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Calls For 'Paw Patrol' To Be Cancelled Were Mostly Jokes. Do They Have A Point?

Media portrayals of law enforcement are under scrutiny right now.
"Paw Patrol," a cartoon featuring a group of canine rescuers, is mega-popular among young children.
"Paw Patrol," a cartoon featuring a group of canine rescuers, is mega-popular among young children.

“Paw Patrol” is a massive industry. The show about a group of rescue dogs who keep their neighbourhood safe with the help of a plucky boy named Ryder airs in 160 countries and is among the shows most watched by pre-schoolers. One of the creators made so much money that in 2017, he told a Globe and Mail reporter that he had recently moved to Monaco for tax purposes.

But following the death of George Floyd, police brutality is the forefront of everyone’s minds and conversations about defunding the police are ramping up. Should we also be re-evaluating the lessons taught by a kids’ show about a private security team?

People on Twitter started to joke about a possible cancellation earlier this week.

The declarations about the show are largely tongue-in-cheek, but they come at a time when shows that glorify the police are being scrutinized.

“The overwhelming mountain of cop shows amounts to a decades-long cultural education in who deserves attention, and whose perspective counts most,” Kathryn VanArendonk wrote in an essay for “Vulture” titled “Cops Are Always the Main Characters.”

“In stories of American crime, TV teaches us that cops are the characters we should care about.”

She goes on to point out the vast list of shows centred around law enforcement: every spinoff and variation of “Law and Order,” “CSI,” “NCIS,” as well as “Criminal Minds,” “Blue Bloods,” “Chicago PD,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” “Cold Case.” Cop shows make up more than 60 per cent of prime-time programming on the biggest networks in the U.S. The police officer’s perspective is one we hear and are told to identify with regularly. That’s just a part of consuming pop culture.

Two reality shows centring police officers were taken off the air this week: “Cops” and “Live PD.” Both depict law enforcement’s run-ins with real people. “Cops” has long been accused of exploiting working-class and often racialized people’s pain, and yet it ran for 30 seasons. And the cancelation of “Live PD” comes after reports from two local news sources that its crew filmed the death of a Black man in police custody.

Of course, “Paw Patrol” is nothing like that. Some of the show’s defenders point out that #notallpups on the show are cops. The show’s main dog character, a German shepherd named Chase, is a police officer, but the team is rounded out by a firefighter dog, a construction dog, a recycling dog, a water rescue dog, and an aviator dog.

And many parents say the show “Paw Patrol” encourages teamwork, as well as teaching kids to care about animals and feel like they can make a difference in the world.

“‘Paw Patrol’ seems harmless enough, and that’s the point,” Amanda Hess wrote in the New York Times. “The movement rests on understanding that cops do plenty of harm.”

The “Vulture” essay also points out that “good cop” shows — like the (mostly) family-friendly comedy series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — carry even more power, because their casual portrayal of honest, kind-hearted police officers are more likely to generate empathy for police officers than the grittier, more violent shows.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is an ensemble comedy featuring a diverse, inclusive group of police officers in a New York precinct. Its cop characters are good and caring, addressing issues of police mistrust by racialized communities and institutional bias. One episode last season featured cops letting a criminal get away, because the only witness to the crime was an undocumented immigrant who would face deportation if they spoke to the police.

The show now has to reckon with what it will do with its legacy, now that it’s set to come back for an eighth season. Stephanie Beatriz, who plays a cynical, snarky detective on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” donated USD $11,000 to Emergency Response Fund (ETC) in the aftermath of ETC. She urged other actors who play officers to do the same.

The social media accounts for “Paw Patrol” haven’t been updated since June 2, when they tweeted that they would be listening to Black voices.

Adults whose kids love the mega-popular show have been trying to analyze its content for a while now. It was the subject of some “culture wars” here at home earlier this year: a criminology researcher told CBC News that he believes the show teaches kids to embrace capitalism by portraying the government as corrupt and ineffectual, with the dogs of the Paw Patrol acting as a stand-in police force.

Several weeks after that article was published, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer released a video defending both “Paw Patrol” and free-market capitalism. He hasn’t yet weighed in the current conversation about the show, although the jokey calls for its cancellation were derided by both Ted Cruz and Eric Trump.

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