Take a moment to consider what your kids are watching and how it will impact their future perception of authority, gender, and society.
If you’re a parent with young children you’re likely familiar with the cartoon Paw Patrol. The show is broadcast in 160 countries and rakes in $300 million in toy sales each year. For those lucky few who haven’t been exposed to Paw Patrol, here is a quick primer: A boy named Ryder and his team of search and rescue dogs (each with its own Village People-style theme and rescue vehicle) save the hapless residents of Adventure Bay on a daily basis.
On the surface, Paw Patrol seems like harmless fun. However, the themes presented to the impressionable audience depict a misogynistic, conservative authoritarian fantasy.
The cartoon presents a world where it is common practice for police to track people with surveillance drones. Its depiction of gender dismisses women’s position in the workplace and government. Finally, it builds a world where there are no social services, leaving citizens at the mercy of a private entity. In short, it is everything Trump’s Republican Party is pushing on the United States.
Let’s start with the desensitization of our youth to the police state. The leader of the Paw Patrol pups is a male police dog named Chase. Chase is simultaneously subservient to his boss, Ryder, and authoritarian toward his fellow Paw Patrol teammates. Chase is a classic authoritarian who manages to be both bootlicker and bully. In the early seasons, Chase is decked out in police blues with a sharp-looking officer’s cap.
The impressionable audience is taught that the police are unquestionably the authority in our society.
Chase is presented to the young audience as the leader of the Paw Patrol. Chase’s only qualification for this leadership role is that he is a police dog and, thus, is a natural figure of authority. The Paw Patrol’s primary task is to undertake rescue operations. This is a task generally more suited to a fire and rescue team, represented by the character Marshall, or equally by an airborne team, represented by the female helicopter pilot Skye.
A police dog presented as the obvious leader and authority, despite others being more suited to the task at hand, serves as an authoritarian lesson for the young viewer. The impressionable audience is taught that the police are unquestionably the authority in our society.
In season two, Chase transitions into an intelligence agency surveillance officer. Season two was released in 2014, only a year after Edward Snowden exposed the pervasive level of government surveillance in the United States. Chase is equipped with a surveillance drone that he uses to track other characters. In the United States, police departments have increasingly been using drones in law enforcement activities. Almost 350 police departments across the country have purchased drones primarily for surveillance purposes. However, the domestic police use of drones has gone beyond surveillance, with Dallas police killing a suspect with a robot carrying C4 explosives.
In 2014, the same year that Paw Patrol writers equipped Chase with a drone, the Obama administration used drones to kill 1,147 people. While children in the West grow up watching Paw Patrol and their lovable drones, the children of the Middle East are traumatized by the U.S. drone war.
Children’s television programming has become the first place children see how broader society functions.
Children’s television programming has become the first place children see how broader society functions. For many kids, particularly those in the upper middle class, Chase will be their first fictional representation of the police and the surveillance state we now live under. For society to have chance at becoming more free, more democratic, and less authoritarian, it cannot allow its youth to be indoctrinated to accept the surveillance state, the natural authority of the police, and the ubiquitous use of drones for surveillance and state-sanctioned murder.
During the first season and a half, only one of the seven Paw Patrol team members is female. Despite being a helicopter pilot, the female character Skye takes on a traditional feminine appearance. Skye wears a pink uniform and is noticeably smaller than the other Paw Patrol members.
In season two, a new female pup, Everest, is added to the cast. Everest is the antithesis of Skye. As a Siberian Husky, she is physically bigger, and her costume is gender neutral. However, Everest appears in only half the episodes and does not reside with the rest of the Paw Patrol. The depiction of females in Paw Patrol sends a message to the young audience that to be accepted in the workplace, a woman must take on a traditional feminine appearance.
The only other main female character is Adventure Bay Mayor Goodway. Goodway’s ethnicity is never specified, but she appears to the audience as a person of color. Goodway is portrayed as a bumbling fool, barely more competent than a child and singularly obsessed with her pet chicken, Chickaletta. The character frequently makes poor decisions that result in her needing rescued. In moments of crisis, the mayor will often panic until a male character has resolved the crisis. Also, Goodway’s great-grandfather was mayor, suggesting to the young audience that she attained the role by virtue of her family name, rather than her own qualifications.
The Mayor Goodway character shows the young audience that women, and people of color, in positions of authority cannot be relied upon and have not earned their position of authority. They are depicted as incompetent and unstable. There is no narrative reason to have this character be so incompetent, which makes it all the more offensive.
After the 2018 midterm elections, Republican women made up only 19 of the 123 female representatives in Congress. Contrast this against the new wave of insurgent progressive Democratic lawmakers represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Both representatives are women of color and strident critics of capitalism. Cultural output like Paw Patrol stands to poison young minds against people like Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, who both pose a threat to the white, misogynistic power structures of capitalism.
Society and Government
As for the show’s relationship to society and government, Adventure Bay seems to have no municipal services or social safety net. There is no public fire department, police force, or health care system. Instead, the residents rely on a Blackwater-style private enterprise that offers policing, firefighting, medical, trash and recycling services, and assorted search and rescue services.
Paw Patrol presents a worldview that is beneficial for the capital accumulation to the billionaire class.
Whether by accident or not, Paw Patrol presents a worldview that is beneficial for the capital accumulation to the billionaire class. The absence of a robust government, and the social services provided by government, allows for private businesses to step in and offer those services for their own financial benefit. Although Paw Patrol never shows any monetary transactions, it is not a huge leap to assume the team is paid for by the taxpayers of Adventure Bay.
Contrast Paw Patrol’s absence of government and emphasis on private business with British shows like Fireman Sam and Postman Pat. In these shows, the characters are clearly employees of their local government. The public servants are presented as either highly competent and brave (Fireman Sam) or as outstanding members of their community (Postman Pat). This stands in stark contrast with the incompetent and panicked Goodway of Paw Patrol.
In the United States, Paw Patrol is broadcast on the Nickelodeon network, which is owned by billionaire Sumner Redstone via National Amusements Inc. In the 2004 election, Redstone, a self-proclaimed “liberal Democrat,” supported George W. Bush over John Kerry. At the height of the Iraq War, Redstone told fellow business executives that he supported Bush because Bush was better for business:
I don’t want to denigrate Kerry, but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on.
Over past two years, National Amusements Inc. has spent $14 million to lobby for legislation that would benefit business.
It would benefit the billionaire class if the current crop of children’s television depicted government as incompetent, and private business as the only solution to our problems. The young viewers, our future workers and voters, are being indoctrinated with the idea that they should accept the economic status quo of weak government and strong private enterprise. They are presented with a world where wealth inequality in favor of the billionaire class continues unabated—and where no one should question, or strike against, the rule of private capital over the common good.
Paw Patrol is a soft and cuddly mirror of Donald Trump’s violent and misogynistic America. The drone war under Trump has escalated well beyond its scope under the Obama administration. Trump has suggested that police would be justified in roughing up citizens. The Trump administration and Republican-led legislature passed tax reform that redistributed wealth upward from the poor and middle class to the ultra-wealthy.
The ubiquity and themes inherent to Paw Patrol are a problem for those who want to see a world where women and people of color are treated with respect and dignity and are adequately represented in positions of authority. Paw Patrol is a problem for those who want to see the interests of the 99 percent put ahead of the 1 percent. Paw Patrol is a problem for those who want to see an end to violent U.S. imperialism abroad and to the pervasive surveillance in the U.S. domestic police state.
While your kids are home from school these holidays, do your kids and society a favor and turn off Paw Patrol.