and morals through experience.

Contrary to what you've said though, Eric, it's not to say that these reinforcers won't blend with things children pick up as life progresses. We don't stagnate, we all learn new things every day of our lives, which build to make us the human beings we become.

Otherwise, I agree with what you say. We shouldn't be allowing television to educate children, it takes away from experiences of the real world.

TheHalford: Exactly. The problem is partially to do with parenting and time - parents struggle to find time for their children, and consequently plonk them in fromt of the TV with Thomas, the Fimbles, Seasme Street, whatever. All of these shows in some way reinforce the whole moral situation. Sure, they talk about friendships and all that, but that's not the whole picture. There is so much more than that, and any TV show is unable to properly show this. The parents need to take a little more responsibility.

Flying Scotsman: I believe that television can have an educational value- I certainly learnt a great deal from Thomas, Sesame Street, Postman Pat etc. But I do believe that the greater part of the responsibility for educating children must lie with the parents. All the educational programming in the world won't help a child whose parents neglect to educate them about how these lessons apply to everyday life.
I do not believe that forcing morals really helps anyone either. I grew up with Thomas series 1 & 2, which did have a moral dimension, albeit a more subtle one. I found that I could learn from Thomas, Percy, Edward etc precisely because they weren't so sugary-sweet. Real life children do squabble and fight and tease- as did the engines. I would imagine, and I could be wrong here, that children find it far harder to identify with Thomas and Percy as they are now.

I do think that children's television and video games are easy targets for parents looking for someone other than themselves to blame when children misbehave. It seems like a simple solution- these things aren't the responsibility of the parents or the teachers (who also take an undue amount of blame in my opinion), they're created by big evil companies to whom one can easily pass the buck.

Ciremi's Afterthought: The point is that Thomas has changed to meet the criteria of parents who feel that Thomas has an obligation to teach children. What they don't see is exactly what Ryan said, shows teaching children detract from the reality of an issue. It is one thing to watch a Christmas party on tv, but a whole other to be immersed in a group of people celebrating Christmas, so to speak...