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Separated at Birth: Cheney and Sir Topham Hatt?

A controlling, bossy element on "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" exudes qualities that put him on track to become vice president?

Breaking news from the world of academia: Thomas the Train — the popular children's television show — is covertly delivering a conservative agenda.

Political scientist Shauna Wilton of the University of Alberta analyzed 23 whole episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, that wonderful show about an adorable cartoon train and his zany adventures on a fantastical island, and presented her findings at a recent conference of the Canadian Political Science Association.

Wilton found that the show, which is broadcast in 130 countries, carries subversive themes that pose a danger to the nation's children (referring, presumably, to Canadian children, whose principal education includes broken front teeth as a result of adult-sanctioned fisticuffs-on-ice).


Nonetheless, Wilton concluded that Thomas' storylines too often stereotyped characters by class and punished those who tried to assert their individuality. As she put it: "While the show conveys a number of positive political values such as tolerance, listening, communicating with others and contributing to the community, it also represents a conservative political ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles. ... Any change is seen as disrupting the natural order of things."

Now, the Napkin was initially doubtful of this conclusion, since our interest in what Canadians had to say about television ended roughly when SCTV died, but we were rebuked, frankly, by an editor's pen. "There is a controlling/bossy/corporatist element to the show," we were informed, "that I think you'd do well to acknowledge: Sir Topham Hatt, who runs the trains on the Island of Sodor in a paternalistic but clearly manipulative and fear-inducing way. He's the boss, and everyone snaps to it when he says anything, no matter how self-serving his orders."

In that case, we have only one question: Does Sir Topham Hatt have plans for 2012?

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

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