Goodbye, Island of Sodor; hello, New World Order: Thomas the train is now overtly hauling a load of political correctness. Capitalism’s dour realities have caused the beloved little tank engine’s owners, Mattel, to turn him to the left, in hopes of turning a bigger profit. Now, instead of being “really useful,” he has gone to being really used.
Last Friday, Nick Jr. unveiled its new “Thomas and Friends: Big World! Big Adventures!” This debut marked an 18-month collaboration between the original “Thomas and Friends” and the United Nations, in which the UN helps develop stories and characters for a series in which Thomas leaves his fictional island home for the first time. Together they hope to deliver the UN’s mission to the pre-K set.
As any Thomas aficionado knows, he is a small engine of big dreams. His primary goal in life is to be “really useful.” Created in 1946 by Rev. Wilbert Awdry for his son’s amusement, the characters are anthropomorphized trains working on the fictional Island of Sodor under the direction of Sir Topham Hat. The stories are simple, and in this simplicity lies their endearing quality: They are just fun. Or at least, they were. No more. Now, they have an agenda.
With that agenda coming from that quintessential global organization the United Nations, you know it is big. Just how big, you have no idea. The UN has set 17 global Sustainable Development Goals. Thomas and his chums get to move these, not just around Sodor, but around the entire planet.
As you might imagine, the 17 are pretty ambitious. How much of a “stretch goal” these are is shown by “SDG” No. 1: “End poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” Redundant, but admirable. Yet considering this has bedeviled humanity throughout history, it may be a bit much for a small engine to accomplish.
The United Nations’ No. 13 is “climate action.” This is going down the wrong track entirely. Thomas, after all, is a coal-burning engine. Even retrofitted with scrubbers, this could not work out well.
However, Thomas and his friends did finally come upon five fits: Quality Education, Gender Equality, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Life on Land. No word as to how they will wrap their wheels around four of these, but for gender equality, they have added some new female engines. Thomas did lose some of his male buddies in the process, but alas, progress does not come without sacrifice.
Since he’s dragged two female cars — Clarabel and Annie — behind him hither and yon for decades, Thomas has much to atone for here. And learn. Yet learn he does: “Gordon can pull the engine and Rebecca can pull the engine.” That Thomas’ insight actually offers an implicit threat to diversity — what happens if Rebecca cannot pull the engine; does one of Thomas’ former male engine pals get pressed back into service? — will be fodder for another episode, no doubt.
While the target audience will miss it, there is irony aplenty in this dual-tracking for Thomas and the UN. From a business standpoint, the UN would be the last place most would turn to for help turning a profit. The UN’s expertise lies in spending other people’s money, not making it.
From the entertainment standpoint, according to The Washington Post: “On display will be not just a fresh direction for a toy brand but also a trial balloon of sorts for a new — and, to some, thorny — form of entertainment, one in which global activism and commercial Hollywood are entwined.” Only The Washington Post could find the entwinement of “global activism and commercial Hollywood” somehow “new.” For the rest of us, it is only noteworthy when they are not.
Of course, the biggest loser will be fun. For the left, simply having fun is clearly no longer allowed. Everything now must come with a message, and every message must be theirs. This liberal approach is not isolated to Thomas: Fun must be vetted before it is enjoyed — it must now be centered around a justified cause, not just ‘cause it is fun.
Today’s liberalism leads this politically correct parade to purgatory — just as their ethos pervades the UN, and shortly will Thomas. No ideology more closely resembles H.L. Mencken’s description of puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Despite their disdain for Thomas’s former home, liberals long for nothing more than to recreate it in their image. They aspire to be Sir Topham Hat: knowing best, they will give the day’s assignments, while the rest of us are to be merely the obedient engines of their designs. Not willing to wait for young tykes to get there on their own, they are railroading them in now — before they get to know what fun really is.
J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.