The children’s cartoon, “Bluey,” which features a family living in Australia, came under fire last week for failing to embrace woke culture and for lacking “diversity” in its cast.
Its cast, though, is entirely made up of anthropomorphized dogs.
“Bluey is the award-winning, mega-hit animated series about the Heelers, a family of dog-shaped humans — parents Bandit and Chilli, four-year-old Bingo, and six-year-old Bluey — who live in a gorgeous Queenslander with city views, perched on a lush hilltop in sunny Brisbane,” a critic for Australia’s ABC Everyday wrote last week, referencing the cartoon which now appears in the United States on the Disney+ streaming network and, in parts, on YouTube.
“The animated show for preschool children follows Bluey, an anthropomorphic six-year-old Blue Heeler puppy, and her family as they go about life in Brisbane and learn important life lessons,” Yahoo News added, noting, again, that Bluey and family are cartoon dogs that handle very human issues, like loneliness and an ageing grandparent, in a sensitive and appropriate way for children.
The show has been hailed as an excellent resource for parents who are encouraged to follow the dog parents’ lead and allow their children to express themselves with frankness.
“They’re very good at getting them to open up. They’re not driving the story. They’re not driving the game,” one critic told ABC Everyday of the dog parents, Bandit and Chilli. “Seeing how they let their kids take the lead and how much initiative the kids will then take — because I am an enthusiastic player, I guess I could reflect on that. I can look back and say, ‘Oh, I might have been dictating the games a bit too much.'”
But the show, one critic contends, is far from perfect because it focuses on a heteronormative, two-parent dog family that clearly lives a middle-class existence without encountering diversity, despite theoretically living in one of Australia’s largest cities.
“Where are the disabled, queer, poor, gender diverse, dogs of colour and single-parent dog families in Bluey’s Brisbane?” Beverly Wang wrote in ABC Everyday. “If they’re in the background, let them come forward.”
Wang concedes that Bluey’s creators, writers, and animators may not “view their show through a political lens” the way that she does but, she contends, that’s part of the problem. Children who are not exposed to an endless politicization of their surrounding culture might grow up embracing more conservative ideas.
“As a parent of colour, I am always conscious of the presence — or absence — of diverse representation in kids’ pop culture, what it means for children and the conversations we have around that,” Wang wrote. “I sincerely believe you don’t have to be ‘other’ to think about this too.”
“I wonder about the limits of modelling imaginative play for parents and children who don’t see themselves in the ‘true Blue(y)’ comfortably middle class, Australian nuclear family embodied by the Heelers. Who’s missing out?” she mused.
The problem, Wang says, goes beyond Bluey. In fact, it’s an issue with children’s programming and literature across the board, which rarely forces impressionable kids to confront their own problematic realities.
The “majority of characters on children’s television are white,” Wang said, and “more animals than people of colour protagonists populating the pages of children’s books.”
Although the essay was widely critiqued as “woke,” some Bluey viewers did note that the show could do with updating. One social media user even suggested that Bluey be given a “trans friend.”
“People exist, these dogs are stand-ins for people you know,” the commenter added.