No gripe is too big, no take is too small.
There is no reason to think about the Paw Patrol if you are over six years old. Maybe eight at the outside. Paw Patrol is a cartoon about a boy who leads a team of technologically advanced talking dogs on various rescue missions around Adventure Bay, an extremely clean town filled with and led by hapless idiots. It is not for you. But if you’re a parent of a toddler, especially a boy with a stereotypical obsession with vehicles of any kind, no matter how improbably designed, it might as well be the soundtrack to your life.
Adults dissecting children’s TV series always feels like a little bit of a cheat, like a value-neutral version of when blogs re-examine old pop-culture phenomena in search of the un-woke: Something would be wrong if you didn’t find something wrong. But the mind cries out for a means of coping with the ubiquity of these things anyway. If you don’t say something, even if only facetiously, the shows are the only ones talking. So, in the words of the only lyrics to the Paw Patrol theme I have allowed myself to memorize, let’s go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go!
The Paw Patrol is led by Ryder, a 10-year-old boy whose styling-waxed hair sweeps up off his head in the same shape as a bishop’s mitre but with several peaks in it, like looking at a particularly holy alpine hill. Every episode, he says “no job is too big, no pup is too small,” or some variation. He is awful, and I hate him. His haircut looks like anime, and the only thing I wish for him is to be whisked off to Neo-Tokyo to swell and spasm and eventually explode into a new hybridized biomass.
When Ryder is notified of a crisis, he springs into action by summoning the Paw Patrol, which includes:
Chase, a German Shepherd cop who drives a cop car;
Marshall, a dalmatian firefighter/paramedic who drives a transforming fire truck/ambulance;
Skye, a cockapoo who flies a helicopter;
Zuma, a labrador who pilots a hovercraft that can become a submarine, as they do in the wild;
Rubble, an English bulldog that drives a bulldozer;
Rocky, a mutt that drives a recycling truck that recycles itself into a tugboat as needed;
and Everest, a Siberian husky who rides a snowmobile, lives on a mountain and is called upon during ski mishaps, which is the furthest she was integrated into the plot after critics objected to the presence of only one female dog on patrol.
Once called, the pups report to The Lookout, which is a cross between a lighthouse and Seattle’s space needle, ringed with spiral slides. Ryder briefs the dogs on the emergency and designates relevant first responders, who then slide down the outside of The Lookout into their vehicles, to the dulcet tones of go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go! go!—which feels every time like an exhortation from a new Brazilian club music based on aerobics and fascism. Other dogs are called if the crises deepen, which is always. It has never occurred to Ryder to assign all the dogs every time.
These observations may not be scientific. I've tried not to learn more. I have told myself that, if I could get through five seasons of Breaking Bad Sundays on Twitter by refusing to write any of the myriad spoilers I saw to longterm memory and eventually marathon the show with virgin eyes, I could get through all 130+ episodes of Paw Patrol, multiple times, without further reflection. It is a horrible lie. I have seen this show 400 times. I have thought about it trying to sleep.
If the pups of the Paw Patrol all duplicate essential services already provided by the state or the municipality or county of Adventure Bay, then what are they there for? The short, real-world answers—i.e. the unhelpful ones—are these:
They are there to distract your child.
They are there to teach your child the value of teamwork.
They are there to get your child who loves stuffed animals to buy a vehicle.
They are there to get your child who loves vehicles to buy a stuffed animal.
I tried to get more answers when I saw Paw Patrol Live. Ordinarily, this is something I would never pay for—because I'm too cheap and dislike musical theater, but also because I heard they suck live—but a friend of mine who left college with a perfectly good poli-sci degree and ran away to join the circus was managing the show. Personally, I felt it was a far cry from his vaunted status as a Ringling Brothers fixer who lived in his own railcar and got to strong-arm hospital administrators when they couldn't understand the insurance paperwork for Brazilian acrobats with six names each, but I decided to reserve my comments on his manifold failures until after we'd collected the free tickets.
I learned nothing of course. I was instructed not to yell questions at the stage and instead was forced to take pictures of my son expressing curiosity and joy, which was not what I was there for. I did, however, reconfirm that there is a Musical Theater Body Posture and Hand Gesture Factory somewhere, churning out the same fists on hips and rainbow waves from stage left to stage right; all of these prominently appeared on the young man who played Ryder and bore a tomato-begging likeness to conservative bonsai twerp Ben Shapiro.
But if the pups and the live show were no help, the rest of Aventure Bay somehow provides less. This is a town where restaurant posters that show how to perform the Heimlich maneuver might as well hang a few feet to the right of posters showing how to chew and swallow.
This collective cultural inaptitude finds its champion and its apotheosis in Mayor Goodway, a woman of color whose voice inexplicably trills up and down a soprano range like a miniskirt-wearing Margaret Dumont accidentally sitting on an ice-cube Groucho Marx left on her chair. Vocally, if Mayor Goodway were a character in Amadeus, she’d only be able to talk for 30 seconds before Mozart imagined her as a giant pigeon beefing over a discarded park hot dog. Mentally, there is no other way to say this, but Mayor Goodway is a goddamn dumbass.
If there is a river, Mayor Goodway will fall in it. If there is a riptide, she will be carried out by it. She is the person who carries a plate-glass window across the street of Police Chase Boulevard every day. It is astounding that she ever leaves the house, consumed as she must be by telling every telemarketer her mother’s maiden name and the first street she lived on. Summarizing all the ways that Mayor Goodway can screw up tasks as complex as nosepicking would require summarizing nearly the whole series, but if you had to pick any one thing to focus on, it would be this: chicken ownership.
Why is Mayor Goodway hanging off a cliff by a camera strap? Probably because of her chicken. Why is she careening around town on an out-of-control rolling ball? It’s her damn chicken, Chickaletta, again. Well, more precisely, it’s because Mayor Goodway brings Chickaletta with her everywhere in her bag—like Paris Hilton with a stunted dog or Ben Shapiro’s handlers taking him backpacking—and yet seems to have zero familiarity with what chickens are like and how they behave. It’s a fucking chicken; if you turn your back to polish your great-great-great-great-grandfather’s statue in the town square for two solid minutes, it’s gonna wander off. There’s a four-year-old in my house yelling at the screen who can see this coming. I hope to Christ the Adventure Bay charter calls for a strong city council.
It’s tempting to say the fish rots from the head, but someone’s always losing an elephant, or driving a food truck onto the ice, or losing a monkey or a ferris wheel, or falling into a cave full of lava. Or Cap’n Turbot, a man who spends his entire life on water, is always getting foiled by his one nemesis—liquid—apart from the time that octopus sank his boat, which was, to be fair, 100 percent on the octopus.
But it’s also clear that Adventure Bay is not the only polity living in a fog of trilling wraparound-grin incompetence and runaway book trucks and inadvisable wild-bear recreation. Mayor Goodway’s nemesis, Mayor Humdinger, is equally useless, which makes them a perfect match and a terrible premise for antagonism. Watching him try to one-up Goodway is like watching Mr. Bean from the villain’s perspective, except Mr. Bean is somehow the smartest person in his universe. Most of Mayor Humdinger’s plans aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, have goals that weren’t worth a first thought, and always seem to be kicked off by a grandiose entrance whose speech amounts to, “Lo, it has been many days since you last saw me shoot myself in the ass, but I, like MacArthur, have returned to shoot myself in the ass.”
But this is the problem with looking at children’s cartoons with adult eyes. The little picture is always so absurd to grownups that it’s easy to miss the big picture. The eyes immediately focus on the fact that a dog is flying a helicopter or piloting a submarine without a permit, and they glaze past the fact that Paw Patrol is clearly a trojan horse intended to acclimate children to placing their trust and safety in the hands of the neoliberal security state.
Now, maybe this line of thinking comes from the same place as my watching my son rapturously cheering for Chase and wanting to hiss at him “please—stop—worshipping—the cop,” but consider: Who pays for the Paw Patrol? What contractor engineered dog-capable submarines, and did they come in under budget? What Adventure Bay legislation created the Paw Patrol and why? Why is rescuing someone from a pit or stopping a large melon beyond the abilities of normal municipal services? Why is it that Mayor Goodway—who should nominally be in charge of the Paw Patrol and the ultimate authority as to its deployment—must always ask if the Paw Patrol is available to help find her goddamn chicken instead of ordering them to? If she hasn’t already dispatched them to aid in another emergency, shouldn’t they be dragging their asses across the floor of The Lookout? Shouldn’t Ryder just be on his knees with a bottle of Resolve and a washcloth trying to rub stains out of the carpet, waiting for the phone to ring?
There are no answers to these questions, short of, “That’s how we’ve been doing it, and that’s how we’ve got to continue doing it,” which are identical to the only answers the contractor-riddled Deep State accords the American electorate when called upon to justify the billions in largesse it absorbs for incompetently and/or maliciously murdering a bunch of extra Iraqis. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the answers are the same, because the system is too. I submit to you that a leader of color acting like a bumbling ignoramus blind to existential threats while in pursuit of a pet synonymous with cowardice represents a cynical animated allegorical attack on the foreign policy of Barack Obama, on behalf of a mercenary security state.
Yes, Ryder might vaguely resemble cartoon Ben Shapiro, but he’s collectible Erik Prince of Dog Blackwater—a privileged child given a limitless public budget to run a personal mechanized security force commanding the land, air and sea and answerable to no one, because the public has been cowed by the need to cut twice and measure once in the face of emergency. Zuma’s sub might as well be christened The Shock Dogtrine.
The Paw Patrol is privatized power and profit and socialized funding, unaccountable to public oversight, ungoverned by elected officials and acting only when it consents to let its interests coincide with panicked public needs. They must be brought to heel. We must know what happens to all the gold they keep finding, pirate or otherwise. The Paw Patrol should be audited, and Ryder should be subpoenaed to testify before the Adventure Bay city council. If they refuse, collar them immediately and lock them up.
The imperialist Paw Patrol plots to loot the natural resources of another conquered city-state. Photo by the author.