If you’re trying to crack a joke and you find yourself holding up a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, it’s usually a pretty good indicator that you’ve gone too far and need to rethink your life choices.
On her NRA TV program Relentless, conservative commentator Dana Loesch had some big opinions about the classic children’s program’s decision to partner with the United Nations and feature more stories from around the world. Mattel, Inc. announced that Thomas & Friends’s cast would also be expanding to “bring gender equality and international characters onto the show.”
The NRA literally has gone off the…rails. https://t.co/3bWuZkqXT8
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) September 13, 2018
It’s hard to see these changes as anything but positive steps, but Loesch found a way, bemoaning the need for diversity on a program where the characters are all trains and, thus, without ethnicity:
One of those trains, Nia, will be from Kenya to add ethnic diversity to the show. And—which, that, by the way, that’s where it gets really strange to me—because I’ve looked at Thomas and Friends, at their pictures, and I see gray and blue. Am I to understand this entire time that Thomas and his trains were white? Because they all have gray faces.
That's great. Let's politicize a children's show because they add more female characters and some that are more diverse. Shame on you NRA, shame on you.
— Laurie Edgar (@LaurieEdgar1) September 13, 2018
Loesch continued to air her frustration that the simple show about trains she knew and loved would now include…train stuff from other countries?!
How do you bring ethnic diversity? I mean they had to paint, what I guess they thought was some sort of African pattern on the side of Nia’s engine? How do you bring ethnic diversity to a show that literally has no ethnicities because they’re trains?
Jokingly wondering how she missed the fact that Thomas and his friends were all white, Loesch then aired a picture of the titular train wearing a KKK hood, saying:
Oh, was it because, I see it. It was the white hoods. And the burning train tracks. OK, fine, fair point. Fair. I get it. Thomas the Tank Engine has been a blight on race relations for far too long. Clearly this is overdue. Right?
so dark and ignorant
— Tony Cope (@tony_myriad) September 13, 2018
Though delivered as a joke, Loesch’s point was that changes to the program were “clearly” unnecessary because children don’t perceive trains as white, black, or any other race—they simply see them as trains. In her opinion, the move by Mattel to include more diversity in the program is “awful,” and she commented that the train’s next stop is “Virtue Town” while her chyron read “SJW’s now ruining childhood.”
I just want my kids to be mean & ignorant. Is that too much to ask?
— 🗽 Alyssa Brody 🗽 (@Brodysattva) September 13, 2018
Mattel has commented on Loesch’s use of the image, saying they “are not associated with images that promote hate and denounce any images of our brands that are being used to convey a message not in line with the values of the company.”
While the inclusion of more diverse characters is the most significant change the program, which airs around the world, has seen in its 70-year history, many feel its long overdue. While Loesch is correct in identifying the main characters as “trains” rather than “humans,” the show’s main cast, including both trains and humans, has been almost completely white during its entire run. Taking place of a fictional British aisle where every human the trains encounter is white, and each train acts and speaks similarly to those humans, most children will draw the natural conclusion that Thomas and his friend are also white.
But even if children don’t notice the show wasn’t representing any other cultures, they might certainly notice that Thomas and the vast majority of his friends were men. Emily was the single female train on the show, but not for much longer. The show will be introducing a train named Rebecca to help correct the show’s gender imbalance as well as Nia, a female train from Kenya.
Social media users slammed Loesch for her overreaction, many claiming her jokes had clear racist undertones:
SUUUUUPER classy, Dana. When people ask why our nation has problems remember you’re a part of the problem.
— Devon (@greenlady23) September 14, 2018
I always tell myself “it can’t get worse than this” and then I see something like this and I am proven wrong. I really hoped 100% of Americans had evolved from the 1950s. Time and time again I am proven wrong.
— Adam Hutchinson (@tennishutch) September 14, 2018
Worth getting upset about: A cartoon adding a new African train character
Nice “rifle” association.
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) September 13, 2018
Many Twitter users responded with some very apt images from the show itself:
— snively (@imthewoat) September 13, 2018
I can help with that pic.twitter.com/5nsXFvDdDA
— Noname, Nobody (@NolifeNoone) September 14, 2018
— Maureen (@MissyMac729) September 14, 2018
— Brad K (@bbubbles24) September 14, 2018
Many others were furious, though unsurprised, that Loesch would make such a vociferous argument against such a harmless change in a show for children.
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) September 13, 2018
Should we talk about how Thomas the Tank Engine series decided to introduce characters from other cultures (specifically Kenya) and the NRA decided to put KKK hoods on Thomas and his friends? They're LITERALLY promoting racism. Fuck them.
— Cameron (@EyeofCameron) September 13, 2018
I'm glad that Dana Loesch blocked me before she put KKK hoods on Thomas the Tank.
No, I am not making this sit up.
— Grant Stern (@grantstern) September 11, 2018
Though the image was meant as a punchline, the butt of the joke was ethnic diversity, which almost all people involved in the entertainment industry agree to be a very important issue. Loesch may want to get on the forward-thinking train while she still can!