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You Know What Happens to Useful Engines? They Get Used. Also, Sir Topham Hatt Can Suck It. Viva La Revolución, &c.

You Know What Happens to Useful Engines? They Get Used. Also, Sir Topham Hatt Can Suck It. Viva La Revolución, &c.

Lately, the blogosphere is awash with platitudes about productivity. Or utility. Or, just generally speaking, being useful. Like, if you write a blog, you are apparently charged with the responsibility of demonstrating how productive you are, or of providing people with tips on how to be more productive themselves. Or more useful. To other people.

Which, I guess, you know, is not a bad idea in the abstract, except for the fact that we are bloggers. Regular people are just now starting to hear of us. They still don’t understand what we are or why we exist, so why in Christ’s name would they be coming to a bunch of bloggers–Gen Xers, for god’s sake–for tips on productivity? Or utility? Or whathaveyou? Aren’t we known for being the laziest generation ever?

Look, I don’t need to tell you people that my posts are rarely useful. Not only can I tell you they are not fluff-free, I have to say that often they are full of fluff. They are like 100% fluff. In fact, I think you could almost argue that I pride myself on consistent fluff production. And yes, maybe that explains why certain useful bloggers are fabulously successful after less than a year of blogging and meanwhile I trudge on, mired in a fog of reader alienation and an unspecific, generalized ennui.

So, as I lay awake last night, wallowing in my own uselessness and the lack of utility of my prose, I started thinking about Thomas the Tank Engine. Because maybe it seems unrelated to you, but I find culture is the best way for me to make sense of myself in the grander order of things. Foucault and I have that in common. Except he uses high culture paintings and shit on occasion, and I usually stick to the cultural oeuvre of Sprout TV. Also, he seems to have been fairly well respected by at least some of his peers. But, still, same idea.


If you haven’t watched Thomas & Friends, you should know a couple of things:

  1. They live on an island called Sodor. Yes. Sodor. More on that later;
  2. There are a bunch of different kinds of engines (and other transportation vehicles like helicopters and buses), some of them are faster and more sleek, others are tougher and able to carry more weight, some are pleasantly tempered and better suited to dealing with passengers. But one thing they all have in common? is to strive to be “useful” to their vassal leader, Sir Toppam Hatt, who is a fat man who always wears a tux and occasionally looks like Alfred Hitchcock;
  3. The eponymous star engine of the series, Thomas, is a tank engine, and as such functions as a kind of Everyman–though he is numbered 1 in the fleet of Toppam Hatt’s railroad, this is just a figurehead placement, because he is not the fastest or the best, or the strongest, or even necessarily the most useful. But he does have a good disposition, and shows the best propensity of all the engines to learn from his mistakes and maintain his good attitide.

So, as is the case with blogging, the highest compliment that can ever be paid to an engine is that he/she is “useful” to Sir Toppam Hatt, aka The Man. The desire to be “useful” is so ingrained, in fact, that the title can be held out as a threat: like when Thomas has to do a job he doesn’t want to do, like hauling stones from the quarry (yeah, I don’t know what the stones are for, either), and he is told that to do so without complaint would prove that he is a very useful engine.

Look, I’m all for letting kids know that they should try to help out and accept their lot in life. I mean, we cannot all be like Gordon, the super fast express train. Some of us are born with a bodily composition more akin to that of Bertha, the ancient mack truck. And yeah, physically speaking, maybe there’s not a whole lot to do with that other than to strive to be as useful as possible with what we’re given.

But, OTOH, not everything in life is so rigid. Some people might be born into Thomas’ middle-of-the-road abilities, but through hard work and hard-nosed persistence, find themselves running a railway full of working stiff Gordons! Who says you have to have god-given ability to succeed? Isn’t a marker of success the ability to find smart people to work for you? Isn’t that the American dream?

Which brings me back to the Isle of Sodor. Because WTF. I guess if I had never heard the name ‘England” before, I might think that was freaky deaky too. But maybe not. Maybe your anagrams are showing, Dr. Lechter.



That’s right–it stinks! Something’s rotten in the state of sodor!

Look, we all know I don’t know where I’m going with this. I guess this is to say, what I love about blogging is that I can just come here and talk about crap that I think about. And use visual aids. And yeah, some people are annoyed, and it’s a waste of time, but maybe that’s what my use is. Maybe my ability to be useful is dependent upon creating ways for people to waste their time. That might just be the biggest service I’ve ever provided for anyone, and I think I’m OK with that.

Comments (10)

  1. Dec 30, 2008

    I’ve never seen Thomas the Tank Engine, but it sounds awfully Montessori/Fascist to me. Before the information in your post I had assumed the Engines where all phallic symbols which was brilliant because Erikson says that preschool-age is when children first define their sexual identities.

    Business blog posts about productivity tips make me laugh, because the first tip really should be “stop reading so many stupid productivity blogs and do something.”

    Deb´s last blog post..It’s cause of you I’m like this, Santa. I wish I could quit ya!

  2. Kerry
    Dec 30, 2008

    Okay, first off, you totally have to get the Thomas Christmas DVD. There’s a segment on there where Sir Topham Hatt goes through and shows you each engine, and tells you a little about it. It’s like a little mini-performance review. He totally talks smack about them, and it so parallels corporate life that it’s kinda funny. I have worked with a lot of Sir Topham Hatts. Also, he talks about how he started out in the railway, and he worked his way up, and he used to be called The Fat Director until the Queen made him a “Sir.”

    Also, Thomas is based on a series that a preacher wrote for his kid to get him to be obedient and useful. I know this because I have a strange habit of looking up all of my kids’ favorite shows on Wikipedia. How’s THAT for productive.

    I like your fluffy posts. They’re my first stop every morning. Providing a place people look forward to visiting every day is pretty productive, in my view.

  3. Dec 30, 2008

    Awww, thanks Kerry. Maybe we should create another useless blog award, and call it the Toppam Hatt Useless Blogger Award. That’s hilarious that he was called the Fat Man.

    @Deb, there’s definitely some phallicism–it would be tough to avoid it without all the trains. But it’s definitely more of an endorsement of a rigid class system, not unlike England’s, I suppose.

  4. Dec 30, 2008

    Yeah but those useful bloggers are all earnest sincerity. I hate earnest sincerity. It’s so not funny. And far too earnest and sincere. Almost smarmy. Those smarmers, smarming smarmily at us. Bastards.

    Tracy Lynn´s last blog post..Twelve Guests Of Christmas 2008- Kaply, Inc Version

  5. Dec 30, 2008

    WHO is fabulously successful after less than a year of blogging? Names, please. And frankly, usefulness is terrifically overrated. Some of the most beautiful things in the world are completely useless, like Lamborghinis and Paris Hilton. (I kid about Paris, I don’t think she’s beautiful, definitely useless, through.)

    J.´s last blog post..Merry Blogiversary To Me

  6. Dec 30, 2008

    LOL@Tracy Lynn

    @J., one of the blogs I read and really like, simplemom.net, has had kind of a meteoric rise. She’s got all kinds of useful information and zero fluff.

  7. Kerry
    Dec 30, 2008

    The thing about meteoric rises is that they often lead to meteoric falls. Plus, people trash you on the internet. I’m amazed at the things people say about some famous bloggers. It’s, like, not cool at all.

    One thing about blogs I’m learning is that it’s about building relationships. If you’re a flavor-of-the month, people will read you, but then they’ll want a different flavor next month. If they actually like YOU, they’ll be loyal, and they’ll work harder to make smart comments, refer friends, etc. To make that connection, I think, you need a little fluff. Otherwise it’s impersonal, and there’s no loyalty from readers.

    Also, the finance stuff is not at all fluffy…and my son freakin’ loves that Boon sippy cup. I told him a cool kid in LA has one, and if he didn’t want to be a dorky cheesehead, he’d better start sipping, dammit, and it totally worked. So now Mini has a groupie.

  8. Dec 30, 2008

    Simplemom is actually a great site. It’s not the place to go to laugh or waste time, no, but it’s got some great content. But yeah, it’s a different concept. It’s very hard to write about (for example) personal finance and make it entertaining. But it is useful, so if people are interested in that, it’s great.

    LOL@Mini having a groupie! I’m glad your son loves the cup!

  9. Dec 30, 2008

    Productivity? Utility? Uh-huh. If I was productive I sure as hell wouldn’t be blogging.

    Sadly, my children love Thomas. I’m not sure what the show is supposed to be teaching them though. Those damn trains are all self-centred and vindictive and never learn anything. Ok, I guess it is teaching them something about real life…

    Captain Dumbass´s last blog post..A Tale Of Two Sicknesses, or The White Plague

  10. Dec 31, 2008

    @Captain Dumbass, my son loves Thomas as well! He will stop in his tracks if he sees Thomas ANYWHERE, latest example: sippy cups. Man, he loves those sippy cups!

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