A hundred years ago I wrote a post in defence of TV for young kids, and promised that I’d follow it up with some tales of Hattie and Joe’s favourite programmes. As I’m now supposed to be writing my dissertation, this feels like the perfect time to follow through on that promise.
Today I want to talk about the much-maligned Canadian work of art that is Paw Patrol. In case you’ve never seen the programme, here are the main characters:
Emily Whites was on NewstalkZB recently and mentioned how much she hates it, and it fails Thalia at Sacraparental’s Maisy Test: there are six main pups, and only one of them is a girl. I totally understand why this programme is a write-off for many feminist parents – there is no reason why Marshall the firefighter pup and Chase the police officer pup couldn’t have been girls, for example. But I’m going to roll up my sleeves and try to defend these six plucky pups and Ryder, their weirdly precocious ten year old abandoned child of a pup(pet) master.
Hattie and Joe started watching Paw Patrol when they were three years old, and during our first episode I commented on how silly it was that there was only one girl, and so many boys. They totally agreed – of course they did, they were young children who still thought that Mummy was always right, and also they live in a house that always rates boys and girls as equal – and since then they’ve regularly commented on the gender imbalance: “Why can’t there just be three girl pups and three boy pups, Mummy?” They have no problem holding a dual position of both understanding the stupidity of the gender imbalance, and also enjoying the pups and their adventures.
In other words, I believe that young children can – and should – be taught to be critical consumers. They know that the gender imbalance is wrong, and they’ve already learned to speak out against it. I hope that when they inevitably encounter similar power imbalances in the real world they’ll be able to recognise them, and feel confident to speak out against them. If I limited their viewing to programmes that had a 50:50 gender split I would miss the chance to teach them about this stuff. Also, I believe that there are some redeeming features of Paw Patrol that make the pups’ gender imbalance worth tolerating…
1. Skye represents so many female workers
Yes, it’s VERY annoying that there’s only one girl, and also that she’s physically smaller than the others, and dressed in pink. However, let’s not fool ourselves: Skye’s the real MVP of the Paw Patrol. In 99 adventures out of 100 everything could be sorted out in five minutes, if only Ryder would get his shit together and call up Skye from the get-go. She’s got a great attitude, she doesn’t make a fuss and fall over all the time like some pups I could mention *cough*MARSHALL*cough*, or complain about having a bath *side eyes at Rocky*. She just keeps her wits about her and gets the job done. In other words, Skye perfectly represents the vast majority of adult women in the workplace: doing the work of five (male) people, with no fuss. And Ryder’s a typical control freak male who has been promoted prematurely and doesn’t know how to manage his team efficiently, or make the best use of their expertise. I see that glint in Skye’s weirdly pink eyes. One day she’ll be running the whole enterprise, and Ryder will be making the sandwiches.
2. Mayor Goodway is a rock star
The voting adults of Adventure Bay may be absolute halfwits, given how they choose not to have any emergency services and instead leave everything to Ryder and his pups, but they’ve got one thing going for them: they keep electing Mayor Goodway. Admittedly, she has appointed a chicken as her Deputy Mayor, and she also ends up in perilous situations on a regular basis. But who are we to judge that a chicken can’t be a perfectly capable Deputy Mayor? After all, the role of a deputy is to support the person in charge, and Mayor Goodway clearly gains a lot of emotional support from her relationship with Chickaletta. However, I do wish she’d just bite the bullet and report Mayor Humdinger from neighbouring Foggy Bottom to the authorities, as he’s definitely a crook. But hey – Mayor Goodway gets the job done on behalf of her constituents! Adventure Bay is a beautiful, prosperous place, and she works hard (in many episodes) to organise great civic events and promote her home town. She’s a feminist icon worth celebrating! And let’s not gloss over the fact that she seems to be a member of the only black family in Adventure Bay, but has still been voted Mayor – she’s the Oprah of the Paw Patrol universe.
3. Everest is a cool pup
Although she was obviously a belated attempt to even up the gender balance amongst the pups, occasional helper Everest has been a great addition to the team. She’s a plucky outdoorsy kind of a pup, and Jake would never be able to run Adventure Bay’s ski fields without her.
4. Farmer Yumi gets shit done
Look, I don’t know what anybody in Adventure Bay would eat if it wasn’t for Farmer Yumi. She’s a tireless worker, and until season three (when she marries Farmer Al), she appears to run her substantial farm single-handedly. And she rocks dungarees the entire time, because she isn’t in the slightest bit concerned with your gender stereotypes and appearance standards. She isn’t even afflicted with the stereotypical girly eyelashes that EVERY cartoon gives its female characters!
5. Katie is living her dream
With her pretty face and her pink dress, running her pet grooming shop, Katie might not appear to be an obvious feminist icon, but to think that would be to deny her agency and assume that stereotypically feminine preferences are somehow less valuable than more exciting ‘masculine’ activities, like training a troop of pups to save the entire town on a daily basis. Katie is a proud business owner who rocks her look, and she should be celebrated! Yay Katie, living her best life! Also: stinky dogs are very unpleasant, so thank God for Katie.
And setting aside the show’s feminist champions, there are many other things that make Paw Patrol worth watching…
6. Mr Porter is the grandfather we all deserve
This is Alex Porter. He is a little shit, always causing trouble and often requiring the services of the entire Paw Patrol to rescue him from mayhem of his own making.
Although we never see or hear about Alex’s parents, it seems fairly obvious that they’ve dumped him on his grandfather and done a runner. And does Mr Porter complain? No, he does not. He sells fruit and vegetables, runs a restaurant, bakes amazing cakes, AND puts up with Alex’s unending bullshit. He’s a Grandparent Raising Grandchildren, and he deserves a round of applause.
7. The other male characters are mostly fools
Yes, it’s frustrating that the star pups are mostly boys, but anything they do to suggest an attitude of male superiority is rapidly eroded by the utter shenanigans of people like Captain Turbot:
His French cousin, Francois Turbot:
And Daring Danny X (an absolute halfwit, and probably who Alex will be when he grows up, if Mr Porter doesn’t wise up and introduce some way of linking consequences to Alex’s delinquent behaviour):
These three minor characters frequently find themselves in positions of great peril, necessitating help from the pups. Nobody watching them could conclude that the men of Adventure Bay are worth emulating, and while it’s nice that Captain Turbot and Francois Turbot are intellectuals, their inability to plan, or even to recognise that big black clouds over Adventure Bay probably means that it ISN’T a good day to go fishing, kind of cancels out their book learning.
8. Mayor Humdinger shows that the world is unfair
Every great saga needs the dramatic tension of an occasional villain, and Paw Patrol is no different. Enter Mayor Humdinger. This guy is a piece of work. God knows what state Foggy Bottom is in, because we never see him actually doing anything constructive – he spends his time training his ill-intentioned Catastrophe Crew to disrupt anything good planned by Major Goodway. On several occasions his misdeeds should result in him serving five-to-seven years in a medium security prison, but he always seems to get away with it (probably because the closest thing Adventure Bay has to a police force is Chase, the police pup). So, kids learn that a) crime doesn’t pay and will leave you miserable and frustrated, but also b) criminals often walk amongst us. Hmmm. It’s quite hard to put a positive spin on this man never being held accountable for his crimes, but at least he’ll probably make Hattie and Joe innately suspicious of old men with moustaches, and I have absolutely no problem with that.
9. It’s all about community spirit
The number one reason why I let the kids watch Paw Patrol is because the entire premise of the show is that this band of pups will always drop everything to help anybody who needs it – even if that person is a dickhead, like Mayor Humdinger. They never question whether the person is worthy of help. They personify (or dogify) community spirit, and I am very happy for Hattie and Joe to absorb that message: that we should help others whenever we can, with whatever talents and attributes we possess. And it’s a good way to emphasise the importance of team work. When I’ve been dealing with a child determined to disrupt our family with tantrums or general misbehaviour, I’ve talked about how our family is a team, and how it runs smoothly when everybody plays his or her part. The same goes with Paw Patrol.
10. The characters are unfailingly nice to each other
Aside from the dastardly Mayor Humdinger, you’ll never hear a character say a mean thing on Paw Patrol. I’m fairly discerning about what TV the kids get to watch, and my least favourite thing is when children’s programmes show characters bickering, teasing each other, or generally being unkind. It’s very important to me that Hattie and Joe grow up to be kind little people, and I believe that Paw Patrol models that really well (as opposed to something like Simon, which we banned from our house because all of the characters are vile little shits who rarely say a kind word to anybody). The pups are delightful to each other. They gently poke fun at Rocky’s hatred of water, for example, but there’s never a mean tone to it.
Look, I’m not saying that Paw Patrol is perfect. For starters, the entire premise of the show is weird, with Ryder as the biggest enigma. Who is this ten year old boy, and where are his parents? Who finances his lifestyle, and how did he learn to build things like the pups’ vehicles, or the mighty air patroller? Why does he spend Christmas Day alone? You’d think that one of the adults on the show would invite him over occasionally, but no, they’re all too busy getting washed out to sea, or mistaking a marauding beaver for a monster, to spare a thought for the prepubescent child who saves their bacon on a daily basis.
And let’s wind it all back: how did the Paw Patrol start? We see in an early episode how Rubble the construction pup joined the crew, but where did the other pups come from? I’d really like a flashback episode.
Also, now that Ryder has realised that he can build Robo-dog, will we ever see a day where he tries to replace the flesh-and-blood pups with a team of robo-pups? If that does happen, I’m calling dibs on adopting Zuma – he’s definitely my favourite.
And my biggest question of all: why is that all the dogs can talk, but no other animals can? I’d love to hear some banter from the Catastrophe Crew, for example. They’d have some tales to tell about the ongoing shit-storm that is a typical Foggy Bottom council meeting. And somebody needs to ask Chickaletta if she actually wants to be Deputy Mayor, because she might be yearning for a quiet life on Farmer Yumi’s farm, but just doesn’t have any way to tell Mayor Goodway.
And a bonus question from Hattie: why hasn’t anybody produced Catastrophe Crew toys? What a missed opportunity to enable parents like me to bribe their kids on a regular basis!
One final thought
Although I rate this show highly and am happy to recommend it, take my advice and NEVER watch the season three episode ‘Friendship Day’. It has Ryder and the pups singing, and it’s bloody dreadful. You’re welcome!