Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pronoun Trouble.

Let me just start by saying, I really really love Assassin's Creed, I think Ubisoft is awesome. But yeah... pronoun troubles. *single tear*

I'm just a girl who likes to assassinate things in a man who likes to assassinate things's world. 

Frankly, if you aren't aware of what Assassin's Creed has been doing surrounding the release of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, you're missing out big time. There's an incredibly well executed Facebook Game, Assassin's Creed: Legacy that feeds into Uplay a fantastic unifying social portal for achievement sharing and rewards that is integrating back into Legacy. In tandum with a wider rollout of animation and comics (hopefully more extended novels that aren't simply adaptation of the games)

Here's the trailer for Ascendence it looks awesome.

This whole rollout is so exciting to me that I have been a bit... obsessed with it over the past few weeks. Which is rather rare for me, but always wonderful when it arrives. So, in as much as I am annoyed at the gender bending on my facebook wall, I want you all to go and check these things out because it is a blip in an otherwise AMAZING execution.

And if Ubisoft sees this, just please fix the bug so no other lady's experience is marred by the oddness. The copy that automatically posts as soon as you join your social network really should be gender neutral. It has spoiled a bit of my enjoyment to be called a man, and I know I'm not the only woman who would feel that way.

Please? Because I love your campaign rollout way too much to let this happen to others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Transmedia Talk Podcast #10- Me recorded in Audio

Because apparently I've become somewhat of an expert on Fiction in Twitter (Life is weird, neh?) I was invited to the Transmedia Talk Podcast this week. Episode #10, the best possible episode this week.

Not only can you download it at The Website!!! but it's available on iTunes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Hey There Readers,

I know I've been denying you the pleasure of my rantings lately, and I hope you'll be able to forgive me, between travel and random colds, actual work and family... I've just been sleeping in my free time. But, in addition to my somniferous hobby I'm attempting to do NaNoWriMo this month! I'm already a few days behind but you can share in my brilliant novel-related flame out by becoming my friend at www.nanowrimo.com my handle is citalin.

Meanwhile, if you're feeling neglected you can always join the Facebook Fan Page, Follow me on Twitter or check out Jurassic Park Slope to get your fix of Girls' Media... which will also soon be available in book form *fingers crossed*

Finally you can see where I'll be speaking publically at home and abroad at www.starlightrunner.com or at THAT Facebook Page. Phew.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sluttoween 2010: At least they're for adults?

It's October, the leaves are turning and that means it's time for my annual recap of inappropriate Halloween Costumes.
Here's my list of requirements for any costume I buy or make for myself or my kids, it's based on my years as a costume designer, event planner and wearer/buyer of Halloween costumes:
  1. Can one move in it?
  2. Will it be appropriate for the weather?
  3. Is the fabric comfortable enough that I won't claw off my skin?
  4. Will I be visible in the dark? (Especially important for Trick or Treating)
  5. Am I going to be comfortable with what this outfit covers or uncovers? (also think about how it's going to act when you move? will the hemline rise if you walk?)
  6. Is this something I'd want to wear more than once?
The answers to these questions are different for each person and each situation, but if you go in having some sense of what you need from a costume and what you want from a costume you'll end up with one more appropriate for you or for your child than you might if you go in without any ideas. Not every costume is one that you end up wanting to remember forever, and there are still options out there for people who don't want to wear something raunchy for All Hallow's Eve, but make sure that you're not settling for something you don't like just because it's available.
There, words of wisdom, now down to business. 2010!!! the year that these costume companies realized that girl geeks exist... in the oddest way possible.
May the Whores Be With You. 
Vinyl, Cold AND I can't move my arms, WIN!!
I have no words.

Yes, this is meant to be Optimus Prime.
Oh yes, Also, your dog can now be sexy.

Thanks guys, now I'm out of Eye-Bleach.

Of course, girls like Star Wars, Girls Like Transformers, but yeah... these really don't do much to celebrate the characters they claim to portray. "There is plenty of sexy in the world without making stupid things "sexy."" Example: Sexy Chinese Take-Out.

At least the scope of the controversy this year is an aesthetic one about adult costumes, and hopefully a lawsuit about copyright infringement, I seriously hope George Lucas didn't look at these and say "sure." Most grown-ups are making their own costumes choices, as opposed to last year's general outrage over "tween sexy witch and what not"  There is a certain point where splashing a bunch of pictures of young girls in these inappropriate costumes is doing a negative. Let the question of what is appropriate for my child to wear rest with parents, and try to explain that if someone is wearing a stupid looking costume, it's their own business... after giggling.

Final thought, there is a way to do the sexy-character-costume right, and it involves slightly more thought than sticking a trademarked name on a Vinyl bodysuit. Observe this R2D2 swimsuit, a little cold for Halloween, but definitely reasonable pool wear.

As weird as it is, that is a fairly cute swimsuit.
For more insight into what you shouldn't wear for Halloween, Gawker has some great advice; Cracked.com has a solid NSFW recap; And of course isitracistif.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

User-Generated Content and THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER.

Remember Shaylyn Hamm? Author of The Aesthetics of Unique Video Game Characters?

Refresh your memory here:
"...My research suggests that it is possible to create distinctive and unique characters that have a generally broad appeal among different ages, genders, and gamer types. The characters I created have body types, features, and ages that do not follow the ideal of what is typically marketed in the video game industry, yet they were well received by the majority of people who have reviewed them. My feedback also suggests that there is a desire among many gamers to see more varied female characters in games, and perhaps when more of such characters are introduced into mainstream games, the perception and role of females may become less limited. This is an area of study that is very relevant to modern gaming, as female characters are found in nearly every game, and they are found by many people, both male and female to be lacking of interest and personality. For further research, I would like to see similar tests by myself and other artists, with characters designed to fit and explore a variety of video games in a variety of genres and styles..."
Well, Ms. Hamm just became one of my personal heroines because not only did she write an AMAZING thesis but she was a winner of the first ever Team Fortress 2 Polycount Pack,

Members of the Polycount Community were given 5 weeks to come up with a SET of items for one of the 9 different TF2 classes. These sets had to be within the same theme, and fit well within the TF2 universe. In total, some 70 sets were completed and entered (read: thats at least 210 items!) It’s no wonder they had their work cut out for them when choosing the first ever pack.
Now, why is winning a user-mod contest important to me? Especially when the winning design isn't even a girl, you ask?

Because, ladies and gentleman, two weeks ago these mod-packs were released for purchase in a user-generated virtual marketplace by Valve.

And.... (From Gamasutra) :

Her Winning Submission

"When Valve Software announced the results of Polycount's Team Fortress 2 item-modding contest, the winners were just excited that their creations would be in the popular mulitplayer shooter.

But with the recent introduction of the game's user-created virtual item marketplace, the Mann Co. Store, the winners' items went on sale to the Team Fortress 2 community -- and a 25 percent revenue share to the modders led to a surprising payoff.

Today, Valve said that community content creators Rob Laro, Shawn Spetch, Steven Skidmore, Spencer Kern and Shaylyn Hamm took home initial royalty payments ranging from $39,000 to $47,000 each from the first round of Team Fortress 2 content creation. And these are just the checks from the first two weeks of operation.

Kern told Gamasutra, "By having [user-generated content] implemented in the way that Steam has it, where people are getting monetary gains for the items they put in, it rewards people who put in the good items, who listen to the community and put in the stuff that everyone wants to see in the game. ... It'll bring out the quality artists to do the work."

He added, "It was completely mind-blowing, the size of the return that we're getting on these things."

Skidmore said, ,I feel like this is going to open up a whole new level for everyone in general that plays these games who has an interest [in game design]. .. It'll ultimately be better for the industry, attaching the community to the game developer.'"

This is fantastic evidence of the potential for revenue generation from user-generated content that can be applied much further afield as entertainment franchises seek out new ways to interact with fans, as well as examples for developing properties to establish strong conversations with fans early-on in their development. Suffice it to say I will be citing this campaign in pretty much everything I create from here on out when talking about User-Generated Content, and I will not be alone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On "Low Art" and Fan Culture

Recently it was brought to my attention that in Russia there is a Cult to Gadget Hackwrench.

“She is the divine being, the most untouched and perfect sibling of the great God on Earth”, say one of the participants. “Why I love her? It’s stupid question, how I can’t love the Goddess?”. “She is strict, cute, optimistic and her level of technical knowledge is unachievable for a mortal being.” those are just a few of the testimonies of the sect followers.

Now, it's almost incidental whether or not this is true, it's truthy at worst. And sorry Russia, the same way America's Double Down Sandwich makes the rest of the world assume the worst about America's eating habits, your 18th Century Castration Cults make this reasonably believable to an outsider. Similarly, those of us who grew up with the Rescue Rangers know precisely what they're talking about when it comes to Gadget

At any rate, the sheer number of YouTube tributes to Gadget show that she has had a powerful effect on the psyches of those who grew up with her even if it was just for 18 minutes in the afternoon after school while they had a snack. 

What am I getting at here, you might ask? 

I'm getting at the point that fictional characters are increasingly taking a central place in the building of communities. Fandom is in many ways, more powerful a unifying force than geographic location, people are connecting more about ideas than they are in their physical communities, and the way humans are congregating is reflecting that fact. Entertainment Franchises are becoming increasingly similar to the cultural function of religious ideologies. 

According to Clifford Geertz, religion is 
·       (1) a system of symbols which acts to 
·       (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 
·       (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 
·       (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 
·       (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic 
^ C. Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System," in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion , ed. M. Banton (London: Tavistock, 1966): 1-46 

The connection to Geertz, comes from Jeff Gomez, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Starlight Runner Entertainment for nearly 7 years. Recently he gave a speech at TEDxTransmedia, check it out here:

Jeff often speaks about how the power of storytelling affected him as a child growing up in unfortunate circumstances, and as an adult, how learning how to tell stories helped him manage debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Here he speaks about Kikaider a character from his youth that became a powerful aspirational force in his life, inspiring his creativity as a child and later, returning as an avatar of righteous action in his darkest hour as an adult.  This is an experience that is hardly exclusive to those who create art, though it is a powerful motivator to do so, and the greatest art of generations is usually created out of a desire to highlight the best aspirations of humanity, an underlying message that can pull people from their darkest hour and give them an example of how they can fight against their foes and their own demons to emerge victorious.

The reason I bring this up is because these moments are intensely personal, and arguably spiritual, and whether your God comes to you as St. Christopher or a Badass Robot, the salvation is palpable, arguably a miracle, re-enforcing the underlying message, that these parables are affecting our lives and that they CAN be an amazingly powerful force for good.

It is not my intention here to discuss what is or is not a valid religion, but, it is essential that we consider this component as a piece of connective tissue about why people are becoming drawn together based on these factors. They apply to narratives and story worlds and as people are connecting globally, these story worlds become more pervasive and internationally appealing, people in Singapore and Calgary will be connecting over a shared affection for a cartoon show long before they get into deeper discussions of the meaning of life. These connections rapidly become communities of like-minded individuals who will often pool resources in mutual self-interest.

As an example of a fan-tribe, I'm going to discuss the Insane Clown Posse. This week, someone asked me at a professional function, "WTF is up with ICP????" The answer to that question requires a lot of background, and a lot more discussion than most people are willing to commit to rapping clowns. 
“Comedy has had no history, because it was not at first treated seriously.”
                  – Aristotle 
People tend to discount popular culture because it is just that, popular, often commercial and often directed at socioeconomic groups that are dismissed: Just for Kids, Trash TV, Bawdy or Gross-Out Comedy, Horror, Gornography (violence for its own sake), but these "entertainments" create lasting lessons in the minds of their audience that are later turned into social associations. Who would have thought Gadget would be affecting to an adult when she was affecting as a 6-year-old? the more important question is who DIDN'T think she'd still be affecting?
Is Popular Culture somehow not culture because it is popular?
The Art that is designed to affect the most people will be affecting to the greatest number of people.
So let's take a moment to talk about clowns.  

For those of you too scared of clowns to go on, go to the Merging+Media website to see my Remix of this post where the focus is the Astor Place Riots and Shakespeare.

Clowns are designed to be artistically Grotesque.
1. odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.
2. fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruoushuman and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.

Clowns are tricksters, they are jesters and they are zany. Their excesses, their grotesqueness, are designed to seduce their audience with humor and the absurd to elocute an underlying truth. 
The English word ‘clown’ comes from the Old Icelandic, klunni, which denotes a clumsy person. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a clown is “a familiar comic character of pantomime and circus, known by his distinctive makeup and costume, ludicrous antics, and buffoonery, whose purpose is to induce hearty laughter. The clown usually performs a set routine characterized by broad, graphic humour, absurd situations, and vigorous physical action.”

Clowns do all that and then also a little more. They heal, they scare, they mock, they amuse. White faces; red noses; painted smiles absurdly exaggerated; wee little hats with a daisy sticking up; braces barely bolstering puffy pants... They tumble from tiny cars and trip over their outsized shoes. They know every trick in the book and they live for a roar of laughter from the crowd. They fool about and clown around and mostly we don’t think much about them. 

Yet, they are the keepers of the sweet spot on the human psyche – the part that sees the absurdities and tells the truth, the part that is not afraid of being hurt or embarrassed or of showing emotion. Clowns represent at the same time our greatest vulnerability, fragility even, and the robustness that enables us to get right back up again every time we fall. Similarly, they hold the dichotomy of our innocence, the child within that never grows up, as well as the wisdom that enables us to see through the farce.

Clowns have always known what educators are only cottoning on to now: humans learn best while laughing. Clowns are never mean: the joke is always on them. When they make elaborate and conspicuous plans to make fun of someone else, the joke always backfires. Sometimes literally. Clowns are courageous: in ancient times at the royal court, clowns (or jesters) were the only ones who dared to contradict or criticise the king. Clowns are multi-talented: not only can they tickle the funny bone but they often juggle, walk tightropes, ride unicycles or tumble from trapezes while doing so.
So we have some modern clowns, the Insane Clown Posse:

The Insane Clown Posse is a rap group of clowns, literal clowns, and raps about sexual, violent, profane content. A very wide swath of people hear about I.C.P. exclusively through reports of fans committing violent acts.

They call themselves murder-rap, horror-rap, and have lyrics that are often accused of directly insighting their fans to violence, or are intolerant to different groups, or are otherwise not productive to society. That is a subject for someone else to take on, I'm not going to, I want to talk about why you should know something about I.C.P. on a sociological, cultural level. As a nod to the ongoing controversy of what their music is about, here is the band on the O'Reilly Factor:

The following video contains profanity and may be NSFW. 
Fans of ICP who call themselves Juggalos and Juggalettes, they are numerous, they have their own vernacular, they have their own community centers, they have very clear cultural aesthetics and rally around the music, sensibilities and rituals that have developed in response to the myriad releases of ICP, which include albums, videos, movies, recognized fan content and of course, live concert events. 

From Westword,  
Juggalos Band Together at Primos. By Jessica Centers Thursday, May 15 2008
When Denver School of the Arts student JD Gonzales entered the national My City Now contest a few years ago, he had to create a video about what made his city a great place to live. His answer: a little tire shop near Alameda and Sheridan called Primos, "A Juggalo Home in Denver's Zone." While the camera pans across a dozen kids sitting on the ground outside the shop, outfitted in baggy red and black clothes, tattoos, piercings and long dreads, the voice of Kiki Rodriguez, a Primos owner, explains ICP's draw: "All these kids don't have shit. They wouldn't have nothing, dude. But because they're a juggalo, that's a big part of their life. It gives them something to fucking do, something to be proud of."
A Juggalette from New Mexico once told me about people they've made who would drive her and her friends places just because they also liked ICP too. This basic bit of community allowed her to access a world from which she would have otherwise been completely isolated, even though the drive from her house to the city center of Albuquerque is only 45 minutes, it might as well have been days for a teenager without a car and without parents to drive her. The shared human connection of liking the same band is powerful, and one with such a clear culture associated with it, makes the barriers to entry into that society attainable and explicit. Fandom connects people and gives them an excuse to help one another.

Faygo is a soft drink that has seen success entirely because of Juggalos, as an example. A comparison can be drawn to the 30% rise in the sales of pale make-up foundation around the release of Twilight: New Moon. Fan groups influence commerce they are groups that, when large enough, constitute their own demographics.
Two nineteen-year-old girls hold up their T-shirts to show off the matching tattoos on their lower backs. The tats are the logo for Primos, the kerosene-and-tire shop where they've hung out, sometimes for hours at a time, every day since they started high school. "I just showed up for a barbecue one year and never left," Bethany says. "I've never had a big family. It's been nice having this instead."

...Childish, a member of the rap group Brutally Vicious Killaz, tells the camera that Primos is a place where juggalos get together like family. There's no other place like it in Denver; he doubts there's another place like it anywhere. "Denver juggalos are the lifeline of Denver," Kiki continues. "Everybody thinks, how can that be? How can all these scruffy kids have anything important to do with our Mile High City? Juggalos, we're the backbone, yo.... We're all one family. We're united. We're from everywhere. Jocks are juggalos. Rich kids are juggalos. Poor kids are juggalos. Everybody's a ninja. Your grandma could be a juggalo — you just don't know it."
The attraction of a family that takes care of one another is an extremely powerful draw for young people who have grown up disconnected from the people around them, either by geographic distances, urban planning, or simply because they feel alienated from visible peer groupings –an amazingly common feeling in adolescence and adulthood.

The Insane Clown Posse's content promotes expression of these feelings in a way that other visible ideologies do not. An aggressive, in your face sort of honesty that appeals to those who feel disenfranchised.

As the subculture matures, the sophistication of amenities the subculture can offer will mature as well. Just as the scope of the content has matured from exclusively destructive to tones of spiritual exploration and family.

The following video contains profanity and may be NSFW. 

A recent spate of parody and uproar sprouted in response to the song "Miracles." It's still aggressive, violent at times and laden with profanity, but it speaks to the search for more substantial spiritual truth. The anti-Establishment, this time intellectual and scientific, is in line with previous contexts of the Insane Clown Posse's artistic endeavors. It appeals quite clearly to its base while also articulating a frustration with the cult of the expert: does it really matter at the end of the day why magnets work? is it not still a miracle that they do if a scientist can articulate the submolecular process?

The fact that the Internet exists has allowed for new dialog about just this to begin in the arena of Low Art.  The Internet has taken it upon itself to remix the song miracles in a variety of ways. Now that more people know that I.C.P. exists, the more mainstream reactions to its ideologies are pushing back and creating an artistic dialogue that must be integrated into the I.C.P. worldview either with acceptance or rejection or somewhere in between.

The Unified Theory of Juggelonics:

This is only occurring because the commons for ideological discussion is much more accessible, the Internet makes it easy to talk about stories and entertainments. These pieces of art, low though they may be, pose questions that their audience is now capable of answering in its own time, and spawn creative responses that are not only entertaining, but represent cogent counterarguments.

Whether you approve of the messages they are spouting, or condone the ideologies they are attempting to embody, there is value in the ideology and the social connections associated with that ideology. People connect to the message and celebrate the aesthetics that say the same thing by association.

That, My Ninja, is what is up with I.C.P.

The power of these associations, violent messages, and fan community are hardly exclusive to Juggalos, the content of all art is affecting. Even stories that preach balance and chivilry can, in the proper circumstance lead to violence.

The following video contains profanity and may be NSFW. 
There's even a response interview with the punks who were in the fight

While this instance shows some self-awareness and no one got stabbed or murdered, it does show that people get violent about fan affiliations, The "Jedi's" here had the option to just let it go, they themselves say "these guys were standing they're ground and talking Shit" and they stepped out of line ans escalated.  Cultural affiliations, even 'Pop Culture' are a pretty quick way to get people into situations where they're willing to be confrontational, and violent,  be they Punk Vs. Star Wars fan, or National, Ethnic or Religious affiliations. These affiliations become part of people's identities they represent strongly aspirational identifiers that are also the rallying points for people's social communities.

People who lack respect for the power of these affiliations do so at their own peril, and those seeking to create them should be aware of the potential that the ideas and messages of a narrative have lives outside the story.   

To read the Remix of this post where the focus is the Astor Place Riots and Shakespeare, head over to the Merging+Media website

Twitter Fiction on The Underground Book Club

Is the first rule of Underground Book Club that you not talk about Underground Book Club? if so, my bad.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Glee-Cap! Sacrilicious- Season 2, Episode 3

Check it out over at All Things Fangirl.

Also, if you're trying to find "Low Art and Fan Culture" It'll be up again in a few days, pending some exciting and secretive goings on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Helen Mirren is Prospero in Taymor's Tempest.

Also there's Russel Brand. I know what I'm doing December 10th now.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Glee-Cap: The Imaginarium of Dr Stamos, Season 2, Episode 2

Brittney S. Pierce finally is getting featured on this episode of Glee. Answering the question of "what is going on in there" definitively and authoritatively.

Ha, I'm kidding, we still have no idea what is going on with Brittney. Though I have a theory or two, but until Glee actually puts more of her into the story there's no way to judge.

BONUS: Weigh in on whether it matters if entertainment has good storytelling in the comments section

Monday, September 27, 2010

Metroid: Other M

"In short, you're asked to forget that Samus has spent the last 10-15 years on solitary missions ridding the galaxy of Space Pirates, saving the universe and surviving on her own as a bounty hunter. Instead, Other M expects you to accept her as a submissive, child-like and self-doubting little girl that cannot possibly wield the amount of power she possesses unless directed to by a man."
Abbie Heppe's controversial review of the new Metroid game and its main character, Samus can be found here at G4. One of many compelling responses to her article here at the brainy gamer

Beyond the comments from video game players who do not care about story, the battle rages on about how female characters are portrayed in console gaming.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Media is Way Behind on Men

"First there was the Atlantic's "End of Men." Dan Abrams is penning a book called Man Down, in which he'll argue "that women, as a group, are more thoughtful, efficient, tougher and less likely to make mistakes." And now Newsweek is chiming in with a whole package of manliness-in-crisis articles, including cover story "Men's Lib" (accompanying photo: the no-doubt struggling Brad Pitt). Gender roles — and specifically the supposed downfall of men — are totally hot right now. "

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glee-Caps, now exclusively at All Things Fangirl

 I'm still doing Glee-Caps, just now they're all over at All Things Fangirl for those of you who are unfamiliar (or who haven't tried to scroll down), I do this, I don't know if I'm a fan, or if I'm just watching a train wreck, if you're interested in finding out with me... Season 2, Episode 1 is here.

On Girls in Boys' Stories

It’s one thing to market toys to boys, but it’s another altogether to create entertainment in which girls don’t exist. - Jeff Gomez

Be sure to check out this insightful article at Kidscreen.com about Hot Wheels World Race, and the process of making that property a success.
"a few Mattel execs (who are no longer at the company) expressed hesitation about female characters. They didn’t know how young boys would respond to them, Hot Wheels being a very “boy world” and they thought perhaps we could do without them. This would be one of the few times I really spoke up. I really wasn’t interested in a major story world that didn’t include girls. Had Disney’s Fairies property not included boys I would have protested equally loud. Single gender worlds compound artifice and by definition are not resonant with the contemporary world in which we live. It’s one thing to market toys to boys, but it’s another altogether to create entertainment in which girls don’t exist.

Fortunately, the series animation house Mainframe and several others at Mattel did agree with me and female driver Lani Tam got some nice screen time. There would be several other heroic girl drivers who would star in their own comics as well. Bravo Mattel!"

Monday, September 20, 2010

10 things that American Apparel and Bratz have in common.

Demure and Preppy, of course those are the first two things that come to mind when I think of Bratz Dolls. Well, at least that's what MGA Entertainment Inc. (owner of Bratz)'s CEO, Isaac Larian, is banking on.
"Unlike the bare midriffs and tube tops that were popular during the "age of Britney Spears" when Bratz first hit the market, today's styles are more modest and understated, Larian said. So MGA's designers worked to make the new dolls "more preppy than sexy," which meant downplaying some of the traits that had made them unique in the first place: skimpy outfits, pouty lips, dramatic makeup and bling jewelry."

Wait wait wait, I said to myself. "Self, This sounds familiar... why does it sound familiar? OH RIGHT!!! to Businessweek:"

"American Apparel is going preppy, diving into more sophisticated garments such as blazers, pleated pants, button-down shirts, and more formal lace tops." Never mind that the "formal lace tops" are completely see-through.

That's right, two brands that have established their brands on edginess are looking to preppiness as the panacea to their problems, nevermind that decade of product rollout... there is no man behind the cornflower blue curtain in highwaters and a boating jacket...
Obviously, I have some thoughts, but before that; what else do they have in common?

Quick note: pretty much every link that I can find about American Apparel has an ad for the company that could be considered NSFW in some cases. I give you this blanket warning now. 

1) Maverickyness out of the gate.

Bratz hit the toy scene 10 years ago and became a phenomenon with young girls offering a legitimate challenge to Mattel's Fashion-Doll Juggernaught, Barbie.

Similarly, Dov Charney's American Apparel was founded in 1989 as a t-shirt manufacturer that built a factory in Los Angeles and paid all its workers a real wage. Its original line of t-shirts rapidly expanded surfing on its ideals of sustainability throughout the aughts. It is still the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States.

2) High Minded Ideals

In taking on Barbie, MGA Entertainment sought to offer a doll that appealed to an urban, multi ethnic customer base. This was largely successful and resonated with the ideas of spoiled, celebutants and divas who were so ubiquitous in the new in the early 2000s. This can also be seen in the Bratz movie, which features an ensemble of diverse girls and even explicitly stages an episode of MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen. By offering a product to an under served market, MGA planned on profiting while providing aspirational figures of glamour and style to girls who did not see themselves mirrored in traditional dolls.

American Apparel has always been a study in controversy, before it became a fashion line, it was a t-shirt wholesaler committed to fair wages and sustainable manufacturing.

From Dov Charney's Twitter Feed.
It’s t-shirts that look good, t-shirts that feel good, and t-shirts that are made in a non-exploitative setting.

We designed the rate in such a way that the average person should be able to make $100 a day, that’s our target.

We want to pay more than the prevailing wages in Los Angeles, because we want to have the happiest work force we can have.

I have the highest-paid apparel workers in the world.
Their success can largely be explained by having a quality product that hit at the moment of the "green" trend that was reasonably priced, arguably more equitably made, and an attractive alternative to Jerzees or Fruit of the Loom in wholesale. These shirts rapidly became the preferred choice for the screen-printing set, just as the online sale of t-shirts boomed and the nod to greater sustainability suggested by the brand name resonated strongly with the youth market.

3) Niche Aesthetics that became fashion trends.

The first Bratz lines were very much based in an urban aesthetic that drew from a very few dolls with distinct edgy styles proved a solid gamble. Bratz became a byword for a fashion of dress that featured low cut jeans, sequins, heavy makeup, sexually provocative hem and waistlines, especially for young girls who were seeking to appear older and more independent. While these styles and tendencies were not entirely new, Bratz were the vanguard of a trend that led to Club Libby Lu and half a dozen other companies that would allow girls to live their diva dreams.

Similarly, the seventies inspired styles of American Apparel's first fashion lines appealed to the increasingly over the top stylings of teens and young adults. Combining this and keeping their patterns basic, the increasingly do-it-yourself generation Y was able to customize that clothing. American Apparel is a byword associated with "Hipsters," and their cool-but-not-at-all-cool aesthetic meshed well as the line went even further into pornographic inspirations.

4) Quality

Both brands established themselves early by the quality of the materials they used. For both, this difference was a profound motivating factor in customer activity as the brands established themselves in the marketplace. American Apparel's wholesale shirts have maintained their quality and appear to have maintained the commitment to fair labor practices.

Bratz dolls used actual fabrics in their doll's clothes at a time when Mattel was cutting back on the core line of Barbie's material costs. A girl opening a Bratz doll for the first time has a lot to explore. Based on my own observation of this activity by a relative around 2005; there are usually layers of clothing pieces, denim jackets, sequined scarves, patterned t-shirts, perhaps an imitation suede purse, vinyl shoes. A similar Barbie doll might be wearing layers, but generally those layers were plastic shoes, plastic cloth skirt and shirt, Velcro fastenings and that skirt, it didn't close all the way in back. The tailoring on the Bratz doll was competent, even if the design itself raised an eyebrow.

The sensory power of this experience cannot be understated for a physical product. These associations are powerful and the comparison between the two, or two similar, equally priced t-shirts one with an association with fair labor practices, cannot be understated as driving factors in consumer activity.

5) Fashion!

I'm reaching a little here, but it's true, both brands are built on the back of trends that reached their peek during 2000-2010. There seem to have been conscious choices to become trendy and popular above longer term thinking towards the maintenance of those aesthetics after that wave broke onshore.

Bratz are fashion dolls, and rightly so, they followed the trends of the day. What older girls and women are wearing will always affect what the dolls of younger girls wear. Can it be helped that the dolls looked a little like contestants on Flavor of Love at times? When a young Paris Hilton was the biggest female icon around? Let's just all thank mad men for bringing natural waists back to fashion.

Natural Waist is a term in clothing design, it refers to this type of shape.
American Apparel was soooo hot in the 2000s. It's no-explicit-branding brand aesthetic was distinctive and it's odd, quirky designs hit the mark. At the same time, as the fashion line overtook the wholesale t-shirt business in the public eye, it has become harder and harder to distinguish between the company, the fashion line, the t-shirts, the advertising, and the ideology of production, and the peccadilloes of it's Chief Executive.

6) The Public Eye.

With the sincere efforts of Bratz to expand into animation, film, television and beyond becoming a transmedia franchise (albeit an anthology lacking a unified chronology) Bratz became more than just dolls, it established itself as a mantra, "Brattitude". These extensions usually met with commercial success, though they are hardly classics of American Cinema. Their ads have also been criticized for sexualizing young girls:
The report cites Bratz dolls, in particular, for "sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas."

"Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality," the report says.

Isaac Larian, CEO of Bratz doll manufacturer MGA Entertainment, based in Van Nuys, Calif., says he "adamantly disagrees" with the report's assessment of the dolls. The company has sold more than 125 million worldwide in the seven years the dolls have been on the market, he says.

"These are the clothes that are worn if you go to schools anywhere in the USA," Larian, a father of three, says. "They are not sexy. Bratz dolls are caricatural plastic dolls. They don't even look like real human beings. They're cartoonish."
American Apparel on the other hand has also expanded into the entertainment industry, with blogging and porn!  To American Apparel's credit, at least this was consistent with its advertising campaigns. They have attempted to branch out from this singular advertising aesthetic, but this has been at best... litigious, or outright lies.

The response from The A.A. team has always been that this is their intention and that it is "artistic"

To Charney, American Apparel is a new frontier of sexual openness in marketing where the old rules no longer apply. The following quotes are from a Dateline NBC piece about one of American Apparels Sexual Harassment cases.
Charney... “this is a different kind of company.  We are trying to sell things through sex appeal. And if you don’t like the fact that we’re much more frank about and open about sex, then go work somewhere else.”
7) Controversy about Sexuality, abridged.

As I mentioned above, American Apparel has always been pretty explicit about its inspirations from pornography and well, let's leave off on the sexual harassment, that's a few thousand more words than we have time for right now, we have 3 more numbers to get to. But I'll leave you with this ad image for reference.
This one caused controversy in the UK in its original form, this iteration passed muster with censors.
Now, Bratz has often been accused of perpetuating negative gender stereotypes. Most commonly, encouraging the 5-9 year old set to start viewing themselves as "sexy" and to comport themselves in a way that highlights an objectified and limiting view of sexuality.

But it's one thing to make a doll that dresses in a slatternly fashion...

In-image commentary thanks to www.sepiamutiny.com this is what happens when you google "slattern bratz"
... and quite another to make padded bras for 6 years olds. Which apparently happened in Australia.

Needless to say people found this at best, superfluous, and the ensuing outrage convinced stores to pull the bras. But while these are obviously questionable, much hay can be made about the rest of the fashions marketed to girl children, especially by the Bratz. (Relive me trying to find jeans that were not low-rise, hobbled or bedazzled for my 2 year old here)

8) The Law.

To say that these companies have been wildly successful only to spend it on lawyers is hyperbole, but it is clear that many lawyers have put down payments on G5s off the entanglements of these two companies.

Entire blogs could be made about the legal issues of American Apparel, in fact, I'm going to outsource even a fraction of this timeline elsewhere... take it away "The Week."

Aside from that helpful timeline, here are some in-depth articles about just what has gone on. This isn't even beginning to scratch the surface, but suffice it to say Dov Charney seems to be a bit of a perv, and the "non-traditional workplace environment" whether all parties agree to being in a "non-traditional workplace environment" does not seem to have led to the best financial management. The truly sad part is that the controversy about sexual and workplace harassment and abuse of white-collar employees is often pitted against the ideologically sound fair-wages of the factory workers. Forcing people to chose is a dirty ploy, you can't say "oh I may have sexually intimidated or insulted this person, but look at how my factory runs" and expect people to think it's 'ok'. At the end of the day it matters how your entire business operates and their current troubles only serve to put that point into clearest focus. More in #9.

Bratz's controversies begin with the design concept and just get worse from there. Now, I'm going to say right now, MGA does not have the same type of legal troubles as American Apparel. Not by a long shot. For all intents and purposes, MGA has less gossipy problems, lets call them differences of opinion. I've profiled Emily The Strange's issues with intellectual property ownership and at least compared to A.A.'s issues, these two legal battles are much more similar.
From the LA Times:

During the last few years, a legal tug of war between Bratz maker MGA Entertainment Inc. and rival toy company Mattel Inc. over the ownership rights to the dolls left the brand crippled. After a trial jury ruled in Mattel's favor, the wildly successful dolls all but disappeared from stores as MGA pulled back on manufacturing and retailers kept their distance.

But when a federal appeals court in July overturned the 2008 ruling and ordered a retrial, MGA's outspoken Chief Executive Isaac Larian triumphantly declared that he would be releasing a new line of Bratz dolls for the fall.
For more in-depth discussions of this cases, go here, here and here. Long story short, The first trial determined that MGA had created the dolls from designs contractually owned by Mattel, and the appeal determined that a mistrial should have been granted because the jury was tainted and overturned the verdict. The retrial is scheduled to begin in January 2011. Meanwhile, expect Bratz on the shelves this holiday season.

9) Times of Trouble

Both brands are now facing holes that they have to pull themselves out of to regain their former glory. Bratz was prevented from releasing several seasons worth of products while they were embattled in court with Mattel Inc.
At their peak, annual U.S. wholesale sales of the Bratz dolls and related products were estimated to be more than $500 million. Meanwhile, U.S. wholesale sales of Barbie dolls and related products fell every year from 2001 to 2005, from $825 million to $470 million, according to estimates from Gerrick Johnson, a toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets.
Now, having lost years to the legal wrangling, Bratz must attempt to retake their place in the market having been completely absent. Can they recapture what made them successful in the first place when external tastes have changed?

American Apparel on the other hand, by its own internal mismanagement is in even more dire straits.
American Apparel shares trade at less than $2, down from a high of $16.80 in December 2007. The company teeters on the verge of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) Amex because it has been late filing quarterly reports, and last week its accountant, Deloitte & Touche, quit, saying American Apparel's 2009 numbers may not be reliable.
10) Falling into the Gap. 

Both brands think that a more demure, less explicitly sexy look is the way to broaden their consumer base in times of trouble. But what would "toning it down" really mean to each one? And is that nod too little too late as consumer have tired of the old glitter-covered schoolgirl outfit. As the nation collectively scrapes off the caked and stale eye-makeup of the millennium and the decade that followed, what will remain?
“Kids are moving away from piercings,” Charney says. “We want to grow old with our customer. We want to be a traditional American clothier.”

"It's going to take a long time for Bratz to become what it was before because of the damage that's been done," Larian said. "But it still resonates with kids." 
Now, to be sure, these quotes are talking about different "kids" but let's take a look at what we can see already in this attempt to change ways and win us all back, hat in hand.
Unlike the bare midriffs and tube tops that were popular during the "age of Britney Spears" when Bratz first hit the market, today's styles are more modest and understated, Larian said. So MGA's designers worked to make the new dolls "more preppy than sexy," which meant downplaying some of the traits that had made them unique in the first place: skimpy outfits, pouty lips, dramatic makeup and bling jewelry.

For example, an earlier version of the Yasmin doll, named after Larian's daughter Jasmin, sports a long, thick mane of Goldilocks-style curls, over sized pink sunglasses and a skimpy gold swimsuit with pink ribbons crisscrossing her slender waist.

In a 2010 version, Yasmin wears a pink baby-doll top over gray leggings, a fitted navy-blue cropped jacket and studded black boots. Her earrings are smaller, her lips less Angelina Jolie-like and she has almost no exposed skin.
This idea seems to make a lot of sense for Bratz. Going into a second decade, and looking at the established record of media endeavors Bratz still has a chance, as long as it can broaden its aesthetic. Fun, Friends, and Fashion are all great concepts that still resonate, but as Bratz matures, it should return to fashion and really see what is there now.

Unsolicited Suggestion:

Christina Hendricks inspired and designed line of dolls. Classy as all get out, fashionable and zeitgeisty in a way that could lead to iconic looks. Broadens your market appeal and creates new and exciting images and associations for your brand. Take the original association you started with, that of girls who don't see dolls like them, and reach out to women who are trendsetters who are making waves because they are not traditionally the sort of women that you see in the celebrity pages, also consider Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Ditto. The list just goes on and on, and yes, I'll accept a credit card.

Ok, American Apparel lets take a look at how preppy will save your world.
Guys, I get it, as long as Dov is working there there will be sheer shirts, fine. But you know what this looks like? boring. Where is the color? your store is the only place to find clothes of certain hues and honestly, I try not to hate you for that reason. The generation that grew up on Ninja Turtles and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air demands color! I assure you that that won't be going away any time soon, even if the Thong Leotard should go into the room in the back behind the beaded curtain.

But since you're probably about to go bankrupt, I'm going to suggest you focus on the thing that you've always done best and that I really hope doesn't die in all this. Your factory and wholesale business. The worst thing about you American Apparel is that you are distracting from your ideological and reasonably ethical labor endeavors... with your grossly unprofessional other labor behaviors.

As far as your fashion line goes, as long as you're making basic tees and tank tops in a range of colors and you get your financial ducks in a row (good luck with that) you could sell chicken suits as your "new look" and you'd probably be ok. Do us all a favor and focus on the positive, and if you end up having to drop the fashion line all together, I doubt the world will miss it.

Can this sartorial change usher in a new era of classiness for the oh so demurely titled Bratz? Will American Apparel turn itself around based on the idea that a lace bodysuit with a button down shirt over it counts as pants? and more importantly... will Bratz Ponyz still look like whorish pigs? Will Dov Charney continue to comport himself as a whorish pig? only time will tell.

Tell me with a strait face this isn't a pig, I dare you. 

Originally posted on Saturday, September 20, 2010

Greatest Hits 8! The Heroine's Journey

This post is genuinely my favorite,  It really summed up 2009's blog-related-journey. It is the answer for the question I originally asked and the ones I hadn't come up with yet. It applies to multiple media platforms and is still the post with the most comments on this blog. 

Thanks for joining me for this Week of Greatest Hits, I promise you new material soon, a fantastically vague and utterly confident... soon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Heroine's Journey: Women and Myth, Technology and Storytelling

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth (seen above, click to enlarge) is an attempt to describe the Hero's Journey present across time and culture in mythology and storytelling.

Since I began writing this blog, I've been trying to find a gender-neutral illustration of this concept and finally, here it is.

In my search I was able to find "female hero's journeys" which are helpful (here & here) but I just couldn't bring myself to write about them and here's why:
While there are some differences between a hero's and a heroine's journey the core of the journey's progress is the same.
Sure, the differences are important to each specific story; but they are just as different from hero to hero as from hero to heroine. A narrative is not male or female, nor is a method of storytelling.

I've talked about this before, and frankly I think it's what I end up talking to people about the most: stories are not inherently gendered, the characters within them have genders. Girls in stories can kick ass and it be enjoyable for men and women to watch and not unnatural to the state of being a girl: fairies can be male or female: and creating a property for boys definitely doesn't mean that a female character will send your audience running for the hills.

I am a Transmedia Producer and have worked for 6 years at Starlight Runner Entertainment; often when approached by people new to the concept of Transmedia Storytelling I find myself answering questions about whether or not Transmedia Storytelling can be applied to girls' properties. This is a little like being asked if spoons can be used for lunch as well as dinner. The answer is a jubilant YES! if your franchise has a story it can tall that story across many platforms.

That story can have a male lead, female lead, be based on reality, be total fiction, be a documentary, be about humans, aliens or meerkats and if it is rich enough in story and setting to tell a few related tales you can have a successful Transmedia Franchise. There are obviously some intervening steps but that's the truth.

The innate barriers to creating franchises, films, games, etc... for women and girls are the same as creating franchises, films, games, etc... for men and boys: a compelling concept, a well-considered narrative, a rich story universe and the means to execute it.

I hear similar gripes from friends and colleagues in the Entertainment Industry (which to me includes video games, toys, online works...) and especially in younger industries like video games where there haven't been amazingly epic franchises built for women, or that really celebrated a more nuanced female character than Lara Croft, there is a perception that because there haven't been any really legendary projects for girls or women, for some reason there can't be.

So here is the take away: there is no greater reason that there shouldn't be more franchises for Girls and Women, ones that have different more interesting stories. The only reason there aren't more girls franchises out there, is because you and I haven't made them yet.