There is a cultural reckoning happening, reevaluating how police and law enforcement is depicted in entertainment and its impact on our own ability to think and act critically on these issues.
Which brings us to Paw Patrol.
The children’s show about a team of puppies that help their community (albeit with what must be billions in technology, vehicles, and other equipment) has been put under the microscope, in particular its character Chase. Chase is a German Shepard pup and the team’s resident police officer.
Last week, when the show tweeted out a call to amplify Black voices, it was met with its own version of “Defund the Police.”
Perhaps naming your main character police dog “chase” is a bit tone deaf to the suffering of people who have actually been on the receiving end of dogs used as weapons by the police. My 3 year old calls his stuffed Chase “Jace”.
— Laura C. Bernardo (@LauraCarmella) June 3, 2020
— da autonomous z0ne ???????????????? (@WINDuckyQuaCKer) June 2, 2020
Obviously many of these calls are jokes, but invoking one of the most popular kids shows on the planet does illustrate the extent to which—and how young—we’re given an explicitly heroic view of police. According to The New York Times, crime shows are TV’s most popular genre, and are more than 60% of prime-time drama programming on the big four broadcast networks.
Criticism of police in entertainment has already had a significant impact, with both Cops and Live P.D. being canceled this week. In a statement, A&E, the network that has aired Live P.D., said, “This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD. Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them.”
My 5-year-old daughter has been watching Paw Patrol religiously for the bulk of her short life. In my experience, Chase’s primary function is laying out traffic cones so the rest of the pups can get some work done. He’s a meticulous project manager. As stereotypes go, this pup is as guilty as reinforcing those about Germans as he is law enforcement. Also, he’s obviously not a member of the Adventure Bay Police Department, so I guess at best he’s some kind of special constable, and at worst the sole member of a small dog paramilitary organization.
I asked my daughter what she thought of Chase, and she said, “I think he’s brave, and his favorite color is blue.” What are some of his other qualities? “He’s always there when people need to be rescued. And I think he’s playful.”
My one-person focus group appears to confirm the stance of the show’s critics. Of course we also have to remember that, as Jimmy Kimmel once pointed out, this is a place full of adults who, when faced with problems, call on a troupe of puppies to solve it for them.
However, if we’re worried about the impressions that this show may have on kids’ critical thinking of societal roles, it’s my daughter’s impression of Marshall the firefighter pup that may spark concern for fire departments and emergency services. “He pretty much is clumsy, and he’s the one who always thinks he can’t do anything,” she says. “He’s lazy and falls over all the time.”