Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nerd Rage #15: Cartoon Network Really Likes Young Boys

[Don’t forget to vote for my band every day at the GTR Online Battle of the Bands!]

This is the same company that put out The Powerpuff Girls.
...the f**k happened?
 Now that we’ve reach Beta is Dead’s Fourth Anniversary I think it’s time for a rant. Now normally I would write a comic book rant, probably something about Stephanie Brown or something like that, but instead I think I’ll talk about cartoons. And gender. There’s been a pretty big controversy going around the internet since late November that I’ve been aching to comment on but just haven’t had the time. Well the time is now.

If you are unfamiliar with who Paul Dini is (shame on you, by the way) he is the co-creator along with Bruce Timm, of Batman: The Animated Series which is still today considered by a great many people to be the best cartoon ever made. Understand that Dini is a pretty big deal when it comes to children’s television. So anyway a while ago Dini appeared on film director/giant nerd Kevin Smith’s podcast “Fatman on Batman” to talk about Batman. Somewhere during the two part interview Smith goes on a rant about how much he loves the new cartoon Beware the Batman, which Dini has nothing to do with but Smith points out that when the show gets going it’s the only Batman show to match the level of depth of BM:TAS. Then Dini destroys Smith’s life by informing him that Cartoon Network had removed it from the schedule and would probably end up canceling it if it hasn’t been canceled already. And indeed the show was put on hiatus back in October and as of this writing it has yet to have a solid return date (they said January but January is almost over) and have offered up no explanation. But Dini has an idea of what the problem is.

Now you can listen to the podcast yourself here (this stuff starts around 38 to 41 minutes in) but I will summarize: companies like Cartoon Network cancel or otherwise don’t renew deep, arc driven shows like Beware the Batman because they attract the wrong demographic; families and girls. But they only want certain shows to be watched by young boys.

Let me repeat his: Cartoon Network has possibly self-sabotaged and canceled their shows because they attracted too large of a female audience. That is one of the most f**ked up things I’ve ever heard.

More ranting, swearing, and screaming after the jump.



"This is a pretty deep cartoon....better cancel it."
It’s important to note that Paul Dini is making a lot of assumptions here and fully admits that he can only speak of his own experiences but does have firsthand knowledge about this sort of thing happening. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Let’s backtrack to this whole “cancel the shit out of shows because we hate girls” thing. As I understand it the reasoning behind this is that at the end of the day girls (and older audiences for that matter) do not buy the right toys based on these shows therefore a cartoon that is doing well but is being watched by too high a percentage of the wrong demographic is deemed a failure. I get it now; it’s all about advertising and merchandising.

WHAT THE HELL?!?!

Of course the concept of measuring a show by how much money you can make by selling merchandise rather than its quality is super evil and one of the worsts examples of the capitalist society we live in but I’m going try very hard not to focus on this point not because it’s unimportant, and believe me if there’s one sure sign that our society is a pile of horseshit it’s this, but because the big injustice I want to discuss is this blatant act of discrimination on Cartoon Network’s part.

Dini mentioned Young Justice in his conversation which is a fine point to examine. So Young Justice was a cartoon that ran on Cartoon Network starring several DC Comics characters. I talk about the show here and here. Long story short it’s a far more serious successor of the Teen Titans cartoon from the 2000s. However the show was mysteriously taken off the air in late 2012 the same way Beware the Batman was taken off last fall. There was no explanation, just silence until finally the company announced the show would be canceled with the remaining episodes to be released at some point later in the year. The show was replaced in the timeslot by Teen Titans Go!, a comedy cartoon that focuses on super deformed versions of the Teen Titans eating pizza and dicking around rather than having complex characters and storylines like Young Justice did. And I will be the first to admit that I didn’t love Young Justice at all but Teen Titans Go! is so stupid that I suspect it lowers children’s brain cell count. Why the replacement? Dini suspects that the show represents the type of humor and quality that young boys enjoy, at least in the networks estimation. Basically “young boys are stupid so let’s cancel the smart shows and replace them with dumber ones so the boys will relate better.” And then those boys buy the toys and executives at Cartoon Network celebrate on a mountain of hundred dollar bills and cocaine. Allegedly.

No sir. No sir, I don't like it.
But like I said there is no 100% certainty here; this is Paul Dini making assumptions, not the creators of the shows venting. For example Greg Weisman, the creator of Young Justice who you might remember I’m very fond of, has not made any comment about his most recent show’s cancellation nor has he responded to what Dini said on the podcast. The closest to this I could find was a single tweet that doesn’t really tell us anything other than that he’s clearly aware of the podcast. But one of the reasons I like Weisman so much is his honesty with fans so I’m sure at some point he’ll tell us what happened from his point of view…but as he’s under no obligation to tell us anything who knows how many years it’ll be before he does so (though with this controversy popping up he might say something just to get people to stop bothering him). My point is that we don’t have facts but rather hearsay from Dini. But in Dini’s defense he’s not just making shit up: this all happened to him and his show Tower Prep.

So Tower Prep was a live action show on Cartoon Network that, as far as I could tell, was like a kids' version of The Prisoner. I never saw it mainly because why the f**k is there live action on Cartoon Network but as I understand it very arc heavy with fairly complex storytelling. Dini speculated that the show was not renewed by CN because its audience was made up of so many female viewers. In fact they had the plug pulled before they could even get the merchandise rolling; CN had simply deiced to kill it before it had a chance  because it had the wrong demographic, at least according to Dini. They would replace this show with another live action series called Level Up which apparently was not as smartly written. In essences it was dumbed down to be full of silly immature humor that appeals to young boys. Level Up has since been cancelled. So Dini’s point is that what happened to his show seemed to be what he thought was going on with Young Justice and a host of other shows and what may be going on with Beware the Batman.

To be fair at least one of these folks was, like, thirty years old
I did see a little bit of Level Up and I can say I thought it was pretty damn stupid but the thing I remember the most was that the girl in the show was the only main character who didn’t play the video games that was the center of the plot and, indeed, seemed to look down on the idea of playing them, suggesting that girls wouldn’t normally indulge in such an activity. Dini had also mentioned that the networks want shows to have female characters to be less capable than male counterparts, which to me sounds like a disgusting ploy to discourage female viewership while appealing to a male one (while also teaching young kids valuable lessons on how to be sexist). If true then it would explain a lot of the misogyny that seem to float around in more than a few of cartoons over the years.

For the purposes of this article let’s assume Paul Dini is 100% correct in his assessment and Cartoon Network is a only interested in the bottom line for toy sales and consider heavy storyline based shows and female audiences to be detrimental to that goal and have been like this for, oh, let’s say “many years”. This would explain a great deal of strange cancelations over the years. There’s Young Justice, of course, and also Green Lantern: The Animated Series which was canceled around the same time as YJ (and I heard it had gotten pretty darn good) but what about the Thundercats remake which everyone I know who watched it thought it was fantastic? Or Sym-Bionic Titan which I strongly believed was the best new show Cartoon Network had put out in decades? Both were also very arc driven, character focused shows that were moved around the schedule until they were quietly cancelled. Plus there were rumors that Titan’s cancelation was linked to something to do with a lack of faith in toy production. Could it be that at least part of the reason those shows were shit canned was because not enough young boys were pissing themselves over it and thus toy sale projections weren’t high enough? And also is that why garbage like Johnny Test and The Annoying Orange pollute the television? Because they have that random humor that those little boys love so much?

Oh my God…I never really thought about it until right this second but I live in a world where Sym-Bionic Titan was canceled after one season while the abomination known as “Johnny Test” has been renewed for an upcoming seventh season. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

Emergency Shut Down Due to Rage
Let’s just move on from that before I hurt myself. I can’t believe that girls don’t buy toys. Maybe, maybe, they’re just not buying the right toys; like action figures or whatever. But there are two obvious solutions to that: 1) Sell them something else. There’s tons of stuff out there aside form action figures. If your audience are a bunch of girls perhaps you should find out what girls would like, preferably by asking them (Kevin Smith said as much in the podcast). 2) Use some of that money you have there to FIND OUT WHY GIRLS AREN’T BUYING YOUR TOYS!!!!! It’s not f**king rocket science! Let me relate to you the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I believe I talked about this when I reviewed the show but that was years ago so let’s come back to it. This was a show that was arc heavy, character focused, and beloved by way more demographics than the bugger eating crowd CN seems so obsessed with. Of the four main characters two were girls, both of whom were easily two of the most powerful and capable people in their world, and one of the major villains was a girl who was not only probably the most powerful fire bender in the series but was the only proper villain to get good character development. My point is that this had a lot of important women. However when it was time to make action figures only the male characters got representation; not a single female toy was made. So answer me this, ladies: if you watched a show with many positive portrayal of women would you be interested in merchandise that goes out of its way to exclude those very women?

"No penis, no action figures."

Now that I think about it wasn’t Avatar also abruptly canceled despite being well liked by audiences? (Granted Avatar: The Last Airbender WAS NOT a Cartoon Network show but rather a Nickelodeon production. That said Dini pretty much mentioned that several networks have similar “No Girls Allowed” strategy but CN was just the one he actively named in the podcast)

So is there no hope then? If the networks have already made up their minds and don’t seem to be interested in changing is there anything we can do other than rolling up on Cartoon Network Studios and torching that mother f@#$er to the ground? (Let’s table that for a possible “Plan B”) There are some signs that things could be turning for the better. When it comes to a show that missed its mark with its intended target demographic there’s no better example than My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic which, despite being made for young girls, gained a vocal following of young adult males in its fanbase. The parent company Hasbro has taken this in stride and have been pretty receptive to this for the most part as it’s pretty clear that these guys will buy merch and money is money no matter where it’s coming from; a lesson Cartoon Network could learn. Also The Legend of Korra, the sequel to Avatar: the Last Airbender, stars a strong female lead, is very arc and character driven and is still a highly critical success for Nickelodeon with a wide variety of viewers form many different demographics (the creators have stated that they had to fight extremely hard to have its female lead). CN’s newest show, Steven Universe, is another example of blurring the lines between what boys and girls want; the show stars a boy and the humor can be a bit dumb and random but the show’s overall tone is at least partly reminiscent of shows such as Sailor Moon and Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders due to the nature of Steven’s friends and mentors the Crystal Gems. I’m 100% certain this was intentional on the part of show's creator Rebecca Sugar. Right now I think it’s too soon to tell what ramifications to the overall paradigm this new series will have, if any, but it seems to me that not everything is terrible when it comes to cartoons that all of us can equally enjoy.

Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl.
AND STEVEN!
As for what we can personally do? Well it never hurts to let the people know you’re pissed; letters to CN politely (or impolitely, I actually don’t care) letting the executives know how annoyed you are with their possible sexism wouldn’t be a bad start. Though corporations tend to only listen when there’s money involved so remember the best way to get attention may be to vote with your wallet. And to my readers with young boys I must say this: get your kids to start watching smarter shows. Don’t just plop them in front of the TV forget about them because that’s why Johnny Test is still on the air. Get them watching something that will make them think. There are plenty of good shows for all age groups that are smartly written. And for the love of God make sure they understand that girls aren’t an inferior species because we’re in a vicious cycle here it we need break that garbage somewhere.

Thanks for reading that mountain of a essay. And thank you for reading Beta is Dead for the last four years! I love you all! (Also R.I.P. Sym-Bionic Titan)

Never Forget

4 comments:

  1. But I could have told you, Titan,
    This world was never meant for one
    As beautiful as you

    - Don McLean "Sym-Bionic Titan (Starry, Starry Night)"

    ReplyDelete
  2. The problem is that once a network has advertisers they don't want to alienate them, and chance, MAYBE getting new sponsors for a slightly different demographic. A bird in the hand and all that. And if a show appeals to both girls and boys, but a given toy would only appeal to boys, then the toy commercial is being ignored by half the audience, but the manufacturers still have to pay the same amount for only half the audience.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is SO late in the game, but I just wanted to clarify that Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn't cancelled; it ended. The show was only meant to be a three-season arc with a story that finished. It's probably one of the few cartoons in history to ever complete its entire storyline.

    Also, I LOL'd at so many points in this article. Thanks for articulating what's been pissing me off since the whole Young Justice debacle (and I say that as a female who has more than her fair share of Batman merch and would have totally been down for buying something YJ-related).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      As far as Avatar goes I have heard several different stories about how/why it ended by this point but I'm totally willing to accept that it wasn't cancelled and simply ended and I'm just being dumb.

      However the terrible pacing of the finale, and the dangling plot threads that went no where, makes me think that at some point the guys upstairs told the team "hey dudes, you're not getting a fourth season so wrap it up this year". So maybe not technically "cancelled" but also likely not ended on the creator's preferred terms (Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes had this exact thing happen).

      Although I suppose they could just be bad at writing endings.

      Delete