Recently, I was watching the Nickelodeon show Paw Patrol (with the grands of course!) For those of you who have been buried in the politics or the tragedies of the day, Paw Patrol is a wildly successful young children’s program. The Paw Patrol is a band of hero rescue dogs led by a young tech-savvy boy, Ryder. In each episode they are called on to rescue a child, an animal, a business, their town, Adventure Bay, or its mayor, Mayor Goodway herself.
Like all hero stories, there must be an adversary or villain to thwart the do-gooders. In the case of Paw Patrol, the villain is Mayor Humdinger of Foggy Bottom and his cadre of Catastrophe Kittens. The villainous, Mayor Humdinger is the polar opposite of Mayor Goodway (as the names suggest). But the ‘opposition’ is deeper than their names alone. Mayor Goodway is a matronly dark-skinned optimistic, compassionate female who stands for safety, cleanliness, and kindness. As ‘good’ as she is, she is forever fretting, never-solving, and ever dependent on the Paw Patrol to avert Adventure Bay’s crises. Mayor Humdinger, in contrast, is a light-skinned, blond, top-hatted, cane-toting male who is arrogant, decisive, manipulative, and not above cheating to win. He has plenty of opportunity for cheating as when there is no rescue afoot, there is all manner of competition taking place. There are hot air balloon races, tidiest town contests, tallest cake, largest pizza competitions, and of course car races.
We watch Paw Patrol a lot. And I of course note some of the voiced and unvoiced social narratives. , While these stereotypes and hidden narratives are ever present, I found PAW PATROL to still be an acceptable children’s program promoting values of helping others, courage and honesty until in a recent episode, Mayor Humdinger told his nephew, who was losing the race of the day, “If you can’t beat ‘em, cheat em!”, and chuckled gleefully.
"Whaaaat???" my jaw was on the floor. My heart raced. Is this the narrative that we are embracing? Is this the narrative I want to pass on to my grands?
I am not naïve," If you can’t beat them, cheat them", is a long-held practice of business, and politics. Martin Luther made the observation in the 1500s that merchants cared nothing about their neighbors as long as they have their profit. And even in recent politics, the losing candidate tried to cheat for votes.
My apoplexy was to hear this narrative voiced so clearly, so emphatically, so gleefully, so this-is how-it-is-done matter of factly in the context of a children’s show. While, ultimately, the cheat failed, it was left up to the child to surmise that cheating was not acceptable. There was no catchy equal and opposite phrase; no grand statement with the opposite narrative- cheaters never win.
Parents, caretakers, teachers, any and all of us with the responsibility of raising children must be aware of the narratives presented in any form of media. Children's media, books, plays, and games are powerful tools in shaping the narrative of their lives.
You can find more inspiration and words from E.E. Pritchett on Instagram @DrPsPeace
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