Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All Things Fangirl Interview! Part 2

Part 2 of the Interview with Me and Jeff Gomez by the fantabulous EruditeChick is up at

Jeff Gomez:
One thing that I’m kind of re-geeking on is introducing my daughter, six years old, to the StarWars movies. She came home with the question that I’ve been waiting for all my life: “How did the Clone Wars start?” Because the cartoon is on the air and of course her friends at school are talking about it, and she doesn’t know. And I said, well, you know, there was a queen, Amidala, that this all kind of rotates around, and she goes, “Really?” And I said, “Let me show you!” We started watching the films. And to look at the films from the perspective of a child, first of all, and from the perspective of a child who is gravitating not to young Anakin but Padme, and watching her progress through the films trying to contend with the decisions Padme’s making, particularly about this “Ani” guy, who seems a little shifty, well it was fascinating. So when Anakin comes back form murdering all the Sand-People and he tells Padme what he’d done, I ask my daughter, “Well, what do you think? I mean, was it okay for him to do that? He killed women and children Sand-People.” And [my daughter] goes, “Well…” She’s trying to side with Amidala, who kind of overlooks this horrid massacre for the sake of her romance with Anakin. So my girl is like, “Well, if it was my mother, I’d have killed them all too."

The paucity of female video gamers.

"For the video, Floyd collaborated with female video game journalist Leigh Alexander, who sometimes writes for Kotaku, and her own blog Sexy Video Game Land. They report that even when female characters are portrayed as strong and competent within a game, they're often marketed on their looks. Case in point: Lara Croft, who may be powerful as a character, but is know mainly as a sex symbol in pop culture. Almost every video game character, male or female, is designed to let players control an unrealistically attractive avatar. That makes sense, because the medium is based on letting people act out their fantasies, and no one really daydreams about being an uglier, weaker version of themselves. But while a male character's sex appeal is never stressed in the game's advertising, basically the only thing consumers will learn about a female character is that she's hot, and her clothes may be torn off in strategic spots during game play."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All Things Fangirl Interview, an interesting response

My friend, Tarik sent me this message in response to the interview, I felt compelled to share it and my response with you, blog reader.
"One of the major barriers to really conceptualizing of an adventure from a "female" mindset, is that we really don't have a lot of female narrated parts of our culture. More importantly, the ones that do (Reality Shows, Sex in the City, excuse me while I throw up-thing on Lifetime) are hyper feminine and not very cerebral. I've been bugging some friends of mine to re-imagine She-Ra written by like Janeane Garafolo or Margaret Cho or something. But like, really push the envelope on "the transmedia" in ways it's never been done. I mean, intuitive viral marketing with puzzles that capture the ways women think about problems, real action sequences between women without stupid forced tinges of lesbianism to satisfy men (like...actual chick sword fight? Has there ever been one?), and a modernization & meditation of what being feminine looks like, cause it's certainly different than the stories we rehash on girls today. Additionally, marketing the media across platforms that women use, taking advantage of their usage patterns, not slapping it onto the Xbox 360 and calling it a day.

My ex taught me that women think in fundamentally different ways than men, and they have different collections of stuff in their mind at all times...This is essentially why the marketing of "girl-centric" stuff never works, cause it's basically how you'd market to dudes, if dudes liked pink girly unicorn stuff. Not how you market to GIRLS and WOMEN. Two different groups, that can be subdivided even further, as per development, which is on a different scale than men. None of these things are being utilized by traditional marketing firms, and the strategies they use with men are even being gender-maximized and ridiculous (peep any beer/axe/game/drink/shitty food commercial)... "
My response:

I've got a post going up on Friday about a marketing firm that deals specifically in products gauged towards women, the most surprising (probably not surprising, I prefer to be surprised by horrible things rather than cynical about prejudices) thing that came up in the article I read about them is that companies often reject empirical evidence in favor of stereotyping. Even when presented with research that tells them specifically what their market wants and needs.

Now, bringing up the point of "that's how you would market to men..." I think that the overall problem of marketing to stereotypes of the market applies there equally, gender- maximization being a problem for everyone.

The second part of the All Things Fangirl interview (going up soon) touches more on women in entertainment and some of our efforts at Starlight Runner to address some gender parity. For instance, did you know that there was a fight to include female drivers in Hot Wheels World Race, because "boys don't like playing with or watching female characters." I paraphrase, but it's an element of the same kind of thinking that you're addressing above. While I obviously tend to address the specific issue of how this affects girls and women, the thinking that creates these inequities applies to all segments of society.

Still, I think the nail is somewhat hit on the head in that to create something from the female mindset you have to have at least some people with the female mindset working on it. You see more and more women and firms of women for women in the marketplace and that can only be a good thing.

In the same way the greater voice geek culture has in the marketplace, I think, can only be a good thing. Giving some creative weight to fans and fandom, the people who actually like a product or property is essential to creating lasting and quality products and properties.

All Things Fangirl Interview!

Check out this interview with Me and Jeff Gomez at

Friday, September 25, 2009

She-Ra: Princess of Power

Here is the first in what I hope will be a series of reviews of girl's franchises, I'm hoping to find some overlooked gems and talk about what they have to offer and what they might bring to a new generation of girls, but also, why they haven't been snatched up again, or why they shouldn't be brought back. Hopefully through this series I'll be able to illuminate something that might help people looking at these or other girls franchises and see a way to make them stronger, or inspire something entirely new.

Now, idealistic introduction aside, I'm going to geek out this week. This franchise was the very first thing I geeked out on obsessively according to my mom. With the rights to Masters of the Universe in the news again and the cartoon series being up on I figured I'd take another look at this blast from the past.

I was obsessed despite the fact that there were much higher profile properties for girls vying for my head space and spending power. Barbie being the most obvious, and most present, showing up in every store, every commercial break, and everyone had at least one and likely more than one at school. There were also a smattering of baby dolls and other dress-up dolls. I tried to collect dolls of some of the other characters I was fond of April from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes to mind (though it was later on) and Baroness from GI JOE (which I never saw in the store), and a Wonder Woman action cup holder (it was a doll that attached to your cup) from Burger King. So clearly, when a female action figure with a band of female cohorts and her own flying unicorn came out, I was a ripe section of the market.

She-Ra was my favorite action hero as a kid, I bought every toy I could find: 2 She-Ras (one melted outside... and I died her hair into one large paint-y glob), a Bo (though I usually paired her with batman), the butterfly girl- who may or may not have been Flutterina, and the redhead pictured above- Glimmer I think, it's hard to tell from memory and constantly bugged my parents for the rest, but as it was the days before the internet we were stuck with what was available at Toys R' Us. I can honestly say that I would have purchased a lot more of them had I been able to find them. There were many times where we went to the toy store and I actually chose to not get anything because there weren't any She-Ras I didn't have. I also rented a VCR and the VHS tape of the first five episodes from the local Blockbuster, and kept renting the same thing over and over every week.

The Story

The origin story, The Secret of the Sword, is a 5 episode arc that kicked of Filmation's She-Ra animated series in 1985. It was the only VHS tape the video store had for months, and I'm sure my parents could recite it if I forced the issue. The origin story is where most movie adaptations begin these days, and while He-Man, her male counterpart has gotten several reboots but She-Ra hasn't been touched. They're part of the same universe, literally twins, so it's not surprising that when starting again in that universe companies have chosen the more bankable He-Man as their jumping off point, but She-Ra is a rich and interesting character and it's a shame no one has been willing to give her another shot.

Princess Adora is Prince Adam's (He-Man's) twin sister, kidnapped from Eternia and her family as a baby and raised by the evil Horde, she excels at everything she does and becomes Hordak, the Horde Leader's, brightest pupil and most fearsome deputy in the parallel universe, Etheria.

Meanwhile, Adam's parents cast a spell on him and their kingdom so that they forget that the Horde and Princess Adora ever existed. This is until the Sorceress has a crazy dream where a magical sword like He-Man's appears and she knows that the time has come to reveal the truth to Adam and reveal Adora's destiny to her.

So, He-Man and his comic relief cat, Cringer, are baking a cake. Yes really, I had to put a picture, obviously because if the fur diaper he wears or the lavender tights weren't a clue, He-Man is comfortable with his masculinity.

I mean, just look at that, he is serious about his mixing, look at the intensity; it takes a lot of testosterone to be baking a cake in a pink vest and look that serious about it.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about the aesthetics of She-Ra here, which are often a little distracting, for example, the attire of young male peasants:

I'll admit I was distracted by the general lack of pants in Etheria and Eternia, but hey, I'll give, it was a different time, and as much as Lady Gaga is pushing the no pants revolution, I'm a bit of a square and would think pants would be easier to farm in. She-Ra has a specific aesthetic vision that is both interesting and particularly peculiar. One that rarely uses pants.

Except on Bo, who is himself a strange combination of Celtic Chieftain and Porn Actor who can shoot magic arrows and who is She-Ra's sidekick as the series continues. He often finds himself in the position female sidekicks do in male-dominated franchises, being fairly capable but often being captured in order to lure our hero somewhere or another. The handling of male characters as they relate to She-Ra in the franchise often falls into this pattern, and while I'm sure I ate it up as a kid, it annoys me now because She-Ra could be a lot cooler if she was surrounded by more interesting supporting characters. I feel the same way about female characters in male properties who seem to exist to be protected, even when they have some redeeming skill or ability.

Another distracting element of the property, and of He-Man as well, are the omnipresent comic relief creatures, like Kowl (picture above) who are literally everywhere. Who say distractingly dumb things whenever they can be crammed into frame. They're extranious because no one would miss them if they were gone, they serve no narrative purpose except as product placement for the toy lines that often didn't bother to include them. In a reboot, making these creatures real characters with deeper personalities would be smart, and necessary to make their inclusion worthwhile.

Back to the story...

He-Man travels to Etheria to give the sword to someone he'll know when he sees, it's Adora, she works for the Horde as Hordak's Chief Lieutenant. Adora believes that the Horde acts in the best interest of the populace, but while she has excelled in her education both academic and martial, and acts passionately in what she believes is for the people of Etheria, she is misled. Adam gets captured by Adora along with a band of rebels. While imprisoned Adam argues with and manages to convince Adora that she take a look at the countryside and make up her mind about the "benevolence" of the Horde.

Upon seeing the ravages exacted on the oppressed peasants of Etheria, Adora changes her mind about the Horde and releases the captive revolutionaries. She confronts Hordak but with the aid of his magician he brainwashes her into believing the Horde is good once more. Adam infiltrates the Horde's stronghold once again and is once again taken prisoner, but while imprisoned plants the seed of truth in Adora's mind once again.

When Adora is watching over the captive He-Man she is captivated by the sword of power he has brought. Through it, the Sorceress talks to her, explaining that she is actually Princess Adora of Eternia and that He-Man is her brother. Just in the nick of time she says the magic words "By the Honor of Grayskull" and transforms into She-Ra.

Also her horse becomes a flying rainbow Unicorn. I should also point out that her horse is wise, and smarter than many of the humanoid characters in the franchise. When He-Man transforms his Scooby-Doo-like green tiger, Cringer/Battle Cat (who does get wisdom as Battle Cat, but doesn't translate back), gets some armor and that's where the transformation ends. Advantage: She-Ra.

She and her twin Brother, He-Man then team up to take down some of the horde and return to Eternia to reunite Adora with the family she's never known.

Hordak ends up following her to Eternia, where he's been before, and teams up with his former pupil, Skeletor who has grown in power but who still is somewhat intimidated by his former mentor and who clearly can't overpower Hordak in a strait battle. The pair of villains join forces to take on the royal family though, each for their own reason. Of the two villains whom Hordak is the more powerful, or he's at least the one who has the more powerful army at his back. Instead of choosing a villain for the female hero, Filmation chose to give her an enemy that could both easily handle the male hero and was a clear challenge.

Welcome to Eternia, here we wear tights.

One of the more entertaining moments in the whole cartoon story arc is that Adora allows herself to be captured by Skeletor an Hordak pretending to faint, saving the royal family and putting herself inside his stronghold to get a chance to take them both down. This is shown explicitly to be intentional. She-Ra often plays the damsel in distress card and twists it to her advantage because frankly, it seems to work against her enemies again and again. But, once inside the fortress she manages to take down a squadron of minions, free herself without using any of her super-abilities, reclaim her sword and single-handedly trounce Skeletor (who had betrayed Hordak while she was freeing herself, sending him back to Etheria).

While this was going on Prince Adam had rallied his team to go rescue her, but they arrive just in time to see She-Ra in the aftermath of having trounced Skeletor and to listen to a little witty banter about how they were late to the party. It's important to point out that at no point does Adora or her She-Ra form break down, she's an extremely capable person for whom special abilities are a boon but not truly necessary for her confidence or her ability to get the job done.

She has innate leadership qualities that demand respect, even when she was aligned with the Horde she led teams of older, more experianced creatures by the sheer power of her persona. While Hordak and the other villains violently punish their minions for even the smallest step out of line- or rely on brainwashing and magic spells, Adora kept order with simple words.

One she's returned to Castle Greyskull and the royal family of Eternia, she decides to return to Etheria, while not the land of her birth, it is her homeland where the people need a protector.

I clearly wear the pants here, even though I'm never wearing pants.

So, what can we learn here?

One, that She-Ra is a strong female heroine who handles danger and crisis with a cool head who is unmistakably feminine and seems a bit naive, can and does respond to new information by acting according to an innate moral code that drives her actions.

He-Man and She-Ra's universe continuity overlapped in a way that has often been successful for franchises. While He-Man's continuity had before this been undefined, or defined repeatedly the Filmation continuity influenced the core of all the reboots to follow. Eternia, He-Man's royal lineage, and the possibility of travel to other worlds either in parallel dimensions or space all featured in future story lines.

She-Ra was successful enough to get several toy series of her own, a series of books based on the cartoon episodes and has a pretty devoted fanbase.

From a narrative standpoint, Adora has to make a very difficult choice, that of being with the family she has always wanted, or protecting the world that nurtured her. She chooses Etheria and this choice of taking on the role of protector hero is archetypically mirrored in details of the property. Her catch phrase "By the honor of Greyskull..." rather than He-Man's "By the Power of Greyskull..." notes the difference in their personal journeys. She-Ra's sword is the Sword of Protection, and instead of being the Queen or Princess of the land she inhabits she is the leader of a rebellious army.

She-Ra captured me as a little girl because she was a legitimately powerful heroine, it didn't hurt her at all that I could also dress her up, brush her hair or that there was some pink and a lot of rainbows and hearts peppering the design. Those elements as part of a property with strong core values can broaden its appeal and while the doll came with a brush, she also came with a sword

My husband mentioned that the portrayal of He-Man in the She-Ra cartoon upset him as a kid, in fact, turned him off the whole Masters of the Universe world and I can see why. He-Man's supposed to be a hero and one is hit over the head with how he is inferior to his twin sister. She-Ra also overcomes his villain on her own during their first encounter, something that is the crux of He-Man's heroic journey.

I don't think the diminished portrayal of He-Man is necessary to She-Ra's story, if they were peers, if she were having the same sort of successes against He-Man's nemesis that He-Man might that would make sense, as they're twins. Even setting them up for some sibling competition as each tries to out-do the other would be fantastic. She doesn't have to be better than her brother to be strong or interesting. Nor does he have to overcome her to be a real hero.

While I giggled at He-Man during the cartoon; he should be taken seriously. Plenty of kids were really into him, which is obviously one of the reasons why She-Ra came to exist in the first place. One does not have to diminish the other, it hurts them both that one did. Though she did give me a specific outlet for the ever-present girls vs boys dynamic I encountered throughout childhood, she was my hero and I got to be on her side by virtue of my gender.

From a franchise perspecitive, She-Ra has a compelling narrative and she's not had the same issues of confused continuity He-Man has in his many re-boots. While the two properties are inextricably tied to one another, in this day and age, that can be a boon. While some details don't necessarily translate to a modern audience the core of She-Ra's origin story is still strong enough to lay the groundwork for a quality reboot.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Girl Movie Announcements!

A Barbie Movie AND a Sweet Valley High Movie announced in the same week, I do declare!

But these two franchises each tackle interesting elements of a young girls life that do deserve serious thought when taking them to the silver screen. There are elements to both properties that open them up for some serious satire, but also, really aspirational elements that young girls treat seriously.

Wanting to follow your dreams, strong friendships that can stand the test of the oft-tempestuous sea of adolescent drama, and if the author treats those seriously and doesn't talk down to girls, treats those elements with the respect that girls want to give them at their cores the movie can be classics.

While these properties don't suffer from the same challenge as other girls franchises hitting the big screen recently, i.e. Bratz. Let's look at some of the things that the creators might want to think about going forward.

Barbie's narrative properties, animation, movies, online, etc... are anthologies, like Barbie herself, they've been everywhere are rarely do the same thing twice. But as Dodai at points out, a woman who can speak 6 languages with experience doing all the things Barbie has done, who can rope a calf AND rock a runway with her bevy of multi-cultural friends, that's a character with a lot going for her. I'd love to see Barbie take advantage of the moment to take on a strong driving platform for narrative that can weave its way into the wider distribution platforms already available to Barbie, to drive that narrative in a new way, one that you see continuing on over time.

Sweet Valley High started as a series of novels, each with a specific episodic element, but essentially, following a narrative super-arc as a group of girls go through high school. It leant itself easily to a tv series and gives the author of a screenplay some rich established characters to draw from. The question I'm excited to see answered is what Diablo Cody wants to do with it. As writer and producer, she's going to have a very powerful hand in determining the direction of how the story will be told.

While you may love her or hate her, one thing Diablo Cody has is a strong voice. While she is often criticized for being too in love with her own vernacular, and her most recent opening weekend for Jennifer's Body was less than exciting, Jennifer's Body proves that she has a sense of certain elements of relationships between young girls (as evidenced by the movie's dramatic climax revolving around a specific piece of adornment, for spoiler click here) that one either relates to instinctively or one doesn't understand at all.

What the Sweet Valley High crew as a franchise might look at, if they want to keep the franchise going beyond one movie, is making sure that the themes and ideas being elocuted by Cody's film resonate with the themes and aspirations of the original books. Even if the characters are different or the setting were to change, those are the elements that bring generations of girls to those books again and again.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jennifer's Body- Link Review

So I haven't seen Jennifer's Body, but I have been reading a lot about it. I really want to see it though, if for no other reason than the amount of interesting discussion it's raised on blogs about it being a "girl's horror movie."

My friend Erudite Chick over at HAS seen it though and wrote a great review, (with some spoilers) so check it out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blingitude, ON NO! MY EYES!!!!

I don't usually talk about how old things make me feel, but yes, "Blingitude" makes me feel super old. Also, that's a crime because I'm 25, and well, lightning should strike me each time I say I feel old. Regardless, while I would not begrudge the newer generation from their own vernacular-itude, I feel like something is taken away from girls when a pair of bedazzled jeans endorsed by a celebrity is somehow superior than if they'd done it themselves.

Also, the fact that its in a commercial automatically makes me think that these words were invented by companies trying to sell the jeans rather than the lolspeak of some young lady describing her new look. Even if the coolhunters had gotten their paws on it, it suggests it's "so over," as the kids probably once said.

Not to say purchasing clothing that comes pre-made is somehow less useful than otherwise, it's certainly important for anyone to chose their own appearance, to say "this is what I want to look like" but the more options one can be given the better, if all the choices are bedazzled jeans, can one really say that the look is their choice?
I mean, the same clothes I saw in those commercial are all over the stores where I shop for my toddler, and let me tell you, diapers and skinny jeans do NOT mix. I am always shocked about the limitation on choices for clothes that come from "fashion," I've spent hours looking for pants for my daughter that wouldn't a) hobble her and make it impossible for her to climb a ladder or 2) were so sequined that they would only go with certain colors, and that's for a 2 year old. I have spent weeks of my life looking for pants for myself that at least fit, which I think also says something about the issue.

How would you do it better? aside from my general enjoyment of making costumes and clothes, which simply isn't everyone's bag, I just have to say that options are the key; and like my mother once did when I had an unfortunate green eyeshadow phase, let people make their own aesthetic decisions, it's empowering.

Every story has its own aesthetic and there's always potential to celebrate that like the success of the folks who made the Bella Bag for Twilight, but one must be careful when putting out consumer products, make sure they compliment the themes and ideas of the property as well as monetize the aesthetic of a brand. But if you can catch the eye of a young girl in a way that let's her express herself with your product as well as build her style, finding ways to celebrate her choice to wear it while still letting her put it with any number of other clothes, then you have a hit with girls and their parents. Heck, adults might even go for it too.

Monday, September 7, 2009