This last one is all about children’s television. It’s become a part of my life again ever since we had the boy in 2015, and things have changed a great deal since I were a lad!
I grew up watching things like Button Moon.
and Thomas the Tank Engine (the old series). My brother reminded me a while back just how dark that series could be, given the age range at which it was aimed. Have a look at the example below to see the kind of messages that were being fed to us children back in the day. In this story, Henry decides that he doesn’t want to come out of a tunnel because he’s worried that he’ll get his new paintwork dirty. The solution that his human masters arrive at is quite terrifying.
These days I find myself sitting with the boy on occasion, watching one of his two favourite shows: Paw Patrol or Blaze and the Monster Machines. He also enjoys Dinosaur Train, Dora the Explorer and the animated versions of Julia Donaldson’s books.
I sit there, watching these stories unfold before my eyes, and certain thoughts creep into my mind. Once there, I find it next to impossible to get rid of them. Here are some of my observations.
Blaze and The Monster Machines
This program, apparently, was given the green light in order to increase the number of young people interested in jobs in engineering. There is always a science aspect to each episode, dealing with things like friction, aerodynamics and centripetal force. Oh, and Blaze always wins. Nobody seems to mind except Crusher. The rest all happily accept his dominance. Maybe he’s got the edge for a reason, though. He’s the only one out of the whole cast who has a human driver (his friend, AJ).
All the other cars are autonomous. Or are they? Is there a human inside each one that we just don’t see? Are they imprisoned inside, unable to escape? If the cars are autonomous and therefore able to drive themselves, then how come Blaze needs a human driver? Who actually drives Blaze? Does he drive himself? If that’s the case, then why is AJ there? Or is AJ in charge? Is Blaze his slave? I don’t think so as frequently, Blaze is seen driving around by himself without AJ. Maybe the two of them working in partnership with each other is the thing that tips the balance and means that they always win everything. Don’t the others get jealous? Couldn’t someone else have a go on AJ once in a while? Also, wouldn’t they have banished Crusher at some point since he is so criminally reckless and mean-spirited every episode.
Plus, for a show based around physics and engineering, it takes some hefty liberties with some of the fundamental laws. I mean, how come Blaze engages his ‘blazing speed’ function and it includes any other cars he wants to include, even though they’re not connected? Also, when he changes into other things like boats, where do the materials come from? They just appear out of thin air which is physically impossible.
Plus, what happens to Blaze if he runs out of fuel? Does he die?
Oh, one more thing. Since I watched more of these I started to notice that all the animals in the program are cars too. The birds have wheels, elephants do, everything has wheels and is a freakish car/animal hybrid – except the humans. If this alternate world exists, how come human beings are the only creatures within it that are not subject to the car condition. They all live in a place called Axle City. There are buildings everywhere but you never see any people. Do cars work in the buildings? Or are there people? It’s a complete mystery to me and Mrs Austin says I shouldn’t think about it so much. She’s probably right.
Where to begin? OK, let’s start with the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any other form of organised Emergency Service in Adventure Bay. You don’t see firefighters or police officers walking around. Does this mean that the Paw Patrol have sole responsibility for this sort of thing? There are only a few of them and they’re run by someone who is, I’m guessing, someone who is only just a teenager. The fact that Ryder is allowed to drive an ATV at his age would worry me but then the dogs drive vehicles too so I’ll let that one go.
So, is Marshall responsible for every fire that breaks out? Does he get a day off? It seems that when they do have days off, they are invariably interrupted by an emergency. That’s no way to run this kind of operation. The dogs would suffer from intense burnout after a while. While I’m on the subject of Marshall, can I ask where all his water comes from? He has a pack on his back that maybe holds 2- 3 litres. How come he’s able to maintain a consistent high-powered jet of water for a number of seconds?
On a more serious note, I have noticed the fact that nearly all the merchandise aimed at young boys from this series centres on Rubble, Chase and Marshall. The female character, Skye, is conspicuously absent from most stuff aimed at boys. Likewise, the girls get Skye, Skye and more Skye. I was so proud when Mrs Austin told me that the boy had chosen a Skye toy when they went shopping. Granted, he’s already got Rubble, Chase, Marshall and Zuma but he still chose it. Poor Rocky! The only one left.
Of course, the marketing machine is a relentless one. Once all the pups and their vehicles have been around for a while and you’ve bought all the gear, then of course it’s time for Ryder to shell out some cash (from his shady investors) to equip the whole team with new stuff. Clothes, vehicles etc. A more cynical person than myself might think that this is all a ploy to get people to buy more stuff. They introduce new pups too. There’s Everest, the snow pup. Yay another female to challenge the vastly male feel of the show. We only see her once in a blue moon, however. Only when there’s some snow to deal with. The climate in this world is really something to behold. We have snowy days and beach trips all with a few episodes. It’s only a moderate drive to a tropical rainforest, too. That’s where Tracker lives: another marketing opportunity (sorry, another pup) that can’t be missed. There are also some great opportunities for tie-ins with other popular culture that have been missed. For example, there’s an episode where Adventure Bay is visited by an alien. I thought that would have been a great opportunity for something like this:
The chance sadly came and went, however.
Paw Patrol seems to follow a similar pattern to Blaze in that there are favourites. Just like Blaze always wins everything, it would seem that, more often than not, it’s Chase who gets picked to go on missions. I wouldn’t mind but I find him so cloying. “Yes sir, Ryder sir!” Ugh, move over and give Zuma a chance. He never gets any action.
Usually, even when he does get picked, it’s just so he can drive Chase somewhere in his hovercraft.
There are some decent messages in these programmes of course. I find the teamwork ethic that is sold by both of them to be a distinct leg up from the days of “Be sensible or we’ll brick you up in a tunnel” Thomas the Tank Engine. The engineering stuff in Blaze is good and it pays off when the boy picks up a toy car and says it has an “aerodynamic shape.” Go TV!
Thanks for reading. I can’t believe I’ve made it to the end. It’s only taken me since April. If you’ve enjoyed this, then please check out my other entries in the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.
All the best,