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back to article Thomas the Tank Engine drives 'conservative political ideology'

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 …

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Anonymous Coward

Title

I simply refuse to comment on a subject this daft....

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Anonymous Coward

Gordon The Green Engine

Easy to spot who is spinning lies about Sodor to the University of Alberta. Its Gordon the Green Engine, He's just a sad grumpy old buffer basher who cant stand not being the centre of attention all the time.

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Anonymous Coward

Gordon the green engine?

Were you tripping when you typed that? Gordon is a BLUE engine and I resent the way you try to reduce his character to a soundbite. Like all people (erm, engines), his personality is complex and not summisable.

Oi scamps, get on msn. I need to talk to you about stu [-]

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FAIL

Green Gordon

He got a new paint job after the nasty accident.......

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Joke

Perhaps

Ms Wilton should find herself a rich powerful man and get back behind the kitchen sink where she surely belongs.

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Anonymous Coward

Should think themselves lucky..

that there's that many female characters!

From reading the original stories to my son, I recall only a couple of female engines -

one is Mavis, the diesel shunter at the quarry

the other is Daisy the modern diesel railcar

but what do you expect of stories set in a long vanished age.

(At first sight I thought the article was going to be about ways to run railways.)

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Flame

FFS

"Furthermore, "of 49 main characters listed in the show, only eight were female, reflecting a general trend among children's programming"."

Yes the Thomas the Tank Engine books were written in the forties and fifties for boys, and then are plenty of books and TV programs written for girls where almost all the characters are female. Odd that init? Now of course there's no need for these books and programs to be aimed particularly at one sex, but it seems to be the way it goes, so why single out one program? Almost every kids program deals with issues in broad brush strokes using only black and white paint. It's always been the nature of stories for kids to be like this.

Also why watch only 23 episodes? There must be hundreds of episodes of Thomas, my son has at least a hundred in his collection.

As usual it's a case of academics being lazy. These guys have watched something like four hours of television and written a paper on it. Way to do some in depth study guys.

There is one famous story in one of the early Thomas the Tank engine books that got some parts of the trade union movement in a spin back in the fifties. The story concerned a number of engines who thought they were better than other engines and decided to work to rule. Basically these engines refused to perform menial tasks and expected other engines to do them. The striking engines found themselves on the receiving end of a good old fashioned lock out. Now at the time some portions of the trade union movement got all upset about the treatment of the striking engines, while other portions of the same movement pointed out that if this was an allegory for the real world then surely it taught us that no worker was better than any other. It could be taken as a right wing parable against the trade union movement, or it could be taken as a socialist morality tale on the subject of those with a superiority complex. However the argument missed the fact that your average five year old wouldn't see it as either.

I'm just wondering if some academic heard about that argument back in the fifties and decided to, well basically, copy it rather than thinking of something original.

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Anonymous Coward

Reminiscent

"It could be taken as a right wing parable against the trade union movement, or it could be taken as a socialist morality tale on the subject of those with a superiority complex." Kinda reminiscent of the way extreme right wingers and extreme left wingers are virtually identical rather than the polar opposites activists seem to believe.

Otherwise: I read all the Rev. Auden books in the late sixties and grew up to be rabidly humanist. If they influenced me in any way I suspect it was in teaching that on the whole people wanted to be fair, which as we (mostly) progressed contained, as with anything else, misunderstandings to be expected in an evolving society. Appalling bigotries are in our recent past not because we used to be reprehensible but because we knew no better. All the time we are new at this civilisation thing.

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Anonymous Coward

"However the argument missed the fact that your average five year old wouldn't see it as either."

I remember as a child (only a few years older than that) being puzzled by the seeming inconsistency, where half the stories seemed to be all this happy and bright stuff about the noble virtues of co-operation, bravery, friendship, loyalty and hard work, and then this other half seemed to be all this really stern and dark stuff about how you should know your place and your role in life was to unquestioningly obey the orders of your betters and not have any thoughts or imagination or especially ambition of your own or you were a bad bad person and bad bad things would happen to you and you would deserve it and everyone you thought were your friends would turn around and cruelly revel in your suffering. Horrible, it was like those moments in dreams when everything suddenly changes and goes evil and you realise it's actually a nightmare.

I didn't fully understand what was going on, it just seemed jarring and like it didn't add up right. It certainly drummed exactly the opposite lesson into me, I was repulsed by the nauseating reek of self-satisfaction that permeated from those who smugly went along with what suddenly seemed very clearly to be a hideous and repulsive social order of things.

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Bronze badge

Don't the Seven Dwarfs...

...have the best little communal bath-house in the forest? If you don't mind the low ceiling. Althoughdthe actual bathing was initiated by Snow White, I think.

If sources such as <http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Unused_Dwarfs> are to be believed, one dwarf character concept discarded from Walt Disney's initial ideas is Dirty. Another is Awful. That's their names. Neurtsy I don't immediately imagine but I can't dispel a mental image of Woody Allen. Telescoped down.

C. S. Lewis made ALL the dwarfs in Narnia Jewish, in that the Messiah turned up at the end of the story and, with individual exceptions I think, the dwarfs didn't want to know.

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WTF?

They've been doing what?

Clearly, like myself, these researchers don't have a hell of a lot to do.

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Flame

Wrong conclusion

It is a cornerstone of any Britishness that change should be avoided, troublemakers dealt with and maintenance of status Quo promoted.

So it does not promote conservative values per se. It promotes a set of values that will fit into British society and that is the intention of the books. Same as with any children books for that age. They teach a set of morals and behavioural standards and Thomas is no exemption. If that was not the case UK children would have seen much more of let's say Astrid Lindgren which is the opposite.

Anyone seen Pippy Longstocking on a shelf in a school or nursery in the UK? F***no. Police, police and potato mash? Are you out of your mind? NOOOOOO books about troublemakers and cheeky characters SHALL NOT BE TOLERATED!!! Yet another brick in the wall all right.

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FAIL

Pippi Longstocking

No, you won't find her on UK shelves. Oh, except for the *highly publicised* new edition illustrated by Lauren Child (of Charlie & Lola fame).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pippi-Longstocking-Astrid-Lindgren/dp/0192782401

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Rob
Bronze badge
FAIL

FFS!!!

Can we put these twats in the LHC please, call it being enviromentally friendly as were cutting out their CO2 emissions and stopping them from robbing valuable oxygen the rest of us could use whilst watching Thomas with our kids.

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Bronze badge

that old chestnut

I remember laughing about this back in sixth form eighteen years ago.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh Come on....

They are slandering a program made in the 1940's !!

Also what pisses me off is the fact the fat controller isnt called that anymore !!

seriously wtf oh yeah there might be a fat kid sitting there stuffing its face with a burger and gets depressed

Garr why does PC crap always boil my blood .....

if you dont like it dont watch it. if you dont agree with it dont let your kids watch it

Yes i have two kids myself.

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Another canard..

On the programmes that... my kids watch, yes, that my kids watch while I'm getting ready for work, there are two controllers, one being the fat controller, the other being the thin controller. A descriptive differentiator, nothing more. Not "PC crap"

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Gold badge
WTF?

Oh really?

"....a program made in the 1940's....."

In colour? With a Ringo Starr voiceover? Nice trick that......

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Joke

I totally agree....

...lets have more Rainbow;

Rod, Jane and Freddy in 3 in a bed action, sometimes throwing in animals in the act to spice things up.

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FAIL

From the country...

...That had to rename the Fat Controller to Sir Toppam Hat.

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Anonymous Coward

Not true

I recall that being mentioned as his name in the books. He continued to be the Fat Controller after the transition to telly, so it's his name and his nickname, not a new vs. old, political correctness change.

BTW, I hate that the Railway Series had to change from being classic books for boys to become a merchandising industry aimed at toddlers.

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Silver badge

Always was.

I'm sure he was known as "Sir Toppham Hat" from about book 13 (Branch Line Engines, 1961), in the story "Thomas comes to Breakfast". I think his butler answers the phone with "Sir Toppham Hat's residence"

All of the main characters were first written about in the 50's and early 60's, when the world was mainly male centric. Of course the primary characters were male, because that's how the world was then. It would be a mockery if the characters were changed when the TV series was first made, and this must be about 25 years ago, because that is the age of my oldest Son.

Is there going to be some backlash about the "Thin Clergyman" for being anorexic, even though this character was based on the Author himself?

BTW. I would be interested to find out whether the Chris Payne who appears on the credits for the early TV episodes was the same Chris Payne who I was at University with in Durham in the late 70's. They both appear to have been interested in model railways. Anybody know?

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FAIL

Fat Controller

Erm, because that's his name?

Frankly, I was more disturbed that his status was undisturbed by nationalisation other than a new title (previously he was the Fat Director).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fat_Controller

And don't get me started on the bloody American Shining Time movie marlarkey with Alec Baldwin.

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Sir Topham Hat

His name was revealed in the foreword to book 6: Henry the Green Engine

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Railway_Series_Books#Henry_the_Green_Engine

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Unhappy

Look at the context, please.

In the traditional Rev W. Awdry books of the 50s and 60s, there is a clear gender divide between male engines and female coaches. It was the attitude of the day, and it's worth noting that the engines treated the coaches like ladies, got in trouble if they mistreated them, took the blame for their misdeeds and so on. In the modern, made for TV stories, female engines have already been introduced to reflect modern attitudes so the point they're making has already been addressed, unless they want to either re-write some of the classics of childrens literature or have an episode where Gordon and Henry go in for a very special type of rebuild...

With the status quo argument, the books reflect when they were written. Those from the 1950s were very cosy and establishment, where everyone worked hard and respected the Controller, Sir Topham Hat. Those from the 1960s dealt with things like prejudice (the arrival of diesels), gender equality (Daisy the railcar having to win the engines' respect) and even with the plight of the Jews in World War Two explained using BR's modernisation plan as a metaphor (Duck helping Oliver to escape the breakers yard).

Like some of the other commentards, I think the researchers should have done some research before writing their paper!

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Megaphone

Definitely not true

I used to love Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends, and yet grew up to be a left-leaning student like any healthy young adult. Tony Blair put me off, nothing else, which is why I wonder at the bit about conservative principles suppressing individual initiative. A centralised state does that, surely?

"If you're not liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not conservative when you're 35, you have no brain." -Paraphrased from François Guizot; usually erroneously attributed to Winston Churchill.

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FAIL

Communism alive and well in UK..

'Shauna Wilton and friends from the uni's Department of Social Sciences analysed 23 episodes of the programme,'

For some reason, i can't get passed the feeling that the money spent paying the wages for this department (and others of the same ilk) would be better spent elsewhere.

You'd be able to laugh at this type of thing if the government didn't take reports like this, swing into full political correctness action and create laws to fix this 'broken' aspect of society.

Labour has spent the last 12 years telling us what we can think, legislating on that basis and criminalising any dissent. The latest 'equality' bill makes discrimination a legal requirement. Political Correctness is used to destroy a nations' identity supplanting it with the 'new thinking' instead. Labour have been

Children are the main battle ground now, because if you have the child you have the man (i've probably violated some law now, by not including female and transgendered..)

Are we really surprised at the way our children are turning out when they are constantly bombarded with politically inspired notions of what's 'right' and also constantly bombarded with messages telling them they lack x <add as appropriate> and need to buy y <add as appropriate> to rectify it.

We deserve everything we get.

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WTF?

At least....

.... it's not Noddy

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Anonymous Coward

The Fat Controller

...was the Fat Director in the earliest stories. The change in title predicted the change from private to state ownership of the railways.

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Department of Social Sciences

Perhaps they could make an alternative show that appeases all things PC etc....

Oh wait, that dept can't actually *make* anything, they just talk about psuedo-science.

Yawn!

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Thomas the tank engine and his bitchy mates

I was so glad when the boys grew out of this dross. The youngest declared one day "It's a bit babyish", and his brother instantly lost interest.

James the red engine was a smug git.

Then he crashed.

Ha ha served him right laughed Thomas.

Such a relief to move on to the classics.

Thunderbirds are go!

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Ogi
FAIL

Always been the case...

And I presume no other cartoons had political undertones? For example: anyone remember Captain Planet? Of course,I never realised the undertones until many years after It stopped airing.

I highly doubt your average kid watches cartoons for the politcs rather than entertainment. It's a given that cartoons will reflect the times they were made in and the biases of the creators.

Now, where is my grant money and the cushy tenure spot.....

"What's the Difference Between a Conservative and a Liberal? About 20 years" -- unknown

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IR

Latest ones

My kids love it, but I am shocked at how many episodes feature engines misbehaving or being mean and they get no punishments of any kind. The episode just ends.

As for lack of girl engines, there are certainly a few gay engines to make up for that (James being the main one)

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Don't forget...

That when the Rev. W. Audry * wrote the stories the railways were run very much along military lines (npi) by, in large part, ex-military officers, hence strict lines of command.

* not to be confused with W.H. Auden who wrote the verse for the greatest railway film of all time, "Night Mail". Oh, and it's the Fat Controller, btw. Nowadays we have a whole plethora fo FCs for all the franchise groups, although there'll be one fewer when NX eventually gets kicked out.

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Stop

What is a girl doing watching a program about trains anyway?

Thomas The Tank Engine is a Boys program. No wonder Shauna Wilton doesnt understand it. She should stick to watching programs about dolls and ponies, then she wont make a fool of herself.

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@AC

Sorry, I misread your post. I've just checked my first editions and they did indeed refer to the fat director. By "James the Red Engine" (1948) he had become the Fat Controller with the capital letters.

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She thinks Thomas is bad?

Thank good God they didn't do what we did at university, and spend a drunken few evenings "analysing" Stoppit and Tidyup. That really would give Shauna and her under-occupied chums something to over-psycho-analyse.

Best. Kids show. Ever.

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Anonymous Coward

what a pile of utter shit

If I could be arsed I would write to the author of this stupid research but as they are obviously an idiot and their qualifications are worth dog shit I wont bother.

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Silver badge
Flame

Colbert style

The honorable Jerry Falwell was right we need to be vigilant about those pinko commie homosexual type liberals brain washing our kids. Thomas is just teaching our kids good merkin values. The status quo must be maintained at all costs. %1 of the people deserve %99 of the wealth though much of which was inherited. Us lapdogs of the rich, though we will never be allowed to be rich ourselves, but our masters will always give us a few more scraps than those subversive types get and he will fill our head with dreams of how we are always on the verge of being rich and important. As such we must use the careful brainwashing our parents and our priests provided us and defend our ideological dreams to the death. Some may call us Uncle Toms economically but I say Viva Franco and Bush.

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Flame

Just Too Easy

"of 49 main characters listed in the show, only eight were female, reflecting a general trend among children's programming"

It seems a little backwards to me to fault a children's show which more or less accurately depicts gender disparity.

Gender inequality is a very real and difficult problem. Turn off the TV and deal with it.

If children were so easily influenced by television, today I certainly would be driving around the countryside in a psychedelic van, solving groovy mysteries involving creepy ghosts.

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Bronze badge

Gender disparity

The population is approximately - not exactly - 50 per cent female. In some lines of work the current employed population isn't in balance, but we shouldn't teach the next generation that those opportunities are not open for them to choose. It may be not quite clear how this applies to male and female railway engines, but one approach would be to make all the machines male and all the human characters female.

Then again, do you remember Bertha? I think that was in the 1980s, one of those series of 13 episodes each about 15 minutes for younger child viewers. Bertha was a large self-contained production line machine; raw materials in one end, finished goods out at the other. Perhaps not an ideal female role there but she was surrounded by a male and female cast, slightly stereotypical still but with room for everybody.

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Big Brother

Politically Neutral Children's Television?

Well, they can't all be as fair and balanced as Captain Planet and the Planeteers, I suppose.

But if we're looking for bias, how about TFA itself? Apparently the U of Alberta feels there are two types of political values: "conservative" and... "positive".

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Don't see it for the most part

But I have to admit that the episode where Sir Toppham Hat has the union organizers put to death threw me a little.

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Are they planning to study The Clangers next?

Just curious what they'll make of a society of woollen... er... things living under dustbin lids and stealing soup from mad dragons.

Probably the most original fantasy ever produced. (No, seriously: it even has a subtle series arc!)

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Go

Albertistan

"But if we're looking for bias, how about TFA itself? Apparently the U of Alberta feels there are two types of political values: "conservative" and... "positive".

___________________________________________

Assuming this is the U of A in Canada, those in the UK or US should be advised that Albertistan is Canada's special province, where the residents who haven't fled to BC have routinely voted in the same right wing party province wide save for a riding or two for something like 60 or 70 years.

However, in the midst of this group think, I have to admire the Edmontonians, who simultaneously support both their football team and the arts (best Fringe festival in Canada) in a manner that puts the rest of us to shame. Nothing else to do up there in the cold?

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Coat

It's not...

... the gender disparity. It's not the political leanings. It's not the absense of a timetable on a railway where engines are sent to play on the branch line.

It's the exceptionally poor accident and punctuality rating. I got a 'Thomas the Tank Engine' compilation book a while back (not a 'Railway Series' book despite them being the original stories with the original illustrators) and started looking through it. I only did Thomas (the book is arranged in order of engine, not in the proper chronological order) so far, will do the others eventually!

In it though, Thomas is accidentally still attached to the end of a potentially late express train, having to use a siding at the next station and a path to return to his own; Henry fails so Thomas takes the train but isn't attached (this time) so the train leaves late when Thomas returns after realising his error; Thomas swaps duties with Edward, putting him into a situation where he does not have correct route knowledge and is 'lucky that the line was clear'; James catches fire and derails so Thomas helps to retreive him, but freight is damaged along with rails and lineside fencing; Henry fails (again) and a late-running Thomas is stuck at a signal (on a single-track branch line with one engine running it...); An out of order water tower means that Thomas is unable to continue, and his train is either cancelled at the next station or another engine has to come to take over; The wrong kind of snow; On route-training duties, Thomas has an accident, possibly due to faulty brakes; Thomas crashes into a house because a cleaner has messed with his controls (in this story, it was originally the stationmaster's house he crashed into not the Fat Controller's house).

That's just the Thomas stories.

No wonder people have problems believing the railways are safe...

(mine's the one with the Eye-Spy Trains in the pocket...)

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Flame

At the risk of being stung by the Bee...

...I will point out that I would accept these feminist "researchers" demanding more females in Thomas the Tank Engine on the same day I see them demanding more males in the Powerpuff Girls. But that won't happen, because as I've pointed out before in these comments, such people aren't interested in equal rights, they're only interested in female rights, and in foisting that view on young boys.

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Anonymous Coward

Powerpuff Girls...

...have plenty of male characters according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_characters_in_The_Powerpuff_Girls

But not on the team. And none wholly positive, but then the Girls aren't all positive, often are selfish and have life lessons to learn.

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Positive political values

Since when are "tolerance, listening, communicating with others and contributing to the community" political values?

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Grenade

WTF?

Someone clearly has far too much time on their hands.

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