On the first or second night of staying with some family in England, a young second cousin twice removed (or something of that sort) asked me to name a movie… one she’d know of. I responded: “Barbie.” After asking me if I’d seen or liked the film (I’d apparently picked one that had been on her mind), she got to her question: “so, when they show… Barbie in your country do they have to have the actors re-record some of the lines?”, alluding to the fact that some of the actors don’t naturally speak English with an American accent. I chuckled a bit and responded, “No. Actually, I think part of the movie takes place where I’m from,” pointing out that some of the non-Barbieland scenes in the film were shot blocks away from my childhood home. It remained funny to me, though, that my accent (or something about me) had been silly enough that my cousin believed I couldn’t possibly be engaged in the same cultural ecosystem as her (even in the case of a movie where numerous British and Australian actors were putting on American accents).
A week or so later, I relayed the story to my partner. We laughed about the coincidence of the movie choice, then bemoaned the ramifications of the interaction: “You know, it’s sad that accents are going away with globalization.” It was sad, even to two people staring down the barrel of a semester abroad filled with potential misunderstandings and lost lecture teachings.
Another week or so later, now staying at the house of another cousin with another, far less inquisitive child, I got the chance to watch a half episode of Paw Patrol (in between the incessant stylings of the Netflix-generated Russian animated silent short series Booba). Having younger siblings meant I knew Paw Patrol inside and out (I’d gone to a Paw Patrol birthday, for Christ’s sake). But this wasn’t exactly the Paw Patrol of my brother’s youth. It was nearly an identical product, but with the key change of every character now sporting a British accent as opposed to an American (or, as my furious Google searching found, Canadian) one. Evidently, Paw Patrol is dubbed in Britain to preserve the King’s English, as are presumably many other children’s shows. My other cousin was right for asking the question about dubbing; I had pie on my face.
It’s hard to know how to react when confronted with something as startling as British Paw Patrol. First comes the jerk-reaction annoyance: “This isn’t MY Paw Patrol” (it never was, you didn’t watch the show, idiot). Then you return to that earlier conversation (accents are disappearing) and get excited: Someone, somewhere is trying to protect accents. Then, slowly but surely, that answer becomes a bit unsatisfying as well.
Accents are an exciting representation of distinct lived experiences and cultural backgrounds. They continue to exist (and may subsequently cease to) as a last gasp of a world expanded by capitalistic homogenization. They provide a window into a world populated by an entirely distinct ecosystem of entertainment: different board games, cartoon characters and national cinemas themselves informed by different political environments, life experiences and art histories. Any art lover would and should salivate at the suggestion that there exist movements and cultures as of yet uncanonized by Western academia, just as they should pursue those movements and champion their canonization.
The restrictiveness of the Hollywood studio system becomes more valuable by their distinct contemporaries in post-war Japanese cinema and Italian neorealism; Schindler’s List’s hegemonic position as the de facto Holocaust movie becomes palatable by the existences of Nazisploitation and Shoah, each themselves operating on opposite ends of a reputability spectrum. Accents are the window dressing that provide the gateway into all of that. They plainly state an underlying diversity which we might then desperately pursue.
British Paw Patrol isn’t any of that. It’s the window dressing, certainly, but devoid of any window away from the endlessly expanding homogenization. It’s a pernicious liberalism willing to tolerate a person talking a bit different than the dominant culture, but deeply uncomfortable with any actual radicalism in their personage.
British Paw Patrol is rainbow pride, where the language of queerness is crammed so squarely into the aesthetics of corporatism that it is rendered… ordinary. British Paw Patrol is Blue Beetle, where the only chance for Latinx representation in a Hollywood blockbuster is a 5th phase, third-string, paint-by-numbers superhero origin story distinguished only by its groundbreaking cast and presenting that as radical in and of itself. British Paw Patrol is a representative of the espoused but unenforced language of American liberalism: To shift the Overton window to allow anti-cop, anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist statements, without a subsequent shift in the acceptance of anti-cop, anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist actions.
It doesn’t matter all that much, British Paw Patrol that is. There’s even an argument to be made that British Paw Patrol is a lesser of two evils between Paw Patrol being a monoculture without any national distinctions and Paw Patrol being a part of a monoculture with those national distinctions. The shift away from homogenization must start somewhere, after all. On the other hand, a corporate cession of language tends to breed complacency. It’s not worth complaining about homogenization because we allow and even encourage surface-level diversity. We will keep up the appearance of difference, even if we sternly reject it when it emerges.
My cousin will grow up to have a British accent, thank goodness, but he’ll also grow up going to McDonalds, loving Mickey Mouse and watching Paw Patrol. He’ll be British, but really he’ll be a citizen of capitalism, as I am, as my brother is and as we all are. He’ll be allowed his quirks (an accent, perhaps an anti-royalist streak, or even a love of cult cinema), but I’m not looking forward to visiting in 15 or so years and discovering that, no matter what those quirks are, we’re not so different after all.
Max Fattal is a junior in the School of Industrial Labor Relations. They can be reached at [email protected].