Thomas and Friends – The good, bad, and ugly

As y’all know, Chotu has discovered the joys of toddlerhood. These include, but are not limited to, not eating, doing the exact opposite of what anyone says, not eating, climbing anything that appears climbable (The Goddess says that’s a real word now), not eating, exploring anything that appears dangerous, not eating, dancing on my laptop, not eating, throwing my phone on the ground with full might to get the battery out, and not eating some more. The only thing that gets his attention for more than a minute these days is trains.

To get this child to eat I have become that parent. You know, the one who plays Youtube videos and shoves food into the child’s mouth surreptitiously. For a while we went through a phase of looking up Russian Steam Engines on Youtube (really, look it up, it’s a real thing!) but eventually, all train fascination leads to Thomas and Friends.

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

At first glance, Thomas appears quite benign and even ideal for little children. The Hero and I were seduced by the shiny surface:

  • The videos are fairly quiet. This is good because the rest of The Goddess’ universe  is far from quiet.
  • Chotu’s able to identify all colours now and he can name all characters going as far as telling the different green trains apart. I’ve often been at the receiving end of “That’s not Percy. It’s Oliver, Amma Silly Billy*!”
  • For what it’s worth, Chotu now understands the terms paint, pistons, coal, smoke, steam, connecting rods, railway lines, signals, crossings, and more. This will provide an early start should he choose to become an Engine Driver with a railway specializing in steam engines

What’s bad is that the toys and assorted paraphernalia don’t come cheap. A tiny, lone engine without a coach costs more than the rest of the plastic crap we buy for Chotu on a monthly basis.

What really got me blogging, however, is the ugly underbelly of this train world.

  • Every freaking character is a male. Except for two “girl engines”, it’s a boys’ world. Two female engines and female coaches – presumably because coaches aren’t as important as engines and girls must be led.
  • The Fat Controller really crawls under my skin. He’s like the vestige of colonialism that together with fairness creams will taint our universe forever
  • The show is an authoritarian paradise where the Fat Controller must be obeyed at all costs and the biggest complement any engine can get is that it’s “Very Useful”. There’s even a story with “Usefulness before Cleanliness” as it’s main theme. Say what?
  • There are serious consequences if the trains don’t obey orders. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered any of those videos yet
  • There’s an awful lot of racism and sexism. There’s even a video where poor James must go out with a coat of pink paint and have all the engines make fun of him for being such a silly colour. Of course, little girls love him so it all ends well. My brain is still hurting from that one.

Am I reading too much into a simple kiddie program? No. In fact, it appears I’m being far too generous in my criticism. Here’s a Slate article criticizing the franchise and another rather funny piece on Deadspin and here’s a piece in The Guardian. We desperately need an alternative for train obsessed toddlers. Can’t we do better than a franchise invented a million years ago by an imperial fanboy?

Or maybe I should drop the self-righteousness and favour Project Self-Feeding and Project Family-Meals over Project Night-Time-Potty-Training**.

So, how about all you other parents? What sorts of questionable choices have you made with respect to kiddie entertainment? And more importantly, those of you with older kids, how did it all turn out? 🙂

* How I regret inventing that term in the first place…

**Also because night-time potty training is largely a physical milestone and not really a project!

Dabur Honey’s Mangalsutra Ad

Have you watched this ad for Dabur Honey? I’m not sure how old it is because I don’t watch much TV beyond Masterchef Australia and DVR’ed episodes of Sex and the City (I know. I know). So, anyway, I saw this ad for the first time a few days ago and got me really worked up. The Hero just rolled his eyes and thought I’m being extreme. In case you’ve missed this ad, here it is. Detailed analysis follows.

The first thing that threw me off is the “Husbands jab jealous hote hain to kitne cute lagte hain na?” line. How is jealously cute? It’s a sign of insecurity and possessiveness. Why on earth would you be happy if someone you love is feeling threatened or insecure?

Why is the man so worried by how good his wife is looking? Why does he need to adjust his wife’s mangalsutra the way one would adjust a dog collar and presumably for the same reasons? Is he marking his territory? If so, for whose benefit? Is it for those who might be leering at his wife to remind them that his wife is “spoken for”? Or is it to remind his wife that she’s married and to not react to any attention she’s getting? Doesn’t he trust her?

If it’s not the wife but the general public who needs a symbol that a good looking woman is married, what does this say about the state of society and its attitude towards women? Does it mean it’s fair game for anyone to lech or at an unmarried woman or harass her with unwanted attention? Does a woman need a mangalsutra and by extension a man to keep her safe? If it’s a husband’s duty to “protect” his wife, shouldn’t that sense of duty arise from a positive emotion like love or attachment rather than a negative one like jealousy? Just changing the look on the man’s face might have changed the entire feel of this ad.

Ads that show men pawing wives who’ve transformed their looks by using Champak Lal’s Fairness Formula (TM) are bad enough. But promoting jealous husbands as a good thing? Ugh, Dabur! Just not done. Please borrow Vicco’s young at heart Dadaji.

Dear Companies who make ads

Dear Fair and Lovely,

Could we tone down the promised fairness a notch please? Unless they decide to re-make Twilight in India, it might be hard to find a use for all that fairness. Thank you! But oh, thanks for the new and improved formula that will help me win a singing competition or become a news anchor instead of “just” an Air-hostess…

Dear all other Fairness Cream Peddlars,

When you do make ad’s, could you make them a little more interesting please? I mean, if you are asking me to part with hard earned money to buy some combination of chalk, saffron, gunk, and bleach that will render me fabulously fair, could you just promise me real fairness at least? For the kind of money you’re asking for, I don’t want to have to settle for Deepika Padukone’s complexion (I’m looking at you Neutrogena). Could I at least be lured in with images of this really fair (Chinese? Japanese?) Asian lady please?

I mean, Deepika is nice and all. And her dimples and legs are surely fabulous. But with my features, I really need a lighter shade before my husband will turn around to look at me. I need a complexion like Kareena Kapoor’s. Whiter than milk and lighter than cream. That’s the sort of thing I’m looking for. Or Katrina Kaif maybe? But no Priyanka Chopra, Kajol, and Ash please. No, wait, if these women are already beautiful without being fairer than fairness and whiter than the dewy morning lily, why do I need fairness cream? I’m confused now…

Oh, and makers of underarm lightening deodorants, you mean to say a man’s attention span and love for his woman are proportional to the fairness of her underarms? I’ve been wasting my money buying fairness creams, then! No wonder my husband doesn’t look away from discovery channel cricket when I walk by…

Dear Kellogs and other Nutritious Breakfast Makers,

I’m the modern woman you’re targeting who has Rs 300 to spend on a box of cereal. But really, I don’t think I want to have a “regular” system just because I want to jump with joy at the opportunity to hand my husband his socks. My husband’s a well brought up man who has been taught the basic life skills required to locate his own socks. And on the occasions that he does misplace them, he knows better than to expect his wife to find his socks for him. So can I have better reasons for eating your cereal?

Also, since I’m already buying fairness creams, anti aging serums, hair colour, perfume, and hair removal cream to attract and retain my husband’s attention even after four years of marriage, could I just eat breakfast for myself please?

Dear Advertisers of Sanitary Products,

Women really don’t want to be reminded in graphic detail of what happens during their periods. And men really don’t need to know what happens during a woman’s periods. And tweens and teens denied basic sex-ed do not need to grow up thinking menstrual fluid is blue. And I really, really don’t need to switch products just to be able to jump over a fence or pick up garbage on the street. I can do that on any day I choose with or without the aid of white pants and your products. Could you just stop advertising please? (ladies, check out this post about menstrual cups while you’re surfing).

Dear Axe and Gillette,

You guys have got to stop implying that it just takes one sniff or a smooth cheek to make a woman lose control over her simmering sexual energy. Really.

Dear Vicco Turmeric nahin Cosmetic,

Thank you for bringing a moment of sanity to my movie going experience. Please don’t ever do away with a Dadaji with strong teeth in your ads.

Thank you,
The Goddess A regular TV viewer