Bright Wall/Dark Room October 2021: Parenting, The Pandemic, and Paw Patrol: The Movie by Andrew Root
We are pleased to offer an excerpt from the latest issue of the online magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room. The theme for their October issue, and their 100th, is “Transcendence.” The issue includes the below essay by Andrew Root on “Paw Patrol: The Movie.”
The last film I saw in theaters was Annihilation. My wife was nine months pregnant with our son, and had Braxton-Hicks contractions throughout. In the loudness of Annihilation’s climax, our usually sedate, not-yet-born baby boy was kicking and twisting, buffeted by the shimmering waves of noise. I can only imagine how it sounded to him. I wonder if he was scared.
And then 3 ½ years went by and I didn’t see a single movie in theaters. Parenting makes a lot of things difficult, and one of those things is going to the movies—by the time the pandemic hit and movie theaters closed, I didn’t even miss it. In the infancy of my parenting career, I found it so difficult to pursue my fledgling side-hustles—being a film writer (or a writer of any kind—even reading became insurmountable), dabbling in acting, comedy, and podcasting, and generally pursuing a life outside of the mid-sized town I grew up in—that I wrote a rather stern “break-up letter” to my hobbies. I told myself I would never make a living by writing. I would never break through. I was not as talented as my peers. I should take my constant discouragement as a sign and quit. I would be happier if I gave up. And I listened to myself, and I did quit, and it is not yet clear if I’m any happier.
Our son watches more television than we’d planned; one of the many side effects of living in pandemic times. We’ve watched My Neighbor Totoro together a few times, but he prefers shorter, episodic fare. My hobby portfolio includes two false starts at writing and recently finishing the reading of a novel that I started 18 months ago (if you’re one of those people who posts their book count on Instagram, just know that I see you and I am proud of you and I do not forgive you). It’s taken three weeks to write these three paragraphs, and only the looming threat of a deadline is getting words on the page.
But what I have done is watched hundreds of hours of children’s entertainment. Coming from a media background in criticism and textual analysis, children’s entertainment drove me insane. I hated the formulaic, repetitive, ear-wormy nature down to my core. The anger I felt in my whole body when I caught myself absentmindedly singing “Fruit salad…yummy yummy” was liquid hot. My ever-patient wife will attest to the number of times I would mutter “ridiculous” while we watched episodes of Dora the Explorer. (I just checked with her, and she confirmed that it was, “Oh, a BUNCH.”) I am not proud of how annoyed I was, and I wasn’t necessarily annoyed because of the shows. New parenthood for me was simply a time of total emotional dysregulation.
But one day, something cracked open. Maybe the shows wore me down, or maybe I just got tired of being angry all the time. Maybe it’s that everything that isn’t obviously fictional is triggering these days. I don’t know what happened, but I got invested. I started researching the people behind the shows. I dove deep into the history of the primary-hued Australian mega-sensation, The Wiggles (fascinating, replete with human drama, would read the book). I found out that the guy who made those creepy, early 2000s “Salad Fingers” flash animations now makes genuine children’s cartoons on YouTube. Eventually, I found myself engrossed in the characters, storylines, and indeed the physics of Paw Patrol, the ubiquitous canine-centric cartoon series which follows the adventures of 10-year-old Ryder and his team of rescue pups (namely, Marshall! Rubble! Chase! Rocky! Zuma! Skye! Yeah! They’re on the way!). Paw Patrol is rated “Y7” in Canada, and is nominally intended for children of preschool age, carrying a parental warning for “depictions of fear.”
There is every reason to be suspicious of Paw Patrol. It exists by design at that intersection between addictive TV show and aggressively marketed toy tie-ins. It was praised by Andrew Scheer—then-leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and chronic man-unable-to-read-the-room—for “promoting capitalism.” Chase, the German Shepherd police pup who serves as the show’s central hero, exists at the troubling nexus of “ACAB” and “ADAGB.” Would this simple cartoon push my son to buy into all of the harmful, deeply entrenched problems of our society? I don’t know, it’s a cartoon. But my kid loves Paw Patrol, and I love my kid. It sounds flip to put it that way, but the simplicity of the situation mirrors its truth. I love my kid, and this show makes him happy.
Backpack. Snacks. Water. Sound-canceling, over-the-ear headphones. “Spy Chase” action figure. Masks. Hand Sanitizer. Different packages of wipes with cleansers of varying strengths. Paw Patrol: The Movie was playing at our local movie theater, which had been closed for over a calendar year, and we were prepared. This would be my son’s first time seeing a movie on the big screen. We toured the arcade and the snack bar, looked at the lobby displays, and bought a bag of popcorn. “You know what’s special about this building?” he said. “The carpet.” The carpet was indeed special, a bold pattern of gold and white stars and planets on a rich, swirling, black, royal blue, and purple background. The carpets in movie theaters are very special; you won’t find them anywhere else.
3. Ryder Svg
10. Rubble Bone Svg
We are pleased to offer an excerpt from the latest issue of the online magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room. The theme for their October issue, and their 100th, is “Transcendence.” The issue includes the below essay by Andrew Root on “Paw Patrol: The Movie.” The last film I saw in theaters was Annihilation. My wife was…