The Heavy Load We Carry with Every Act of Subversion

Photograph by Jose Padua
The title of the episode of Thomas the Train
is James Works It Out and because my mind
is half fried half the time and my ideas half
baked because it’s only noon I’m wondering
if this is an episode my four-year old son
really should be watching. What, indeed,
is James working out? Is it a male problem
my son is years away from needing to know
about and what exactly does James do to work
it all out? I’ve never been one to believe that
every single problem has a solution, nor have I
lived my life expecting more than individual
moments of contentment, yet even I never
expected that sudden disturbances in my
progression of thought would be the direct
consequence of my pondering the dilemmas
and predicaments of anthropomorphic cartoon
trains. As for the work, the labor it takes for
James to take that “it” and work it, change it,
turn it this way then out and into this story is
what worries me the way a room I’m about to
walk into begins to worry me when the power
suddenly goes out and all the light is gone and
the only thing that’s left is the sound of my feet,
my voice, my breathing—sounds I should have
learned to trust by now but don’t, in that I don’t
trust that they’re not going to leave me without
any kind of warning, which isn’t to say that
sort of thing doesn’t happen because it does.
But aside from the immediate subject matter
of the episode at hand, there are other things
regarding the Thomas the Train show that give
me pause. First is that the island where it takes
place, Sodor, is one letter away from being
Sodom, and second, that the guy who runs the
place and all the trains, Sir Topham Hatt, is
a lot like Snoop Dogg in that his mind is on his
money and his money is on his mind, but that’s
actually what’s sort of cool about him, because
what isn’t so cool is that Sir Topham Hatt is
probably the whitest character in all of children’s
programming, and represents, to me, capitalism’s
obsessive, inflexible drive toward obscene levels
of profit—any variation from that path and you’re
at the receiving end of the wrath of Sir Topham
Hatt, his rants, his tirades, and ultimately his
withholding of a train’s rightly earned wages.
Or at any rate that’s what I see. And with the
episode being called James Works It Out,
you know that whatever happens, it’s being
worked out not in James’s favor but for the
benefit of that fat, white capitalist, Sir Topham
Hatt. Though my son stands by the side of the
television watching and listening to the dialog
among the trains, he is still too young to grasp
the message of cooperation and the suppression
of the individual for the purpose of exalting
the corporate entity. Sir Topham Hatt is stern
or at best scary to him and he has no idea of
what he represents. But when he’s older, he’ll know,
that just as morning approaches afternoon and the
vestiges of slumber are cast off that the continuing
light of day warms both concrete and soil, and that
as the temperature in the air rises and we breathe in
the fumes, we begin to ask for something more
than bread and water in exchange for our allegiance.
When the television goes off, the room is quiet
with our thoughts, and the clear cool air seems
as still as an early morning’s mist; we straighten
our legs, lift our arms from our chairs, and clear
our throats as if to speak because it will soon be
time to move ahead and pick up our heavy books.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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